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Flyboys: A True Story of Courage Hardcover – September 30, 2003
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"Theft by Finding: Diaries (1977-2002)" by David Sedaris
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From Publishers Weekly
The author of Flags of Our Fathers achieves considerable but not equal success in this new Pacific War-themed history. Again he approaches the conflict focused on a small group of men: nine American Navy and Marine aviators who were shot down off the Japanese-held island of Chichi Jima in February 1945. All of them were eventually executed by the Japanese; several of the guilty parties were tried and condemned as war criminals. When the book keeps its eye on the aviators-growing up under a variety of conditions before the war, entering service, serving as the U. S. Navy's spearhead aboard the fast carriers, or facing captivity and death-it is as compelling as its predecessor. However, a chapter on prewar aviation is an uncritical panegyric to WWI aerial bombing advocate Billy Mitchell, who was eventually court-martialed for criticizing armed forces brass. More problematic is that Bradley tries to encompass not only the whole history of the Pacific War, but the whole history of the cultures of the two opposing countries that led to the racial attitudes which both sides brought to the war. Those attitudes, Bradley argues, played a large role in the brutal training of the Japanese army, which led to atrocities that in turn sharpened already keen American hostility. Some readers' hackles will rise at the discussion of the guilt of both sides, but, despite some missteps, Bradley attempts to strike an informed balance with the perspective of more than half a century.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Bradley's phenomenal best-seller, Flags of Our Fathers (2000), was rejected by about 20 publishing houses before Bantam took a chance. His new publisher is not leaving the popularity of the encore to chance, launching it with an intense promotional campaign. Structured similarly to Flags, which concerned the flag-raisers of Iwo Jima, this work reconstructs the lives of several young men at war. Eight pilots and airmen were shot down by the Japanese military at Chichi Jima in 1944-45, George H. W. Bush among them. A well-known part of his political biography, Bush's story of escape is recounted somberly (Bush's crewmates died). The fates of the others shot down, who were captured, Bradley gathered in part from a source that was secret until a few years ago: records of a war-crimes trial of Japanese officers in command at Chichi Jima. Bradley sensitively builds the trial's unpleasant evidence (concealed, presumably, to spare pain to the airmen's relatives) into the narrative, which he frames with a portrayal of the Japanese military mind-set, which condoned the commission of atrocities. There are many brutally graphic passages about the torture and slaying of the American prisoners, which may prove too daunting for some readers, but Bradley succeeds in restoring dignity to the American airmen. Sure to command a large audience. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Top Customer Reviews
The authors brief description of “Glide Bombing” isn’t entirely accurate. He says you don’t dive but glide over the target and drop your ordnance. Actually you peal off into an almost vertical attitude from eight or ten thousand feet but prior to doing so you extend the landing gear and about half flap for dive brakes so you don’t exceed the maximum design speed of the aircraft. You also then open the bomb bay doors. The lift of the wings pulls you forward as you are in a near vertical attitude. Then there is another problem pulling out of the dive, excuse me, glide. The TBF/TBM was designed to basically drop torpedo’s so it was built to fly strait and level, drop their torpedo then take evasive action. The horizontal tail control surfaces were quite large and were raised and lowered when the pilot pulled or pushed on the control stick which was connected to the horizontal control surfaces with cables. The high speed dive or glide put so much pressure on the horizontal control surface that the pilot could not pull the stick back to pull out of the dive or glide. So, he would turn a wheel to the left of his seat that caused the horizontal trim tab on the elevator to go down which forced the horizontal elevator up, thus pulling out of the dive or glide. Most of the time you pulled out but not always. By rotating the wheel to activate the tab caused a hollow aluminum tube about the size of your middle finger that ran back to the trim tab to rotate to operate the tab. Sometime this tube sheared and when it failed you were SOL and went strait in at 300 knots.
As to the turret, the author mentions a stick to rotate the turret and a gun trigger to fire the gun. Actually in front of the gunner there was what appeared to be an automatic pistol with its muzzle stuck in a box. As you grabbed the pistol the back of the grip, in your palm, depressed and you put your trigger finger on the trigger and literally attempted to point the pistol in your hand at the target , the turret then rotated and elevated or depressed putting the gun on the target. You did not put the ring sight right on the target but you lagged, not lead as you might think, the enemy target on a line from him to your tail. You first lagged him several rings on your sight depending on your air speed and decreased the lag as he approached your tail. This because when your bullet left the muzzle of your gun it turned in the direction your plane was moving because of your plane’s forward speed. Oh yes, that back of the grip that depressed was the “Dead Man Switch”. You let go of the grip and the turret automatically stowed itself, rotating so the gun was pointing toward the tail and depressed so it was horizontal .
It was mentioned G H W Bush put the plane in a skid so the crew could more easily open the door from the bilge, i.e. the radio compartment, to bail out. You didn’t have to ”open” the door. There is a handle beside the door, you pull it and the door falls off. If it doesn’t go, you kick it and its gone.
