Easy Target: The Long Strange Trip of a Scout Pilot in Vietnam byTom Smith, Presidio Press, Novato, Calif., 1996, $24.95.

Flying scout helicopters is a lot like shark fishing–you need to have the right bait to land the really big ones. In Vietnam, the scout helicopters were the bait. The units that did this job suffered as much as 50 percent casualties and did not get many volunteers. The brave souls that did volunteer often did not survive their time as rookies. Tom Smith served a tour of duty in scout helicopters during 1969-1970 and lived to tell the tale.

Easy Target is one of the many books to come out recently about the helicopter war in Vietnam. Compared to similar works, it falls somewhere in the middle. It is much better than Aeroscouts, by Charles D. Holly, but does not match any of Mathew Brennan’s books or Chickenhawk, by Robert Mason. It seems that Smith could not decide if he wanted his book to be a combat story or a story about a member of the 1960s counterculture who just happened to be a scout pilot.

Smith spends a lot of time discussing his life before joining the Army. He grew up in the Adirondack region of New York and was orphaned in his teens. He focuses so much attention on this part of his life that it proves distracting. While recounting his experiences in Vietnam, Tom Smith bombards the reader with his generally negative opinion of the Army and its officers.

Smith paints a rather colorful picture of what it was like to fly around, trolling for enemy gunfire. His combat scenes are gritty and well-written. He makes the reader appreciate the ordeal these brave pilots and gunners had to go through flying point in their small armorless helicopters. Smith’s luck did run out eventually. On his last mission, he was shot down and severely wounded. Particularly interesting in the noncombat sections of the book are the letters he received and sent while in Vietnam.

Tom Smith’s Easy Target is a bit off target. It is well-written and even humorous at times, but it is not well-focused. If he had only concentrated more on the war and less on criticizing those around him, this book would have been a much better read.

Scott R. DiMarco