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Rite of Passage: A Teenager's Chronicle of Combat and Captivity in Nazi Germany Paperback – May 1, 2009

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Rite of Passage: A Teenager's Chronicle of Combat and Captivity in Nazi Germany + Down in Flames + To Fight For My Country, Sir!: Memoirs of a 19 year old B-17 Navigator Shot Down in Nazi Germany
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: American Legacy Media (May 1, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0981848915
  • ISBN-13: 978-0981848914
  • Product Dimensions: 0.9 x 5.9 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,419,046 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"Both unique and compelling . . . a haunting reminder of the personal tragedies that occurred each day in the skies over Germany, the deadliest battlefront of World War II."  —DeLoy Spencer, Hill AeroSpace Museum

"An amazing sequence of challenging experiences—most amazing of all, he survived. This is a great book."  —Russell A. Madsen, flight engineer, B-17G, 350th Sqdrn, 100th BG

"This book is not only fascinating, but it also opened my eyes to an entirely new perspective . . . a discovery of the similarities between the German and American airmen. . . and this book only stands to confirm the madness of our ever having shot at each other in the first place."  —Gen. Johannes Steinhoff, former Luftwaffe ace and decorated German war hero, from the foreword

About the Author

Ray Matheny served as a flight engineer in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II and as an aircraft inspector for the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War. He went on to distinguished careers as an archaeologist, professor, researcher, and scholar and is still an active participant in archaeological digs around the world. He lives in Lindon, Utah. Gen. Johannes Steinhoff was a highly decorated pilot in the German Luftwaffe during World War II who later became commander of the West German Air Force and chairman of the NATO Military Committee. He was the author of The Final Hours, Messershmitts Over Sicily, and Voices from the Third Reich: An Oral History.

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Customer Reviews

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See all 8 customer reviews
Matheny's account of these events are the most detailed and complete that I have ever read.
Jerry W. Baer
I also have a hard time understanding the treatment which one human being can give to another in such situations.
Larae Mcmillan
Anyone who enjoys aviation, especially WWII aviation will want this book for their collection.
John E. Spencer

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By G. Toyn on May 22, 2009
Format: Paperback
Any study of World War II ought to include examination of the air war over Europe. Undoubtedly many books have been written about the subject, and many from the perspective of an American airman who was shot down and captured. Although a handful of these books are quite good, most are but chronologies of one man's experience. Although each veteran deserves our utmost respect, and at the risk of appearing somewhat snobby, the fact remains that most of these books are somewhat deficient in my opinion. Whether it is in the poor quality of production or editing, the writing is mundane, or the book lacks in some other significant way.

Despite this, I love reading autobiographies of World War II veterans, it has become increasingly difficult to find a new perspective on the war. Fortunately I was lucky to have received a copy of Rite of Passage: A Teenager's Chronicle of Combat and Captivity in Nazi Germany.

Very briefly, this book is about Ray Matheny, who at age 17, joined the U.S. Army Air Corps, despite still being enrolled at John C. Fremont High School in Los Angeles. Within months he was a seasoned warrior desperately battling for his life in aerial combat over Nazi Germany. After several incredible brushes with death, his B-17 was shot down. He managed to escape the spinning aircraft, but was knocked unconscious by the slipstream, yet he miraculously survived and became a prisoner of war in the infamous Nazi prison camp Stalag 17.

I was so taken by the book, I had to know more. Here's what I learned: After he finished his military career, Matheny went on to earn a Ph.D. in anthropology at the University of Oregon. From there he had a distinguished career as an archeologist, professor, researcher and scholar.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Jerry W. Baer on June 26, 2009
Format: Paperback
Review of Book

I took Matheny's book, "Right of Passage" to read on a trip to fish in Canada. I am a retired airline pilot and am attracted to stories involving planes. "Rite of Passage" is about planes to a point, but what it is really about is a young man, who at the age of seventeen years answered his country's call for warriors.
Shortly after December seventh, Ray Matheny, along with others lined up at the recruiting office to sign-up to go to war. Matheny was too young to sign-up at that time but was able to do so when he reached the age of seventeen, with his parents' permission. Matheny had a strong background in planes and flying, so the Air Force was his choice.
So beginning in the late Spring of 1942, this young man from the Watts, a part of Los Angeles, left home and began an adventure beyond his wildest dreams. An adventure that took him to the rigors of pre-flight training, to training missions in the B-17, heavy bomber, to a hazardous flight from America to England, to death defying missions over.Europe, to the perilous escape from a plane that exploded in mid-air, to the stark and dreadful prison, Stalag Luft 17B, to liberation and back to Watts. Thus, a young idealistic boy left Watts in1942 and eventually returned to Watts, tempered, tested, and seasoned, by a series of horrid events of war, a tough young man, the product of his "Rite of Passage".
As I read this book, I was made aware of several critical facets of those who were warriors in the air war over Europe. From my perspective as a pilot, I am amazed at the manner these young men were able to master flying a plane as complex as the B-17 and to do so in such a short expanse of time.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By R. Morris on November 8, 2009
Format: Paperback
Many books have been written about bomber crew experiences in the skies over Europe in World War Two. And many have been written about the Prisoner of War experiences of those crewmen who were shot from the skies. What makes Ray Matheny's book stand out is the meticulous attention to detail and his eye for description. Matheny's book was originally popular in Germany in translation, and only recently has it become available to the American reading public. Matheny was a top turret gunner/flight engineer aboard the B-17 'Deacon's Sinners' of the Eighth Air Force's 384th Bomb Group. Graced with dollops of mechanical and technical aptitude, he is so trusted by his pilot and copilot that he becomes, in essence, a third pilot on the crew, flying the plane for hours while the pilots catch up on their sleep. He describes the interpersonal dynamics of his crew in great detail, and I found this to be fascinating. The pilot, a frustrated fighter pilot wannabe, who takes unnecessary risks with the airplane. The copilot, perhaps justly feeling that he is more qualified and at times resenting Matheny's flying time. Each man on the crew is fleshed out so that the reader can identify with him. This becomes a double-edged sword when the crew is shot down, killing most of the men. And that is where Matheny's adventure takes on a completely new twist, as a prisoner of war in Nazi Germany. Matheny gives the reader an intimate glimpse of POW life, and of the long march near the end of the war that the emaciated POWs make to stay ahead of the advancing Russian Army.

The book, filled with three-dimensional, carefully drawn characters and situations, stands out in the many books I've read over the years in this genre. I cannot recommend it highly enough. A major addition to military aviation history.

Rob Morris, Author of Untold Valor: Forgotten Stories of American Bomber Crews over Europe in World War Two
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