“The Progress” Interviews “My Pilot” Author, Sarajane Giere

The following article written by The Progress Contributing Writer Sophia Colitti was printed in The Progress, Feb. 10, 2021. To view the original article please click here.

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Book uses letters couple exchanged during Vietnam War

Sarajane Giere’s book, “My Pilot,” is about her husband, Bernard.

Author, Sarajane Giere

WEST CALDWELL TWP. – Although Sarajane Giere lost her husband to ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, in 2013, writing about him was not filled with pain.

Amid her reflection on loss as she worked on “My Pilot: A Story of War, Love and ALS,” published in November, the West Caldwell resident blissfully regressed to her memories of the great love of her life.

“It was like falling in love again throughout the whole six years I wrote the book. It was wonderful all this time; it was a work of love,” she said.

“As I wrote, I got (the music-streaming service) Spotify and put on all the songs from the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s. Most of the songs were love songs in those days, and they all remind me of him. I think of them all the time and think of him.”

Giere will discuss the book online at 6 p.m. Friday, Feb. 12. Her talk is sponsored by West Caldwell Public Library. To register, send email to richelle.defrank@westcaldwell.bccls.org.

“My Pilot” embodies the ethereal feeling of being in love combined with hard-hitting truths about war, sickness and distance.

Giere incorporated the love letters that she exchanged with her late husband, Bernard, known as “Bernie,” who served as a pilot during the Vietnam War. He was in the Air National Guard for 15 years as air commander of the 106th Rescue Wing.

Their love story began at Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The book covers their collegiate days, their initial move to Texas as a married couple in 1962 and their life together until he died of ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. There is no cure.

The turbulence of their lives during the ‘60s is highlighted, based on Bernard’s letters sent during wartime.

“I think that most of our strength-building times were when he was in harm’s way. They are the backbone of the book. I saved all of his letters from Vietnam. It was very reassuring and comforting to know our love brought us together through letters,” Giere said.

“My Pilot” has resonated with folks beyond the Giere’s acquaintance as an embodiment of the military wife’s experience. It exposes the strength of these women and the trauma they endure. Giere explicitly stated the rawness that is not covered in cinematic and textbook depictions of the Vietnam War.

She credits “My Pilot” for her rekindled connection to the military wives with whom she shared unfathomable grievances. She recounted one time where she witnessed another woman receive a knock on the front door.

“I was like a fly on the wall because the men notifying her of her husband’s death were at the front door and I was behind. I watched what happened. My mind had said, ‘Never forget this moment, look in the window and see this wonderful woman. See what she was going through’ as I was comforting kids who didn’t know their father was gone.”

Well-Traveled

The Gieres lived in six states as they pursued their careers. While Bernard was flying planes, Sarajane taught elementary reading, art and English for 23 years.

Years later, when Bernard was diagnosed with ALS in 2012 at age 73, Sarajane’s one wish was to make him happy.

She shared her memories of their final year together, which included taking Bernard to fly a biplane despite his physical setbacks.

During that year, Sarajane asked Bernard questions about his life as he was mentally slipping. He willingly shared details that she would later channel into her writing.

After his death, she joined The Write Group in Montclair, where she found her motivation to work on the book.

“I was with people who love writing and we encouraged each other to get better. I would get good reactions after reading the letters from Vietnam, which helped me continue. I always liked memoirs, seeing how people overcome adversity in their lives.”

Giere said she wears a necklace of an airplane on a chain with a diamond chip because her husband was a gem.

“Even in the letters we wrote to one another before we were married, I saw the humor, pathos and bravery of the man. I thought to myself, ‘I want my grandchildren to know this wonderful man; I want him to live on.’

“I wanted my seven grandchildren and one great-granddaughter to know how amazing he truly was. It’s a matter of passing things down, and the best way to do it is in writing.”

Giere recommends that everyone follow suit.

“I would say, because I love re-reading old letters, keep a diary and write in a journal. Write your feelings, write about what’s happening, the way you feel about the world, your inner self and expose yourself to other writers.”

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Why writing a first draft is like performing stand-up with hecklers

This was so much fun to read!

Michael Stephen Daigle

“She…”

Who’s that?

What?

Who’s she?

The woman in the story. I don’t know. I haven’t named her yet.

How are we supposed to like her if she hasn’t got a name?

How do you know you’re supposed to like her? Maybe she’s a thief.

Is she going to be a thief?

Possibly. Maybe I want to save that detail as a surprise to the reader.

Readers don’t like surprises.

Um, “Marylyn…”

That’s a weird spelling.

“Alright. “Marilyn…”

No. Too Marilyn Monroe-ish.

What?

You’ll need a male character who looks like Clark Gable.

I’m not writing a 1950s black-and-white movie.

Nice hyphens.

