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Donald's Story Paperback – April 17, 1996
"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander
Don't miss best-selling author Kwame Alexander's "Rebound," a new companion novel to his Newbery Award-winner, "The Crossover," illustrated with striking graphic novel panels. Learn more
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"Donald's Story is one of the best World War II era military biographies to appear in the last several years." -- Midwest Book Review, September 1997
"A very good book--one of only a few I've read straight through!" -- Col. Donald J.M. Blakeslee, WWII commander 4th Fighter Group
"Fantastic work. Very moving. Fascinating and unusual. There are scores of WWII stories but the hook for this one is the way [the author] fell into uncovering it. This book transcends typical WWII accounts and exploration of family histories...I really believe she has created something unique and universally appealing. Very impressive." -- Gary Brueggeman, WWII Historian and Educator
"It is wonderful. I was captivated by [Merrill's] method and the quality and character of such a fine and human work... [She is one of only two] writers I can think of whose work has wrenched me so emotionally and literally made me gulp in sorrow." -- Philip Kaplan, author ofOne Last Look, Their Finest Hour,
"My husband and I thoroughly enjoyed 'Donald's Story ... and [it] gave me particularly such a clear picture of what those boys went through." -- Virginia Braley, Wife of 336 Pilot Richard Braley, 4th FG
"The Book Is Wonderful. Sandra Merrill has achieved the remarkable task of telling three stories at once...Donald and his family then, her experience of rediscovery now, and the overall history of the 4th Fighter Group in WWII. I was moved many times and salute her for it." -- Jeff Ethell, noted aviation author, 1996
"The best book [about the 4th Fighter Group] since 1947 and Grover Hall's '1000 DESTROYED'... the most intimate story of a fighter pilot, and one not to be missed. Be warned, though, it is a very personal story of a shy young fellow, from the boondocks of North Dakota, who got into the flying game, after only wanting to be an airplane mechanic. It will tear at your heart, especially when you know from the beginning that he didn't make it all the way through. The author uses Donald's letters to his folks and others as her sources, and they are the mainstay of the book [and] bring [Donald] back to life... It's four handkerchiefs or stars if you choose." -- Thomas C. Dorsey, Maj USAF Retired To be published, Military Magazine
"The idea intrigued me from the outset: Fifty years after the death of a fighter pilot during WWII, tragically on Christmas Day of 1944, his niece resolves to write a book memorializing his life and death. I could hardly wait for a look at her finished draft. I had been an instructor pilot and a fighter pilot myself, and had read many books written by other military pilots in this very unique profession. But how would a niece view this fraternity? ...The book was worth the wait. As I read it I saw my own innocence, hope, pride, patriotism and supreme effort as the author's uncle progressed from farm to heroic action in the greatest of all wars. I will admit tears were in my eyes as she visited his gravesite in Holland after fifty years. Could it possibly have been that long?" -- James L. Brewer, author of Mules, Missiles & Men
Captain Donald R. Emerson (with his P-51 Mustang Donald Duck nose art) was a little-known ace with the 4th Fighter Group, based in Debden, England, during World War II. His passing on 25 December 1944 was overshadowed by the death that same day of Major George Preddy, the 352nd Fighter Group's top ace. The story of Donald Emerson, as told by his niece, will touch you as few others will. Sandra Merrill's first literary effort tells this story well and provides a rare invitation into an otherwise very private sorrow. The book is unique in its perspective, telling three stories in one. It effectively merges the lives of Donald and his family, the general history of the 4th Fighter Group, and Merrill's own fascinating voyage of rediscovery. It is surprising how well it all fits together. When she finally visits his grave in Margraten, the Netherlands, it's an emotional moment. Fully documented with photos and text, [this book] is a great tribute to a Mustang pilot who gave the ultimate sacrifice for his country, but it also reveals how his loss affected his family. I can't recommend it highly enough; it is that good. -- Robert DeGroat, Aviation Writer, reviewed in FLIGHT magazine, October 1996
From the Publisher
This poignant account of Donald Emerson's service in World War II with the 4th Fighter Group of the 8th Air Force is recommended to every reader. Sandy Merrill has magnificently succeeded in combining Donald's advancement to a 4th Fighter Group ace with the parallel story of her family while providing the additional treat of the history of WWII's most successful fighter group in the European Theatre of Operations.
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You see, Donald Emerson's picture, a large one, is one of the first things you see when you enter the Niesen Hut, a replica of a building used at American bases all over southern England during World War II.
I read the brief description of him beneath the picture which said it was taken in November 1944 and that he was shot down and killed about a month later on Dec. 25, 1944. The picture, by the way, shows this young man sitting the cockpit of his P-51 fighter after just returning from a mission. There is something haunting about this man looking at you after having just opened his cockpit windows and taken his flight cap off.
But, to continue, one of the other volunters told me that sometime back a woman had come into the hut and pointing at the picture of Donald Emerson announced, "That's my uncle."
I also learned that she, Sandra Merrill, had written a book about her uncle, and she'd left a copy of it at that Niesen Hut. I found it in a desk drawer and began to read it. Then I had to buy my own copy, and my conclusion is: what a worthwhile book to read.
I'm not sure what else to say except, "Thank you, Sandra Merrill. I've truly enjoyed the book."
Donald Emerson, as revealed by Merrill's book, could represent thousands of young American men who saw combat in World War II. Initially joining the Army, he transferred to the Air Corps in late 1942 and trained as a fighter pilot. Before he was sent to the 4th FG in England in March 1944, he fell in love. Once assigned to Blakeslee's group, he began flying missions and eventually downed four enemy aircraft in the air and three on the ground. Tragically, he was downed by flak after returning from an air battle on Christmas Day.
Merrill interweaves letters Emerson wrote home with her own research into his life and the exploits of the 4th FG to create an affecting, altogether human account of a fairly serious but likable young man at war. While he may not have been a top gun, Emerson's image - depicted in a photograph taken immediately after a mission - stands as one of the iconic images of men in combat. The photo shows an exhausted Emerson still in the cockpit of his P-51 staring at the camera, his young face showing the clear strain of aerial combat.
DONALD'S STORY is a wonderful reminiscence of - and tribute to - that young fighter pilot. It shows the human face behind the fighter pilot façade. Highly Recommended.
9,600 Helpful Votes!
This is perhaps the most poignant aspect of the book, in that it causes readers to reflect on the several hundred thousand similar stories that could have been related by other families across the country. This book is a remarkable tribute to Donald Emerson, and so many others like him.