Contributor: Thomas Houlihan
Review Date: 24 May 2007
The book opens with background, telling about the author's upbringing, and his early life experiences. It is interesting to know what goes into making the man who later goes to war. An interesting point that is examined throughout the book is the author's Quaker background, and how a devout member of this peaceful religion reconciles himself with going to war. Surprisingly, he meets another Quaker during his adventures, and determines that they approached this dilemma in similar fashion.
What I really liked about this book is that the author does more than simply tell his story. He fits his experiences into the overall framework of the B-26 at war. He intersperses his own account with background material on the plane and how the aircraft went to war. He discusses the development of the aircraft as a machine, as well as how the aircraft developed as a weapon. By using archival matter and interviews with early B-26 crews, he is able to illustrate the development of tactics, and how the first squadrons overcame unusual circumstances with the aircraft itself in order to make it such an outstanding force against the enemy.
While discussing various aspects of crew training, the author all but gives you the text of the training manuals, explaining various procedures the crew had to go through to accomplish their missions. By the time his story gets into the war, the reader has a much better appreciation for what the crew is doing over enemy territory. You won't learn how to fly the plane, but you'll understand the concept a lot more.
He does the same thing in a chapter entitled The Anatomy of a Combat Mission. He explains the squadron make-up, as well as how the individual "elements" form "flights," and how those fit together to eventually make up the "box" formation. You learn how the ordnancemen load the plane, how the navigator keeps them on course, and how the bombardier goes through the process of putting "steel on target."
His own story covers many aspects often not mentioned in the history books. From primitive barracks to adventures in Paris, he is able to give the reader a much better appreciation for the actual life lived by airmen in forward bases. While it was still more pleasant than the infantryman's accommodations in a foxhole, it wasn't the warm, comfortable living that many of us associate with the air forces.
He doesn't leave off with the end of the war. He talks about his transition to civilian life, blending back into a non-combat society. He likens this experience to a drug addict going "cold turkey," as he left behind the stressors of combat. The reader is present when he is married, discovering the odd connection between his bride and the plane he flew in during the war. He also discusses what has done since the end of the war.
Not entirely what I expected when I picked it up, I quite enjoyed reading this, and very much recommend it.
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Joachim von Ribbentrop, German Foreign Minister, Aug 1939