How do I know all the above? I was a Fly Boy, more specifically a Combat Air Crewman in a Torpedo Bomber in a Night Torpedo Bombing Squadron. I sat in the bilge, that’s what we called the radio compartment, for over 300 hours in a TBF or later a TBM3E. The TBF was manufactured by Grumman Aircraft and the TBM by General Motors. I operated the radio, the radar, directed the pilot to the target by radar and told him when to drop or pickled the bomb away as it was night and dark outside. I also could operate either the turret with a 50 caliber machine gun or the 30 caliber stinger out of the back end of the bilge. I also had completed Navigation School and was the Navigator. When the war ended I was disappointed for a short time because I had not got into action in the war. I had just completed CAC training and had orders in hand to report to a VT(N), Night Torpedo Squadron, destined for action in the invasion of the main island of Japan scheduled for March of 1946. We did “invade” the island of Oahu in Hawaii and spent six months there at the Barbers Point Naval Air station. before going home for discharge.
I would like to comment on G H W Bush’s shoot down. He, of course bailed out but his two crew didn’t make it. Actually the two were not crew. The radioman was crew but the 3rd person was not the regular gunner. He was the squadron Ordinance Officer that asked to go on a mission to check out the weapons systems. I don’t recall we carried any weapons systems to check out. President Bush allowed him after getting an ok from the skipper of the squadron.. The pilot sits on his parachute and to bail out he disconnects his radio cords and seat belt and shoulder straps and goes out on the port side to avoid hitting the radioman and gunner going out the starboard side. The two crewmen do not wear parachutes. They wore a harness but the parachutes are stowed strapped to the port side of the radio position. The procedure is, the pilot calls the crew “BY NAME” to bail out. Not sure Bush did this according to another book, Flight Of The Avenger, that detailed the bail out. The radioman quickly stands up and retrieves his chute and attaches it on his chest to two snaps on his harness. He then, while the gunner is getting down out the turret, retrieves the gunners chute and presents it to the gunner who snaps it on his chest. The radioman then pulls the lever beside the door and the door falls off and he goes out headfirst and the gunner follows. The crews practice this periodically on the ground. The ordnance officer may have never done this even as the book just mentioned states he was indoctrinated in bail out procedure. Because this bailout probably took extra time perhaps because the officer had not practiced bail out, it may have caused the radioman and the officer to not make it. Beside his inexperience, he was six feet tall and would be curled up and cramped in the turret. Usually the gunner was shorter than that. You sit with your knees practically touching your shoulders. It was reported by the submarine that picked Bush up one chute was seen partly deployed. We, my pilot and I, never took anyone not qualified with us.
Many of the comments were about terminology in the book. For example the term “Fly Boys” was criticized. I heard that term during the period of WWII. Also Combat Air Crewmen were called “airdales” and “zoomies”. Some gunners were Aviation Ordnacemen and were called “BB Stackers”. As to the names of aircraft, the author called B 25’s”billys”, The Curtiss SB2C was called “SBDUECEEE” . The TBF/TBM was called a “Torpecker”.
I thought the book very informative in describing the actions of the Fly Boys even with the history lesson at the beginning. I salute those who did participate in combat especially those who’s ready room seats became empty. While we did not experience combat, we lost two planes and crews in our squadron in training flights and lost eleven planes, that’s 33 crewmen, in the 12 weeks of basic operational training. Even we piled up one night landing in fog but walked away without injury. Our reward for that was a medicinal shot of brandy at the dispensary. On our way out to the Pacific we spent time at Key West and participated in the search for the missing squadron that disappeared in the Bermuda Triangle. There is a final Navy Report that you can find on the internet.
I would recommend this book to those interested in the history and actions of WWII. I have just learned one of my friends who was a Fly Boy, now deceased, was awarded The Navy Cross.
James Bradley, author of Flags of Our Fathers, which became an Oscar-nominated 2008 movie, wrote this book after researching the story of eight airmen shot down over the island of Chichi Jima in February, 1945. You might think that it's one of those "Greatest Generation" World War II histories, boasting of how American air power won the war and detailing the Japanese atrocities that were the reason we fought.
You'd only be half-right. In Flyboys, Bradley writes with genuine love and respect for his country and for the sacrifices U.S. servicemen made in World War II -- but before writing in gut-wrenching detail about the atrocities of Japanese imperialism, he spends some time talking about America's track record.
When Bradley then delves into what Japan did to the rest of Asia - and it was monstrous - it's a lot harder to be smug about what a noble country America was.
While I feel for the families of these tortured and slain pilots, I wonder if people would change opinions on the end of the war if they had read what had happened to our pilots at the hands of our Japanese enemy?
More than that, the terrible cost to Japanese civilians, who were being trained to die to the last living person to take out Americans when the inevitable invasion occurred, not to mention the terrible loss of life from the regular bombing (ask the English), made a point clear. The Atom bombs actually save more Japanese lives than American lives.
The other surprising factor (which comes from the transcripts of testimony from Japanese soldiers, as I understood it) was how well some of their officers lived, like royalty (food, saki etc in excess) and how cruel they were to the men they commanded as well as our pilots.
I would recommend this to anyone, especially students.