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Book Spotlight – Fighter Pilot’s Daughter

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FIGHTER’S PILOT DAUGHTER by Mary Lawyor, Memoir, 336 pp., $18.95
(Kindle edition) $20.50 (paperback)

 

Title: Fighter Pilot’s Daughter: Growing Up in the Sixties and the Cold War

Author: Mary Lawlor

Publisher: Rowman and Littlefield

Pages: 336

Genre: Memoir

Format: Hardcover/Kindle

FIGHTER PILOT’S DAUGHTER: GROWING UP IN THE SIXTIES AND THE COLD WAR
tells the story of the author as a young woman coming of age in an Irish
Catholic, military family during the Cold War. Her father, an aviator
in the Marines and later the Army, was transferred more than a dozen
times to posts from Miami to California and Germany as the government’s
Cold War policies demanded. For the pilot’s wife and daughters, each
move meant a complete upheaval of ordinary life. The car was sold, bank
accounts closed, and of course one school after another was left behind.
Friends and later boyfriends lined up in memory as a series of
temporary attachments. The book describes the dramas of this traveling
household during the middle years of the Cold War. In the process,
FIGHTER PILOT’S DAUGHTER shows how the larger turmoil of American
foreign policy and the effects of Cold War politics permeated the
domestic universe. The climactic moment of the story takes place in the
spring of 1968, when the author’s father was stationed in Vietnam and
she was attending college in Paris. Having left the family’s quarters in
Heidelberg, Germany the previous fall, she was still an ingénue; but
her strict upbringing had not gone deep enough to keep her anchored to
her parents’ world. When the May riots broke out in the Latin quarter,
she attached myself to the student leftists and American draft resisters
who were throwing cobblestones at the French police. Getting word of
her activities via a Red Cross telegram delivered on the airfield in Da
Nang, Vietnam, her father came to Paris to find her. The book narrates
their dramatically contentious meeting and return to the American
military community of Heidelberg. The book concludes many years later,
as the Cold War came to a close. After decades of tension that made
communication all but impossible, the author and her father reunited. As
the chill subsided in the world at large, so it did in the relationship
between the pilot and his daughter. When he died a few years later, the
hard edge between them, like the Cold War stand-off, had become a
distant memory.

For More Information

  • Fighter Pilot’s Daughter: Growing Up in the Sixties and the Cold War is available at Amazon.
  • Pick up your copy at Barnes & Noble.

 

The pilot’s house where I grew up was mostly a
women’s world.  There were five of us.  We had the place to ourselves
most of the time.  My mother made the big decisions–where we went to
school, which bank to keep our money in.  She had to decide these things
often because we moved every couple of years.  The house is thus a figure
of speech, a way of thinking about a long series of small, cement dwellings we
occupied as one fictional home.

It was my father, however,
who turned the wheel, his job that rotated us to so many different
places.  He was an aviator, first in the Marines, later in the Army.
When he came home from his extended absences–missions, they were called–the rooms
shrank around him.  There wasn’t enough air.  We didn’t breathe as
freely as we did when he was gone, not because he was mean or demanding but
because we worshipped him.  Like satellites my sisters and I orbited him
at a distance, waiting for the chance to come closer, to show him things we’d
made, accept gifts, hear his stories.  My mother wasn’t at the center of
things anymore.  She hovered, maneuvered, arranged, corrected.  She
was first lady, the dame in waiting.  He was the center point of our circle,
a flier, a winged sentry who spent most of his time far up over our
heads.  When he was home, the house was definitely his.

These were the early years
of the Cold War.  It was a time of vivid fears, pictured nowadays in
photos of kids hunkered under their school desks.  My sisters and I did
that.  The phrase ‘air raid drill’ rang hard–the double-a sound a cold,
metallic twang, ending with ill.  It meant rehearsal for a time when you
might get burnt by the air you breathed.  
Every day we heard
practice rounds of artillery fire and ordinance on the near horizon.  We
knew what all this training was for.  It was to keep the world from
ending.  Our father was one of many Dads who sweat at soldierly labor,
part of an arsenal kept at the ready to scare off nuclear annihilation of life
on earth.  When we lived on post, my sisters and I saw uniformed men
marching in straight lines everywhere.  This was readiness, the soldiers
rehearsing against Armageddon.  The rectangular buildings where the
commissary, the PX, the bowling alley and beauty shop were housed had fall out
shelters in the basements, marked with black and yellow wheels, the civil
defense insignia.  Our Dad would often leave home for several days on
maneuvers, readiness exercises in which he and other men played war games
designed to match the visions of big generals and political men.  Visions
of how a Russian air and ground attack would happen.  They had to be ready
for it.
A clipped, nervous rhythm
kept time on military bases.  It was as if you needed to move efficiently
to keep up with things, to be ready yourself, even if you were just a
kid.  We were chased by the feeling that life as we knew it could change
in an hour.
Mary Lawlor grew up in an Army family during the Cold War. Her father
was a decorated fighter pilot who fought in the Pacific during World
War II, flew missions in Korea, and did two combat tours in Vietnam. His
family followed him from base to base and country to country during his
years of service. Every two or three years, Mary, her three sisters,
and her mother packed up their household and moved. By the time she
graduated from high school, she had attended fourteen different schools.
These displacements, plus her father?s frequent absences and brief,
dramatic returns, were part of the fabric of her childhood, as were the
rituals of base life and the adventures of life abroad.
As Mary came of age, tensions between the patriotic, Catholic culture
of her upbringing and the values of the sixties counterculture set
family life on fire. While attending the American College in Paris, she
became involved in the famous student uprisings of May 1968. Facing her
father, then posted in Vietnam, across a deep political divide, she
fought as he had taught her to for a way of life completely different
from his and her mother’s.
Years of turbulence followed. After working in Germany, Spain and
Japan, Mary went on to graduate school at NYU, earned a Ph.D. and became
a professor of literature and American Studies at Muhlenberg College.
She has published three books, Recalling the Wild (Rutgers UP, 2000),
Public Native America (Rutgers UP, 2006), and most recently Fighter Pilot’s Daughter: Growing Up in the Sixties and the Cold War (Rowman and Littlefield, September 2013).
She and her husband spend part of each year on a small farm in the mountains of southern Spain.

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