Sunday, June 9, 2013

Eyewitnesses Are a Priceless Resource

In his review of FROZEN IN TIME by Mitchell Zuckoff in this morning's WASHINGTON POST, Joseph Kanon points out that, "World War II remains the motherload of war adventure stories." For those of us who write in this genre, direct eyewitness accounts from the mouths of actual veterans has always been a priceless resource.

My own fascination with the events and technology of WW2 was sparked by the stories told by my cousin, Gordon Bell. Gordon served for three years in the China-Burma-India Theater. He was a fighter crew chief, and he worked with P-40s, P-38s, P-47s, and P-51s. His first pilot was a member of the original Flying Tigers. His tales of flying into Myitkyina, Burma, on the first day after Merrill's Marauders siezed it from the Japanese were hair-raising to an Arkansas pre-teen. The P-40s bombed enemy targets right off the end of the runway.

My brother-in-law, Edward Cook, flew and commanded B-24s in the 8th Air Force in England. He led many missions over Germany before the Nazis capitulated. Edward was the source of my knowledge about the difficulties of flying the B-24. It took a lot of muscle, but he was a big, strong man who grew up on a farm.

Much of the technical and operational detail in my novel, FALL EAGLE ONE, came from actual Luftwaffe veterans with whom I made contact on the 12 O'Clock High Luftwaffe and Axis Air Forces Discussion Board on the Internet. The details of German aircraft intercom chatter in my book came from this source, as did details of the German blind landing system.

The death of 89-year-old Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey last week was a grim reminder that we are rapidly losing our WW2 veterans.  Press reports tell us that they are dying at a rate of about a quarter of a million a year, over 700 per day. Gordon and Edward are both gone now, although both lived long and productive lives. At least Edward's experiences are not lost to posterity. His son, Charlie, talked him into giving an oral history at the WW2 Museum in New Orleans.

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