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Before They Were the Black Sheep: Marine Fighting Squadron VMF-214 and the Battle for the Solomon Islands Hardcover – October 9, 2011

4.9 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Peter M. Dunbar is a lawyer and partner with the Tallahassee-based firm of Pennington, Moore, Wilkinson, Bell and Dunbar and serves as an adjunct professor of law at Florida State University.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: University Press of Florida; First Edition edition (October 9, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0813037255
  • ISBN-13: 978-0813037257
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.1 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,772,701 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This edited collection of letters home from a young fighter pilot in WWII provides a fascinating, intimate glimpse into the lives of the heroic men who fought the war in the Pacific. The author's son has done a wonderful job of interspersing historical accounts of events with letters that his father wrote home to his parents while he was going through training in the US and then while he was serving in the Pacific. Readers experience vicariously the gritty reality of day-to-day living during both flight training and combat. What makes this reality vivid is the determinedly matter-of-fact tone of Dunbar's letters home to his mom and dad - letters filled equally with descriptions of the plants and topography of the islands where he and his colleagues camp out as well as of the harrowing sorties that they flew against the enemy.

I highly recommend this book - not just to students of military history but to anyone who has ever sent a loved one off to an uncertain and dangerous situation.
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Format: Hardcover
This is one of those few books that will appeal to any reader, regardless of the reader's interests. I have been a student of WWII history most of my life. I've read literally hundreds of books about the war -- but none like this. This is the story of a bright young man who is thrust into the early days of WWII as a Marine fighter pilot in what would become one of the most famous squadrons of the war -- VMF-214, but as the title indicates, before they became known as the Black Sheep squadron. What makes this book so unique is that it is primarily comprised of the collection of his letters home to his parents; that is, his impressions recorded at the time he was living through the experience. The author, the pilot's son, arranged his father's s letters in chronological order and intersperses narration about what was happening concurrently in the conduct of the war. The narration is just enough to give the reader the impression of what was surrounding the young pilot when he wrote the letters without overpowering the letters themselves. The result is a truly unique account of the early years of the war and the incredible perseverance of this man's character despite participation in combat in a world war.

Carl Dunbar was well-educated and particularly observant. His letters provide a clear picture of the people and places that would race through his life during the war. His interest in the plants and wildlife in each place he is stationed provides the reader a clear picture of what he was seeing. His interests in baseball, singing and his numerous friends bring the reader closer to the young man, but also provide a unique insight into the effects of the war upon him and those around him.
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Format: Hardcover
While Marine Fighter Squadron 214 has been immortalized as the 'Black Sheep,' there was an earlier VMF-214, manned by entirely different pilots, which served in the Solomon Islands campaign. Carl Dunbar served with that unit and BEFORE THEY WERE THE BLACK SHEEP recounts his early naval/Marine Corps service and experiences with that first incarnation of VMF-214.

Dunbar's book interweaves letters he wrote to his parents with background information and material on VMF-214's early days supplied by his son Peter. Dunbar enlisted in the USNR in September 1941, underwent pilot training at NAS Jacksonville and Miami before being assigned to VMF-214 in January 1943. He flew two combat tours with the 'Swashbucklers' before he and the other pilots were all reassigned to other USMC Corsair units, Pappy Boyington taking over the VMF-214 designation with a new batch of F4U drivers. Dunbar's final combat missions were flown with VMF-211.

Dunbar was a prolific writer and his fulsome letters home give excellent summaries of life as an aviation cadet and budding fighter pilot. The background material is quite helpful in placing Dunbar's military career in the overall war picture and explaining various passages in those letters. I would have liked more detail on VMF-214's combat exploits but that's just me.

A number of vintage b&w photographs compliment the smooth-flowing text.

In short, BEFORE THEY WERE THE BLACK SHEEP offers an informative, unvarnished look at one pilot's war in the Southwest Pacific. Hopefully, Peter Dunbar might now consider a full combat history of the 'Swashbucklers' in order to give those men their full due. Recommended.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I owe a huge "thank you" to Pete Dunbar for writing this book because it helped create one of my favorite moments with my dad. I gave an autographed copy to my father for Christmas.
On a phone call to my parents this morning, my dad told me that he needed to have "a word with me." I am 51 years old and that statement from my father still makes me sweat. I instinctively said out loud to him, "Oh no, what have I done now." He started to laugh and said, "You're not in trouble honey. You did a good thing and I want to make sure to tell you how much I appreciated the book 'Before They Were the Black Sheep.' Please tell Pete I said thank you for writing it. I learned so much about an important part of our country's history and I truly enjoyed reading it!"

Thank you Pete for writing this book, treasuring your father's life experiences and helping to create this moment for me with my father. Nothing makes me happier and there's no better feeling in the world than making my father smile!
This book is defiantly a great read and a great gift, and it has turned out to be a treasured experience between me and my father.

Before They Were the Black Sheep: Marine Fighting Squadron VMF-214 and the Battle for the Solomon Islands
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