The Wild Blue

Another blockbuster from Stephen Ambrose the recognized “dean of history” when it comes to World War II. You might say you don’t need to know this much about one aircraft or one group of men, but open the book anywhere and you won’t put it down. Even if, like me, you are partial to the B-17 (my husband’s father having flown one as does the protagonist of my new novel.)

I suppose the arguments will continue about which heavy bomber was the best, the B-24 (above left) or the B-17 (right). The common description of the B-17, also known a the Flying Fortress, as “bristling with guns” hints at its superior fire power. And, it would become the darling of the press and of America with its earlier action in Europe and when the Memphis Belle was the subject of a documentary in 1944. But the B-24, known as the Liberator, had the capability to fly farther, faster, and with a heavier payload, and more (18,500, double that of the B-17) were produced for the War. Both planes, however, were responsible for the Allied victory in Europe and both have their proponents.

In The Wild Blue, Ambrose makes a case for the Liberator by focusing on the crew led by George McGovern, although he could just as well have chosen the pilot from any one of the B-24s. I have to admit, I was not a McGovern fan back in 1972 when he made his unsuccessful bid for the presidency in the midst of the Vietnam War, but what I learned about McGovern in the book, about his patriotism and his courage, gave me a newfound respect for the man.

The Wild Blue, though, is about all the men (and boys–as the subtitle says) who flew the B-24s over Germany. Boys the were too. The tired refrain, “It was a different time and place back then,” has never been more appropriate than when today’s generations read of the exploits of twenty-year olds piloting the behemoths into the face of danger.

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