11 Tuesday Nov 2014
A former Idaho state senator will sign copies of his book from 3 to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 11 at The Paperhouse in St. Maries.
Both the time and the place are important.
The time is important because Nov. 11 is Veterans Day. Mike Blackbird’s novel “One Flaming Hour” is a memoir about his late brother, Jerry, who served during the peak of the Vietnam War. Jerry flew 1,400 medivac helicopter missions often times under fire.
The place is important because there are three Medal of Honor recipients who called St. Maries home. Mr. Blackbird’s brother was a decorated soldier following his service. He received two Distinguished Flying Crosses and three single mission air medals among other honors.
The place is also important because when Jerry served as a freshman senator one of his accomplishments was passing a bill to reform log scaling practices to make sure both the logger and the trucker received a fair share. Benewah County’s economy is largely logging based and the area was established around that type of work.
“Those are the reasons I particularly wanted to do the book signing in St. Maries,” Mr. Blackbird said.
Originally from Kellogg, Mr. Blackbird tells of the struggles his brother experienced after he returned home from the war. The book is based largely on a number of letters Mr. Blackbird received from Jerry.
“He was a good writer and he was very detailed, very graphic in his description about what it meant to be in a war,” Mr. Blackbird said. “He wrote forty letters to my wife and I. He wrote to my folks as well, but he would tell them everything was fine. He never wanted to alarm my parents. But the letters I received from him were very graphic.”
Eleven letters appear in the book, which describe the horrors of war, the failing leadership and the politics surrounding exaggerated body counts. Mr. Blackbird said his brother served when the United States was beginning to pull troops out after the Tet Offensive.
“As troops were pulled, it left more and more exposed. Jerry became embittered about leadership. His point was let us fight or let us out,” Mr. Blackbird said.
When Jerry returned home, Mr. Blackbird said his brother had a rough time readjusting to life off the battlefield. He emerged from the experience with anger for the politicians who sent young men to die. In his book, Mr. Blackbird frankly discusses his brother’s short and disastrous marriage, his heavy drinking and his efforts to purge the pain.
“He was in a rough patch for about five years. He had an epiphany in Montana. He was driving his truck through and it broke down. He contemplated suicide for a short time, but decided that a lot of people had tried to kill him in 1969 and he wasn’t going to do it,” Mr. Blackbird said.
From there, Jerry opted to get involved in politics first as a member of the Kellogg school board and then as a state senator in 1978. In a cruel twist, Jerry was killed while taking his employer to evaluate a timber sale in a helicopter.
Following in his brother’s footsteps, Mr. Blackbird served as a senator for three terms. He represented St. Maries and the surrounding area during his time in office. He moved to Seattle following a promotion and retired as a regional salesman with Cardinal Health. He returned to Idaho in 2013 when he and his wife moved to Post Falls.
Article by Summer Williams of the Gazette Record. Reprinted with permission from the St. Maries Gazette Record.