FLY BOYS - JAMES BRADLEY

Keeping Apace archives include a book review of James Bradley's FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS, written during its initial promotion run before it became a national best seller.

Consequently, we recently received an advanced copy of his second book, FLYBOYS. It is set for national release in September 2003, and may also reach that lofty best seller position.

In it, he reveals a side of that war few of us knew about during that era and for many years afterward, when our government's classified security kept this knowledge from the American public.

At that time in our young lives, few of us who served in WWII had much knowledge or awareness of what was happening outside our own sphere of involvement. Like the civilians on the home front, we relied mostly on filmed newsreels, newspaper and radio dispatches for the brief overall picture.

But in the interest of security and morale, particularly after the early loss of American bases and lives of our out manned forces in the Pacific, much of the news was slanted to our successes - especially when the tide began to turn in our favor after many months of conflict.

The government's censorship control buried many untoward aspects of that war. Only in recent times has access to this information become possible, revealing in retrospect many ugly things about the enemy (and ourselves) that we scarcely knew was happening at the time. The few who did know were sworn to secrecy.

Now, more than a half-century after the fact, I personally have learned some things I didn't know by reading this intriguing book to write the following review of it:

FLYBOYS
By James Bradley
Little, Brown and Company

Reviewed for Keeping Apace by Byron D. Varner, CDR, U.S. Navy (Retired), a veteran of WWII, Korea, and the Vietnam eras.

The general theme of James Bradley's FLYBOYS centers on nine American Navy pilots and crewmen who were shot down in action over Chichi Jima while trying to destroy the Japanese communication station that fed information to its forces throughout Asia. Eight of these men were captured. One was rescued by a nearby submarine and eventually became President of the United States.

The Japanese on Chichi Jima expected an invasion and a fight to the death just as would occur on Iwo Jima. It never came. Ironically, allied war planners never slated this island for invasion - bypassing it instead in the successful island-hopping tactics that stranded untold thousands of Japanese military without support or supplies to fend for themselves in the jungles of the Pacific theater.

What happened to those Americans taken prisoner on Chichi Jima reveals not only a startling practice of Japanese cannibalism, but also an insight into the warlord mindset that controlled Japan at that time. It highlights the fanatic reverence of the Japanese people for their Emperor god as well as the blind obedience of its warriors to their military leaders.

During their war crimes trials conducted later, many of these junior officers and enlisted men could not understand that they did anything wrong because they were merely carrying out orders from their superiors.

Bradley's research on the fate of these individual Navy men at Chichi Jima, and the anguish of their uninformed families, personalizes this story of the average American teenagers of the 1940s. Until the war began they knew very little about the world outside their hometowns, nor could imagine the scope of the dangerous adventure they were about to begin.

It typifies the patriotism and unselfish desire to serve their country in great time of need that was a common denominator of the youth of that era. For those of us who lived and served during that war, it brings back many memories of our youth and naivety that were unlike youth of today. Yet it also describes our generation well and perhaps will serve to enlighten today's youth about their grandparents' and great-grandparents' culture.

FLYBOYS emphasizes the first major use and tremendous effectiveness and dangers of aviation warfare.

In preparation for a war that would surely come, President Roosevelt's arm-twisting of Army and Navy Brass to accept and accelerate air power as the third dimension of war not only changed our strategies that would later hasten the end of WWII, but provided a jump-start of aerospace science that today reaches for the stars.

This is a well-documented mini-history of the imperialism and cultures of both America and Japan that helps the reader better understand each side of the conflict, how it came about, and man's inhumanity to man.

The Japanese did not honor the concepts of the Geneva Convention for Prisoners of War. They looked upon war with little value for human life and had a totally different view than did the Americans. Yet, the unrelenting day and night napalm bombing by our Christian nation that systematically burned most of their major cities in a living hell was more devastating and seemingly inhumane than our two atom bombs that ended the war. There seemed to be no middle ground when attaining victory in war.

Those steeped in one-sided concepts may not like the references to bad acts by Americans, as if there were none during this and other wars, but these truths underscore the brutality of war and its effect on the senses, regardless of the nation or degree of its misdeeds.

Only those who experience war really know what it is like, but I heartily recommend this book as intriguing reading for all age groups, particularly those who were born since 1945. Veterans of WWII may also learn a thing or two.

A descriptive line on the book's jacket provides this very appropriate closing statement: “It is an unforgettable story of young men's heroism and the never-ending horrors of war.”