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Fighter Pilot's Daughter: Growing Up in the Sixties and the Cold War Hardcover – August 22, 2013

ISBN-13: 978-1442222007 ISBN-10: 144222200X

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers (August 22, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 144222200X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1442222007
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.2 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #840,529 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


Mary Lawlor's memoir, Fighter Pilot's Daughter: Growing Up in the Sixties and the Cold War, is terrifically written. The experience of living in a military family is beautifully brought to life. This memoir shows the pressures on families in the sixties, the fears of the Cold War, and also the love that families had that helped them get through those times, with many ups and downs. It's a story that all of us who are old enough can relate to, whether we were involved or not. The book is so well written. Mary Lawlor shares a story that needs to be written, and she tells it very well. (The Jordan Rich Show)

Mary Lawlor, in her brilliantly realized memoir, articulates what accountants would call a soft cost, the cost that dependents of career military personnel pay, which is the feeling of never belonging to the specific piece of real estate called home. . . . [T]he real story is Lawlor and her father, who is ensconced despite their ongoing conflict in Lawlor’s pantheon of Catholic saints and Irish presidents, a perfect metaphor for coming of age at a time when rebelling was all about rebelling against the paternalistic society of Cold War America. (Stars and Stripes)

Fighter Pilot’s Daughter. . . is a candid and splendidly-written account of a young woman caught in the political turmoil of the ’60s and the domestic turmoil that percolated around a John Wayne figure who won the Distinguished Flying Cross, eight Air Medals and the Cross of Gallantry across three generations of starspangled blood and guts. ... Among the triumphs of the book is Lawlor’s ability to transition from academic – she is the author of two scholarly books and numerous articles about American literature and culture – to popular writing. 'I tried very hard to keep my academic voice out of the book,' said Lawlor, who will be retiring as a professor and director of American Studies after the spring semester. 'In academic writing, you explain and explain and footnote and footnote, and some of the life inevitably comes out of it. I wanted this to have life.' In so many ways it does….[particularizing] her family, including her mother, Frannie, her older twin sisters (Nancy and Lizzie) and a younger sister (Sarah). . . . In many ways the Lawlor women drive her narrative. ... Her principal focus, inevitably, is her Fighter Pilot Father, who, in her words, 'seemed too large and wild for the house.' Jack Lawlor was so true to fighter-pilot form as to be an archetype, hard-drinking, hard-to-please, sometimes (though not always) hard-of-heart. Mary does not spare those details.' (Muhlenberg: The Magazine)

This engrossing memoir adeptly weaves the author's account of growing up in a military family in the United States and Europe with domestic American and international Cold War events. Mary Lawlor's descriptions of her parents' origins and aging, and her perceptive, honest reflections on childhood and young adulthood between the 1950s and 1970s, are illuminated by the knowledge and wisdom that develop over decades of adulthood. In re-visiting her earlier life, the author reveals a process of arriving at a compassionate understanding of the significant people in it—relatives, friends, nuns, boyfriends, and draft resisters, among others—and through this, a clearer understanding of one's self. She demonstrates that comprehension of the broad historical context in which one lives—in her case, the pervasive global rivalry between communism and anticommunism, and its influences on American ideals about family roles, political values, and aspirations, which she questioned and challenged as a young woman drawn into the counterculture—is crucial for attaining such self-knowledge.
(Donna Alvah, Associate Professor and Margaret Vilas Chair of US History, St. Lawrence University)

About the Author

Mary Lawlor is professor of English and the Director of American Studies at Muhlenberg College. She is the author of Recalling the Wild: Naturalism and the Closing of the American West, and Public Native America: Tribal Self Representation in Casinos, Museums and Powwows.

More About the Author

Mary Lawlor grew up in a military family during the Cold War.  Her father was a decorated fighter pilot who fought in the Pacific during World War II, flew missions in Korea, and did two combat tours in Vietnam. His family followed him from base to base and country to country during his years of service. Every two or three years, Mary, her three sisters, and her mother packed up their household and moved. By the time she graduated from high school, they had shifted homes fourteen times. These displacements, plus her father's frequent absences and brief, dramatic returns, were part of the fabric of her childhood, as were the rituals of base life and the adventures of life abroad.

As Mary came of age, tensions grew between the patriotic, Catholic culture of her upbringing and the values of the countercultural sixties. By the time she dropped out of the American College in Paris in 1968, she faced her father, then posted in Saigon, across a deep political divide.  Inevitably, the war came home.  The fighter pilot, without knowing it, had taught his daughter how to fight back.

Years of turbulence followed.  Then, after working in Germany, Spain and Japan, Mary went on to graduate school at NYU, earned a Ph.D. and became a professor of literature and American Studies at Muhlenberg College.

