Flyboys is a true, brutally honest and gut wrenching account of World War II on the Pacific front, focusing on “war in the third dimension” more commonly known as air combat. The story starts at Pearl Harbor, moving through the United States’ clamor to build aircraft and train pilots, to the napalm bombing of Japan and finally the dropping of the two atomic bombs. It’s highlights all the key players in the uprising of military flying: An introduction to Hap Arnold, the leader of the Army Air Forces in WWII. The tale of Billy Mitchell who foretold the need for a military air force long before the Japanese surprised us at Pearl Harbor and how his radical ideas got him drummed out of the military. And finally, Curtis LeMay’s leadership of the B-29 project, the project’s road to fruition, and the devastation those massive bombers left in their wake.
More specifically, this book recounts the final hours of six flyboys who never made it home whose stories had been classified and tucked away until decades after the war. It tells about who they were as young men, their families, the girls they left behind, and why they joined up to fight, leaving the reader utterly devastated as each of them met their respective fates.
Interlaced with the history of the Army Air Forces, is the story of brutal war crimes committed on both sides of the war. Mass murder, rape, beheadings, ritual cannibalism—unfathomable acts of horror committed by human beings. The author delves into the mindsets of countries as war, highlighting the need to “win” at all costs and how great those costs really were.
The Flyboy who got away became president of the United States. What might have been for Warren Earl, Dick, Marve, Glenn, Floyd, Jimmy, the unidentified airman, and all the Others who had lost their lives?…And what might have been for those millions of doomed Japanese boys, abused and abandoned by their leaders? War is the tragedy of what might have been.
This book has been on my (admittedly vague and abstract) to be read pile for a while. I recall my dad reading it when I was a little girl. I’d seen it tucked away on the bookshelf in my parent basement for years. And to be honest, I never thought I would read it. That was until I found myself obsessed with WWII and more specifically WWII aircraft. And as my divine book theory played out, my very own copy arrived in a care package from a good friend early last year. It took me another year to finally sit down with it and let me tell you it was not at all what I was expecting.
I was prepared to hear the stories of the six flyboys lost to history and red tape, but I was not prepared for their stories to be laced with such blatant and graphic brutality. Nothing in this book was sugarcoated. It was filled with gruesome stories of beheadings, torture, rape, and cannibalism. On of the most striking parts was the horrifying detail of the horrendous aftermath of the napalm bombings in Japan. Furthermore, the author worked hard to keep the story unbiased. He told of heinous acts of war from all involved parties. It was refreshing to read something not solely from the America point of view.
This book is not for everyone. It definitely caters to a very specific niche market. However, as far as historical non-fiction books go, it is an engaging read. It is not bogged down with battle positions and dry facts. It has enough narrative to keep the reader interested.
This book fulfills my “white wale” bingo square–reason stated in paragraph 3.