Exploring the Inspiration Behind ‘Not to Reason Why’ with Robert L. Decker 

From the Skies to the Page, A Pilot’s Journey Through War and Literature

Robert L. Decker’s journey from the skies as an Air Force pilot to the pages of literature is as fascinating as it is inspirational. Graduating from the prestigious US Air Force Academy and subsequently serving as a pilot, Decker’s career path might seem straightforward, yet it took a poignant turn as he found himself entwined with the rich tapestry of history and human experience. His recent endeavour, Not to Reason Why, is a testament to this journey—an exploration of love, sacrifice, and the profound impact of war on individuals and families.

Delving into the genesis of his novel, Decker reveals a deeply personal connection to the subject matter. Inspired by his cousin’s harrowing experiences as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam, Decker’s passion for military aviation and the resilience of those who served ignited the spark for his storytelling. Yet, it was a serendipitous encounter with a neighbour discussing the art of storytelling that propelled Decker to embark on this literary endeavour. From that moment, the narrative unfolded organically, each word a tribute to the courage and sacrifice of those who serve.

As Not to Reason Why unfolds, it becomes evident that Decker’s portrayal of characters and events is imbued with authenticity—a reflection of his own experiences as an Air Force pilot and the countless stories shared by veterans. From the adrenaline-fueled aerial combat to the quiet moments of familial bonds strained by separation and uncertainty, Decker masterfully navigates the complexities of military life with nuance and empathy.

Central to the novel is the poignant love story between Zack and Ruth, a relationship tested by the tumult of war and the relentless march of time. Drawing from his own experiences of separation from loved ones during his Air Force career, Decker brings their journey to life with poignancy and realism, capturing the essence of love amidst adversity.

Yet, amidst the backdrop of aerial combat and the bonds of love, Not to Reason Why also poses thought-provoking questions about the morality of warfare. Through his characters, Decker navigates these ethical dilemmas with a keen understanding of the soldier’s code and the inherent complexities of war.

Ultimately, Not to Reason Why is more than just a novel—it is a heartfelt tribute to the men and women who serve, a poignant reminder of the sacrifices made by military families, and a testament to the enduring human spirit in the face of adversity. Robert L. Decker’s debut is a literary triumph, offering readers a window into a world of courage, honour, and the profound impact of war on the human soul.

What inspired you to write “Not to Reason Why”? How did you approach researching the historical context?

Since deciding to be an Air Force pilot in high school, I’ve devoured books about military aviation. A cousin who became a prisoner of war in North Vietnam led me to reading about those experiences. I found prisoner’s courage and resilience in the face of torture to be very inspiring.

Beginning the novel, though, was a confluence of events. A neighbor who is a school resource director provided the spark. She spoke about a story-telling class she took for continuing education and story-telling clubs. About to retire, I thought it might be a hobby to pursue.

The next day, I happened to listen to a song about a young woman and her cowboy boyfriend. Her father knew the cowboy “would leave her crying.” I observed to my wife that the song could also be about a pilot. So I wrote a story describing a father’s concerns after meeting his daughter’s fighter-pilot boyfriend, one she intended to marry. Then I just kept writing as the plot unfolded.

Can you discuss any personal experiences or influences that shaped the characters and events in the novel?

The experience of my cousin and his family was one influence. I also met numerous pilots while attending the Air Force Academy who were all veterans of the Vietnam War. Only a few, though, talked much about their experiences. My cousin said very little about his life as a POW. But I listened to those who did talk. A large body of work exists written by veterans and their families about their war years.

The novel explores themes of honour, duty, and the human cost of war. What message or takeaway do you hope readers will glean from your book?

In the US it has become a cliché for people to tell veterans, “Thank you for your service.” It is an appropriate thought, but it has become as automatic as,Have a nice day. With the volunteer military in the US, only a minority of Americans have any idea of the military family’s sacrifices.

As I watched the Missing Man formation overfly the graveside service of my cousin, his wife, and their son, I resolved to finish the novel and try to show readers what that sacrifice might look like.

How did your background as a former Air Force pilot inform your portrayal of aerial combat and military life?

Most of my instructor pilots in the Air Force were combat veterans. Our training included manoeuvres used in combat. The suspense inherent in combat flying or undergoing torture were relatively easy to portray. The most challenging aspect was writing about the families. Going through normal everyday lives could be dull. One aspect of being the spouse of an absent military member is dealing with worry and family emergencies. Friends might try to understand, but can they really? I searched for a balance between extreme drama, which could easily be trite, and realistic drama. I did not want a dysfunctional family. My research and a little imagination helped me find the balance.

My time in the Air Force demonstrated that military families rely on each other in stressful times. My wife and I saw that as newlyweds across the world. We pilots flew our airplanes away when typhoons came, leaving families on their own.

The relationship between Zack and Ruth is central to the story. What challenges did you encounter in depicting their love amidst the turmoil of war?

My wife and I faced many separations in the Air Force. We almost missed our first Christmas together. I missed two Thanksgiving holidays. For one my wife’s plans to visit her parents was interrupted the night before by her grandfather’s heart attack in another state. She ate canned chili alone. I drew from those experiences to imagine a years-long separation full of uncertainty. Books written by veteran families also gave me a good sense on portraying their love and loneliness.

The novel raises thought-provoking questions about the morality of warfare. How did you navigate these complex ethical dilemmas while writing?

I’ve heard about an interesting survey of Vietnam veterans. When asked how they felt about serving in the war, the vast majority reported they were proud to have served. They see the war as a just cause. This pride was expressed despite the ultimate fall of South Vietnam and the horror that many witnessed. The vets know that only a small number did not behave honourably in the war.

I wanted my characters to show one tenant of military training: a soldier looks out for his comrades. A soldier who does not live up to that code is an outlier. The theme also carries over to the families.

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