Fighting for Peace, a Stunning Historical Thriller by Jim Perakis

The Bottom Line: Perakis’ depiction of a fighter pilot-turned-anti-war activist is stunning and unputdownable. Perfect for fans of Kristin Hannah’s The Women and Ron Kovic’s Born on the 4th of July.  

Fighting for Peace opens in 1968 as United States Navy fighter pilot Lieutenant Tom Beckett is completing his last mission of the Vietnam War. After escorting bombers operating over North Vietnam, he’s ambushed by an enemy MiG-17. Reacting quickly, he maneuvers his F-8 Crusader into a hard banking dive to evade incoming fire. Taking advantage of the enemy’s poor speed at high altitude, he attacks first with 20-millimeter cannon fire that misses, then connects with a Sidewinder air-to-air missile. The enemy pilot bails out, but his chute fails to open, sending him to certain death. 

Despite scoring his first and only kill of the war, Tom isn’t in a celebratory mood. He’s done with the military and done with the war. And though he didn’t see the enemy fighter’s face up close, it still manages to haunt his dreams.

Author Jim Perakis, a Vietnam War veteran who served as a Lieutenant aboard the USS Bon Homme Richard, and also served on the USS Farragut and USS Wasp, authentically depicts the journey of a conflicted aviator who is beginning to question not only his role in the war, but also the war itself. Tom’s introspective melancholy ticks up a notch as the ship arrives at its home port in San Diego, where he encounters fellow sailor Daniel Robinson. When asked whether Robinson is off to see his family, he tells an all-too-familiar tale: his wife left him, and he has no idea where to even visit his children. Robinson entered the military to escape his hometown a decade earlier, but like so many others, he’s now practically imprisoned by it. Rather than rely strictly on Tom’s status as a fighter pilot to build contrast between his past and future life, Perakis uses the social revolution of the late 1960s as an engrossing backdrop for Tom’s story arc. 

Tom looks up old girlfriend, Becky, a San Diego Chargers Cheerleader. He didn’t expect their relationship to be monogamous, and despite his attraction to her, he’s not looking for anything long-term.  Along the way he meets Kate, a Berkeley graduate who is a member of an anti-war group called Students for a Democratic Society. Kate says she’s interested in hearing what soldiers think about the war, but she leaves little question as to what she thinks of them: “Helping a carrier drop bombs on people was a terrible choice. Now you can make a better one.”

Perakis uses Tom’s burgeoning romance with Kate to transform him from a reluctant but loyal warrior into an anti-war operative. Though Tom is no longer a believer, his upbringing in a Roman Catholic family is completely at odds with Kate’s entire lifestyle. Upon their first meeting, Tom learns she lives with several other people. When he tries to ascertain whether she’s sleeping with any of them, her answer is a tease, and the beginning of a long romance. Little does he know that he’ll soon be thrust into communal living surrounded by “free love.”  Even churches – place of worship in Tom’s childhood – are now meeting places for war activists and veteran support groups. Throughout, Perakis puts Tom in a variety of situations with potential for conflict – especially when it pertains to the infamous 1968 Democratic Convention.  

Just how far is Tom willing to go? Will his relationship with Kate survive his decisions? How can he remain loyal to veterans and his country while doing what he believes is right? Those questions and others make Fighting for Peace hard to put down. 

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