Look, I’ll call her George or Bill. It disguises her sexuality.

Oh, how au currant.

Could I just write something?!

Sure. Go head. We’ll wait.

Alright. “She banged her head…”

Name!

“George banged her head on the locked front door glass when she realized she had left her…

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Blog Tour – The Other Vietnam War

nam banner.pngMarc Cullison’s compelling book about his experiences as a helicopter pilot in Vietnam is now at #264 in it’s genre for Kindle downloads. Download your copy today and see why so many people are downloading and responding to this soldiers unique approach to telling his story, it has already received fifty reviews!

To participate in this blog tour, hosted by Sage’s Blog Tours, visit the following blogs and see what they post.

July 17th Review Tales ~ BOOK SPOTLIGHT
July 18th Breathe, Love, Create & Display ~ GUEST POST
July 19th Mythical Books ~ BOOK SPOTLIGHT
July 20th Rosepoint Publishing ~ REVIEW
July 22nd Celtic Lady’s Book Reviews ~ AUTHOR INTERVIEW
July 23rd Reecaspieces ~ REVIEW

If you have read this book read the reviews and let the blogger know your thoughts. If you have read this book and haven’t left a review for it yet….what are you waiting for? Go directly to the bottom of this page (do not pass GO), there you will find a link that will take you directly to Amazon’s review page….leave a few words, it means more than you can imagine to the author.

If you have not yet read this compelling story, here’s a sneak preview for you!

SNEAK PREVIEW…

THE MISSION RIDE

It was the mortar round that exploded just behind us that shattered my concentration. If I had drunk any more coffee before we left LAH, I would have pissed my pants. My stomach tied itself into a knot and I think my asshole did too. I checked my chicken plate, that protective slab of whatever it was that covered my torso. I had never worn one before. I wanted to know that the heavy hunk of armor was still resting in my lap protecting my chest. It was held in place with two Velcro straps that wrapped around my body. I had already sweated out what beer I had downed the night before and now I was working on the coffee. My Nomex flight suit, as thin as the fireproof material was, still felt like the inside of an oven. The chicken plate just added more insulation and turned up the heat. Somehow, I didn’t mind just then.

For nearly a week I had been assigned to Suds, the units IP (instructor pilot.) He showed me the layout of the AO (area of operations) and drilled me in safety procedures. We would go to an abandoned airstrip in secure territory and practice autorotations, much like I did in flight school. He would roll back the throttle, simulating an engine failure, and in the few seconds before we hit the ground, I would have to bottom the collective, reduce airspeed, find a safe landing area, and aim for it. At about fifty feet from the ground, I’d flare the aircraft nose high to bleed off forward airspeed. Then of course, it would begin settling and just before the ship hit the ground, I’d shove the cyclic forward and pull more pitch to cushion the landing. I got pretty good at it after the fifth time.

This is one of the most important safety procedures a helicopter pilot must know. Without power, as my instructor in flight school used to say, “The Huey has the glide path of a streamlined crowbar.” You can fly only a short distance, and you have one shot at setting the bird down. If you’re lucky, you’ll walk away from it.

We also practiced tail-rotor failures. Suds would keep his feet locked on the foot pedals and I would have to make a safe landing. Since I had no pedals to counteract the yaw of the bird when I reduced collective, the idea was to reduce throttle and keep forward motion during landing so the tail of the aircraft would maintain alignment with the direction of motion. So about three feet above the runway, I had to control the direction of the bird with the throttle while flying it onto the runway and letting it slide to a stop, just like landing an airplane. You just hoped the skids didn’t catch on an obstruction on the runway. Then you’d be trying to figure out how the aircraft turned over. I got pretty good at tail rotor failures, too.

The hydraulic failure, though, was a bitch. Without the assistance of hydraulics on the flight controls, flying a Huey is like wrestling a grizzly bear. I’ve never actually done that, but I’m pretty sure I know what it would be like after flying a Huey without hydraulics. I should have done some weight lifting before shipping over.

While all of this was going on in between the rains, I got my orientation about RPGs (rocket propelled grenades), which would make mincemeat out of a Huey, and the radar controlled .51 caliber guns that Charlie kept hidden around the area. You could monitor their frequency on the radio and listen for the squeal. The first one detected you. The second one tracked your path. The third one was followed by a stream of bullets. The whole process took just a few seconds. Then there were the 122 mm rockets. You didn’t ever want to be in the path of one of those babies.

A week of that shit wore me out and bored me to death. I imagine Suds got his fill of entertainment from all of my screw-ups. I was no longer in flight school trying to satisfy the instructor. I was in Nam and this was getting ready for the real deal, whatever that was going to be. Not once did Suds yell at me or chew my ass. I don’t know if that’s because I was good enough that he didn’t see the need, or he was just a nice guy. I did find out later that Suds was, in fact, a nice guy. That didn’t make me feel real good about my performance. Or my confidence, for that matter.