She and her husband spend part of each year on a small farm in the mountains of southern Spain. More information is available at

Customer Reviews

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God forbid, if you should meet one.
To me a well-written memoir reads like a good novel only better, because you know it's about a real person.
Amazon Customer
In fact, the book’s language is one of its triumphs.
Jim Nechas

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Marie Soule on October 19, 2013
Format: Hardcover
I so related to Mary Lawlor's book. As an American Army Brat growing up in Okinawa, England and Germany, I always felt like an outsider and longed to put down roots and be a "normal American". Ms. Lawlor captures so beautifully that feeling of wanting to be part of a tribe that is continually shifting. Her descriptions of the Cold War events that shaped her youth are vivid and engaging. Ultimately, one finishes the book realizing that "home is where the heart is". I loved this book!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Ronald Bunch on October 29, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I bought this book because I knew and flew with the fighter pilot: John L. Lawlor. He was a Marine Corps Aviator in WW2, but I flew with him in the Vietnam era when he was a US Army Aviator. I was the senior officer in our unit, and the commander, but Jack Lawlor, older than my mother, was a mentor to most of us. His tales of breaking formation as "Pappy" Boyington's wingman to "bounce a Betty (Japanese bomber)" always broke up US Air Force fighter pilot bar stories. The military families influenced by the Cold War are innumerable, but this book captures the most critical period, post WW2, Korea, Vietnam.
Jack Lawlor is a legendary WW2, Korea, and Vietnam aviator and Mary Lawlor's book connects Jack Lawlor's family with the experiences of all military "brats" and those parents who cared about them whilst we were "away".
It wasn't only the families who shared the disconnects, as we all ventured to and fro and tried to return to a culture wherein we felt we belonged. Our own culture(s) changed along the way.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Lawrence Mayes on November 20, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Mary Lawlor is one of four daughters of Jack and Frannie Lawlor, a family developed, traversed and molded, for better or worse, by the immutable and awesome influences of the Catholic Church, the Cold War and the U S Army. The author has penned a penetrating, at times painful, and sometimes humorous family history created by the confluence of religion, the military, the Cold War and two strong parents who were often the binding glue and at other times destructive force. For those readers who are from military families, much will be familiar; the many moves, the abandoned friends, the harsh new beginnings in strange schools, foreign lands and uncertain surroundings. The hierarchy of Jack's rank and duty position at each assignment conferred upon the family an often unspoken, but no less real, caste status that had a direct and often negative affect on his family as his career took them from North to South, East to West and foreign shores. Mary is exceptionally insightful as she describes how the family adapts, collectively and individually; to the changing circumstances over her father's long and successful career spanning WWII through Vietnam and the Cold War. The success, however, is hallmarked by long absences as he goes to Vietnam twice and on many extended TDYs, leaving the family to fend for itself. Author Lawlor gives detailed portraits of her parents and three sisters, the impacts each feels from the many influences brought to them by war, Cold War and the uneasy peace in between. Mary finally leaves the family for college in Paris and a rebellion fueled by her new freedom from the cloister of the family. Her intense self-analysis, much in retrospect, gives stark revelations of the stresses she was subjected to and had not reconciled. This book is extremely well written, intensely personal and revealing of both the author and her family, yielding many important lessons of the dynamics of families under the influences of rigid institutions and challenging situations.
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Format: Hardcover
This memoir about a daughter growing up in the United States military was very interesting. Mary Lawlor is the daughter who writes her personal experiences of the Sixties. Mary Lawlor's father is a Fighter pilot. He's great at what he does in the military. When he comes home to spend time with his family, he's a different man. Mary Lawlor strives to explain his temperament in the memoir. She also writes about her mother, Frannie. Frannie is the one who carries on while the father is fighting overseas. The Lawlors also experience battles at home without their dad. They are moved from place to place over and over again. Permanence seems like a word not written in a dictionary yet. Mostly Jack fights what we call the Cold War. So there is much written about the Communists.Communism is the secret bogeyman hiding in a locked closet. No one sees it, feels it but there is this fear of what will happen if it jumps out of the closet.God forbid, if you should meet one.So, there is no way not to go to war.

The writing style of the memoir is wonderful. It reads like a novel. When the family moved from California to Alabama or some other location, I could easily feel their emotions. I especially enjoyed reading about Mary Lawlor's move to Paris, France. However, there are years when are father and she do not see eye to eye. At one point, he asks, "are you queer?" This gives an idea how people described people different from themselves during this period. Another question, "are you hanging with commies?"

I wasn't prepared for the fist in the eye that Jack gave his daughter, Mary. Her eye did bleed. Fighter Pilot's Daughter by Mary Lawlor might have been a bit glossed over. Perhaps, it was impossible for Mary Lawlor to write about all her pain overtly. .
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By Paul D. Hurt on May 29, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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