So Close to Dying
Edward Mowry ’66
CreateSpace (2013)

The odd thing is that Ed Mowry’s formative years, detailed in this fast-moving memoir, weren’t all that unusual for the time.

Now a California veterinarian, Mowry ’66 grew up in Seattle and New Jersey, where he had a rambunctious childhood with his oldest brother. He came to Colby intent on playing football, discovered literature, bicycled around Europe, tried scuba diving for treasure, worked at a Seattle zoo, and decided to enlist in the Marine Corps rather than leave his fate to the Vietnam War draft.

In short order Mowry survived the grueling gantlet of Officer Candidate School at Quantico and helicopter flight training, and he was sent to Vietnam to pilot the CH-46, the twin-rotor workhorse of that war. Not long after being an adventurous Colby student, Mowry found himself ferrying wounded Marines to offshore hospital ships, inserting troops into hostile territory, and once, he writes, delivering mercenaries to Laos for the CIA.

One “routine” mission called for Mowry to extract a Marine reconnaissance team pinned down by the enemy on a mountainside southeast of Da Nang. With planes and helicopters delivering covering fire, he maneuvered the chopper into position so a ladder could be lowered through the jungle canopy and the five Marines could clip on.

As I approach the [position], the flares go out, and there’s only darkness. If I turn on my landing lights, to provide a visual reference, I’m a bull’s eye. The Marines could set off a flare but they’re sort of busy at the moment, also trying to be inconspicuous and not get shot. … As luck would have it, there’s a small secondary fire in the high elephant grass surrounding the recon team. The fire provides just enough light to allow me to hover, and we lower the ladder.

The Marines are hoisted up and flown to safety, still clipped to the dangling ladder. Another day in the war zone.

This and other accounts are delivered with a self-effacing matter-of-factness, as are Mowry’s reflections on the war, which he declares “ugly, immoral, pernicious,” despite the courage of young Marines. Much has been written about Vietnam, and this unassuming memoir adds one story that ultimately is much greater than the sum of its parts.