David Ballentine recalls his experiences as a young pilot flying an armed UH-1E with Marine Observation Squadron Six in Vietnam. Like any good war memoir, parts of the book are deadly serious, while others are filled with thrilling, often humorous descriptions of squadron life during the early stages of the war. The book provides little-known details about the missions, operations, and living conditions at Ballentine's base in Ky Ha, shortly before the Tet Offensive. The book preserves not only Ballentine's impressions, but also reflects the experiences of others who "crewed" the Hueys, and describes scenes that will resonate with all those who served in helos in Vietnam.
David A. Ballentine attended graduate school after Vietnam and earned a PhD in European history. After returning to active duty, he retired as a colonel from the Marine Corps in 1989 and worked for Northrop Grumman in Ft. Leavenworth. He now teaches at a local college in Overland Park, Kansas.
"With deference to the faint-hearted or those burdened by political correctness, Gunbird Driver is a must-read for anyone interested in developing a genuinely complete picture of the Marine Corps in Vietnam. The book covers an important period of the war that preceded the politics and the bureaucracy that dominated its later years. It is an authentic and pleasantly articulate (at times sad) portrayal of the lives of Huey aircrews during a time when gifted young pilots, like Lt. Ballentine, were routinely called on to demonstrate their abundant aviation proficiency, their leadership skills, their initiative and, their courage under fire." —Brig. General John Arick, USMC (Ret.), VMO-6, 1966-67
"As a Navy student pilot, I trained alongside Marine students in the '60s and, although we earned the same unique 'Wings of Gold,' I concluded that Marines are different from all other aviators, and my later experience as an instructor pilot reinforced that belief. To see why I'm proud of them read this Marine aviator's historical accounting of his thirteen months in Vietnam." —Kenny Wayne Fields, author of The Rescue of Streetcar 304: A Navy Pilot's Forty Hours on the Run in Laos
"Retired Marine Colonel David Ballentine has provided another valuable piece in the mosaic of Vietnam War memoirs. Seen through the eyes of a young, junior, Marine helicopter pilot, David gives the reader a view of the gritty reality of life that was soldering in the field during wartime. From the sweaty, dangerous demands of close combat with the enemy to coping with the conditions of living and working in the tropical climate of South Vietnam, readers get a glimpse into the history of the nation's Vietnam War experience. Veterans will have memories invoked and others will gain insight into how it was." —Stephen R. Gray, author of Rampant Raider: An A-4 Skyhawk Pilot in Vietnam
"David Ballentine puts the reader in the cockpit of a Huey gunship and lets him experience the heat of battle." —Capt. Richard Knott, USN (Ret.), author of Fire From the Sky: Seawolf Gunships in the Mekong Delta
"An entertaining, informative, and evocative 'slice of life' of a Marine aviator in the Vietnam War. The narrative is quite often irreverent, and in our politically correct world today, refreshingly so, as it transports the reader vividly back to those times as if he is a product of them, or paints a colorful image of the era for those too young to remember." —Kit Lavell, author of Flying Black Ponies: The Navy's Close Air Support Squadron in Vietnam
"Earthy yet accurate, Dave Ballentine captures the essence of combat flying in an armed helicopter that was not designed to be armed. I was privileged to fly with each of the aviators Ballentine names. He's right. Their quiet courage was so universally consistent that it perversely became routine. As he portrays with scrupulous honesty, the goal was always to support the young Marine with the rifle—with rockets, guns or a quick trip to the doc's. Whatever the risks were to do that, it made the risks worth taking. Ballentine is not only a superb pilot, he is a gifted storyteller who has filled an historical void of that crucial early phase of the Vietnam struggle. His book is for all Marines and all Americans. It's not just for gunbird drivers." —Lt. General William R. Maloney, USMC (Ret.)
"Author David A. Ballentine's Gunbird Driver: A Marine Huey Pilot's War in Vietnam is noteworthy because it can be read on several levels. It is a memoir to be sure, but one unlike the standard-issue series of anecdotes that come from military retirees who have justifications to make or agendas to promote. What it is, instead, is a back-porch conversation with plenty of saltiness and lots of appropriate expletives, such as what one might get listening to the man himself. This book is worth reading and pondering. Vietnam may have been a long time ago, but the story is still going on." —James Srodes, The Washington Times, 16 November 2008