Flyboys: A True Story of Courage by James Bradley

Posted: August 29, 2010 in Non-Fiction
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This historical non-fiction book about a gaggle of flyboys who met gruesome fates in WWII. Only one of these flyboys managed to escape with his life, and that was President George H.W. Bush. The caveat, though, he didn’t get shot down with all the others, which was the key to his rescue.

The synopsis on the book speaks of the mystery of the fates of those flyboys. One thing Bradley is good at, is telling the gruesome aspects of war. He paints the Japanese as monsters during WWII. And, indeed, the things they did to the cities and countries they conquered were certainly beastly. One gruesome image: streets lined with poles with people’s heads placed upon them. But, he fails to comprehend the fact that the Japanese didn’t have an American mindset or heritage with rules of war.

Think back historically. Did the Japanese line up their soldiers in colored uniforms and shoot until one group had killed the most people? No. And while my American and European ancestors might have thought this was the honorable way to fight, the Japanese would have thought it foolish. In Japanese military history, the samurai, for example, devoted his life to his emperor. If he failed his emperor he would voluntarily commit seppuku (ritual suicide by disembowelment), because that was the only way for him to maintain his honor, and that of his family.

All that was to say, that when the Japanese soldiers and their wives killed their children then themselves rather than be controlled by the Americans, it wasn’t the mystifying event that Bradley made it out to be. First off, the military, via the emperor, had warned Japanese people that horrible, horrible things would happen to them if the Americans took over. And, considering what they did to the people they conquered, it’s no surprise that many people killed themselves when the Americans defeated the Japanese.

But lets get back to Bradley’s story.

The flyboys held a very dangerous position in the air force. Although Japan was not able to fight air-to-air combat, they did have anti-aircraft weaponry. It’s this weaponry, and some foolish flying tactics, that led this group of flyboys to their death.

Bradley moves through the story, person by person, historical fact by fact, and allows the reader to see how these men were average kids from America. Some joined the air force because they had always wanted to, others because they felt there were no other options, one because his brother had told him it was time for him to get his life together. Those are words that likely haunted him to his grave. The personal facts about each boy is the magic that glues this story together. The history is great, but the reminder that every single one of those people, who never came home in body bags, were kids, most under the age of 22. They had dreams and girls, but they also had a hefty dose of courage. Bradley honors them with tact and painstakingly sought details, and these boys live on through his work.

I won’t spoil the mystery that Bradley unfolds, but I will highly recommend this book. Read it, or listen to in as an audio book like I did! Learn about the history of Japan’s role in WWII, and how that came to an end. Honor that gaggle of flyboys whose parents never got their remains to bury, and who, didn’t ever learn what had happened to their sons.

James Bradley’s website


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