After he’d had his fun with me, I got word the next morning that I was to report to operations with flight gear. I walked in and looked at the assignment board, a large Plexiglas sheet behind the operations desk that listed aircraft numbers, pilots, crews, times, and missions. I wasn’t on it. I looked at Captain Latham, the Operations Officer, his fatigue shirt already soaked with sweat around his armpits and back this early in the morning.

“They told me I was supposed to be here,” I said.

He glanced at me. “Hang tight. Maybe something will happen.”

Lieutenant McNally stuck his head in. “Latham, put Cullison with Suds.”

Then he looked at me. “Oh, Cullison. Hey, first mission ride today. You ready?”

I looked at him, his buck teeth hanging over his lower lip and those wild eyes like some cartoon character trying to pull an answer out of me.

“Hell yes,” I said. I thought I saw a glimmer of doubt in those big eyes, not that I could really tell. Most of the time his eyes looked the same, big and wild. I’ll bet if the little bastard cried you wouldn’t know it, except for the tears, if he had enough compassion in that egocentric little body of his to produce them.

After a week of hanging around and flying circles in the sky and practicing not crashing a UH-1H, I was ready for something. Everybody looked at me, the FNG (fucking new guy), wondering if I could cut it. That made me wonder if I actually could. It was time to test my mettle. I just hoped I didn’t screw everything up.

That’s what it was all about, right then. Screwing up, or worrying about when you would. I faced a lot of challenges in flight school, but this was no longer a practice session. Actual combat. Real, live bullets. I had always wondered what it would be like. To get set for battle, I mean. It wasn’t like I was going to go charging into enemy lines or anything like that. I was going to be flying a helicopter in an enemy fire zone, or at least I would be the peter pilot. I would still be up front behind all of that Plexiglas and thin sheet metal. Not much protection, except for the armor plates around the seat. The knot in my stomach got tighter and the thought of real bullets just got more real. You think about this stuff, but not really. Not in the sense that you actually think about it. It’s just there in the back of our mind giving you doubts about your worth as a pilot while you wonder what it’s like to be dead. And if you really are worth a shit as a pilot.

Reviews:

I found this memoir to be an engaging read that does an excellent job in describing the physical reality of the Vietnam War as seen from the pilot’s seat of a Huey. In equal measure it also relates the mental machinations of a young Army officer who finds himself plopped down in a very foreign land and culture that is in the middle of a war he scarcely understands. It goes on to describe the lingering impact of the experience on his worldview after his return home. The authentic style of Cullison’s writing, and its focus on the deployed soldiers and their day to day missions, captures with great realism the cynicism, sarcasm, humor, and courage that enabled these men to accomplish their jobs day in and day out even in the face of bureaucratic stupidities, the occasional incompetent leader, and a determined lethal enemy.
All I can say is “thank you” for writing this book – so sad that it’s not available in hard copy, so I could give it as a gift. Marc Cullison’s ability to share his deepest thoughts and feelings, as well as addressing the still unanswered, hard questions that surround the nightmare that was Vietnam, remind me of a very young Warrant Officer who shared those gifts for self awareness, introspection and courage. Sadly, that young Warrant Officer was one of the “1 in 18” who didn’t come home. Mr. Cullison has captured the story of every brave, young, idealistic American boy who quickly grew to manhood in the brutal skies over Vietnam.
I was a slick crewchief in I Corps in 1971. Although close to my pilots as the missions allowed; I never looked beyond the ship and the flight line. When the flying was done, we crew members tended to the bird and the pilots wandered off to “Officer Country”. It was really interesting to read about the other side, so to speak. All ‘nam aviation vets should read this book.
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Autobiography

Marc Cullison has also written about his return to Vietnam 40 years later, once you have read “The Other Vietnam War”, make sure to pick up your copy of “Vietnam Again” and see how going back again can change everything.

Imzadi Publishing Welcomes a New Author to the Family!

Jerry GeroldImzadi is pleased to announce a new member to the Imzadi Publishing family…welcome to Jerry Gerold!

For more information about this new author check out his author page and keep an eye out for more information on the re-release of his book “Faith Lost” this fall!

The instant Faith walked into his shop, Benjamin Brackett fell in love. His friend and employee Veronica thinks Faith is playing him. Meanwhile, after some century-old items show up at his shop, he starts having dreams.

The main figure in these dreams is silent film actor Stanton Orloff. Stanton reveals to Benjamin that he is in fact Benjamin in a previous life and when Faith is kidnapped, Benjamin must turn to Stanton and other past lives to help rescue her.

Join Ben as he visits 1961, 1913, 16th Century Timbuktu and 1st Century B.C. Egypt as he attempts to recover his lost Faith.