This personal account of his 21-month tour of duty and how this impacted on the rest of his
life is hair-raising and touching at the same time.
The author brings the realities of this tour of duty onto the pages of this book, which in turn, leap
off into the reader's mind and understanding. A vividly written yet tasteful account of a nightmare experience, this
is leavened by the author's pride of accomplishment in the difference he made in those lives he protected and saved.
********************************************************* HIGHEST TRADITIONS Memories of War BY TONY LAZZARINI
REVIEWED BY JONI BOUR
The Vietnam Veteran Wed Site
I recommend this book to anyone who visits this site. The book is small
in size and weighs in at well under 200 pages but it will not disappoint you. As a matter of fact, you may find as I did,
that when you reach the end, you are wishing our author has more to tell. He did not leave you hanging in the sort of way
that you know the author intends to frisk you for more money for the sequel. But rather, the words he uses to express his
coming home leaves you thinking, I hope he is okay, I hope he found a nice girl and settled down. I wonder what he does for
a living now. Did he ever fly helicopters after the war? Whump, whump, off we went in 626. It is a good thing it is his story
and not mine because there would have been some serious hurling and screaming and maybe some embarrassing passing out involved
when we fly low level over rice paddies. I did not even want to imagine the up and down and side to side evasive maneuvers.
I am not na´ve enough not to realize how dangerous his missions were, but I used to ride on the back of a fire engine, so
I can also relate to how exciting it must have been to be a door gunner on one of those ships! Wow. No doubt it was a dangerous
job. I read once that the average life expectancy of a door gunner in a hot LZ was 20 seconds. That can take some of the thrill
out of your job- or add to it, depending on your perspective. Living with fear and danger every moment of your mission must
take even ordinary thoughts (if you bothered to have them anymore) and twist and stretch them, leaving them mangled and worthless
on the floor of your hootch (I like saying that word). I can understand how things like creased fatigues and a clean-shaven
face would seem trivial compared to things like living or dying. I have such respect for the men who did this job- they either
had nerves of steel or none left at all. I was moved several times throughout the book by his candor. I was also very touched
when he speaks of a time near Christmas when he began to receive Christmas cards- nearly 100 of them- from people he did not
even know. All sorts, some store bought with only a signature, some homemade or hand drawn by small children. Some included
letters- all from people who had just wanted to write to a soldier to wish him a happy holiday from home. They had received
his name from a local radio station. Proof that people really did care. He was not forgotten. He saved those cards and wrote
back to each of people who had remembered him on their Christmas list. He tells us that even today he has saved those cards,
all in a special scrapbook. I am a member of a group called Operation Soldier Support and we do the same thing- write and
send care packages to soldiers far from home. It meant a lot to me to see how much those cards had meant to him back then
and how much they still mean.
It is a great ride when you go along with Mr. Lazzarini but don't be misled, he will scare the pants off you too. Despite
his humor and light heart throughout the book, he does not cover up the fact that there was death all around him that he was
powerless to stop. He cannot hide the fact that young men cannot go to war and be unaffected by it- whether they are on the
ground fighting an enemy they are eye to eye with, or flying from a jet or a helicopter. War is hell any soldier knows that.
You will gather from his memoir that the author was many things, a wannabe pilot, a damn good door gunner, a jokester, a soldier,
but most of all a survivor. Little bits and pieces of his story will lead you to believe he was scarred just as every other
veteran was. He may not bear scars on his body, but his heart and mind were clearly wounded. I found it particularly eloquent
when near the end of his book he writes, "What I did not realize was it would be years before I would ever have deep
feelings about anything again. A silent coldness and anger would replace everything. Everything." Another part that
sticks with me is at the very end of the book he speaks of returning home and how it wasn't long before his friends prior
to Vietnam no longer wanted to be around him. No one could relate to him at all. And worst of all were questions like, "How
many people did you kill?" or "Did any of your friends get killed? He would answer in words that could not have
been spoken better or been truer, "All the people who were killed were my friends". There is a truth and reality,
I think, in those words that all veterans can understand.
If not for courageous men like this author, history, the real history of how real men and women survived would be
lost. We cannot trust history to be told from text book or Hollywood movies. Sadly, truth is often lost to either political
correctness or better action, sex and drugs- stuff that sells. We need to read it and hear it from veterans like Mr. Lazzarini
and other men and women who have their books listed on this website. They were really there. For many of them, parts of
their souls or spirits are still there in Vietnam. The author says about himself that he was not a hero or a coward. I disagree.
He is a hero. Many of us speculate about how we might react in situations that call for bravery and action under pressure-
but we have never been tested. Our author has. When you read this book, you know he will do fine.
Capsule reviews of Vietnam War books.
By Alison Chaiken
Lazzarini was a helicopter door gunner in Vietnam during 1965-1967 and Highest Traditions is a very personal memoir
of his two tours of duty. The book includes some striking firsthand accounts of missions to apply Agent Orange and to covertly
infiltrate Cambodia. Lazzarini's writing is informal and conversational, as if you were having a beer with an acquaintance
and casually inquired about his war service. Since Highest Traditions has such a tight focus, it wouldn't be a good choice
for a first book about Vietnam, but its frank reporting is has more impact on the reader than many books by professional journalists.
When describing the death of friends or the horrifying emotional impact of the war on GI's, Lazzarini's writing will put a
lump in almost every throat. Nonetheless there are several passages that are very funny.