God is My Co-Pilot by Col. Robert L. Scott (later, Brigadier Gen. Scott)
Copyright 1943 - my copy printed 1971
For almost another hour we sat there glaring at one another, expecting every second that the jagged top of one of the Himalayas was coming through the clouds and into the cockpit. Try that some time while you are making two hundred miles an hour, when you can't see your wing tips--and just see if your hairs don't get grayer and grayer. Mine did.
God is My Co-Pilot is the memoir of a WWII Army combat pilot who served in Indo-China. Really, the above quote's a pretty funny quote, considering the fact that the author lived to the age of 97. His longevity certainly wasn't affected by his hair-raising (and graying) adventures. You can read a slightly outdated bio, here.
The book starts out in what I'm slowly figuring out is the typical pilot memoir format - a little of his childhood history, followed by training and then details of his experience during the war. This particular pilot was quite a rascal, even as a child. He fashioned his own hang-glider with canvas stolen from a church tent at the age of 12, jumped off a "high Colonial home in Macon, Georgia" and plummeted 67 feet, into a rose bush. Unfazed, he went on to buy his own airplane and talk a neighbor into teaching him how to fly - until the neighbor crashed Scott's plane and was killed. Whew! Glad he wasn't my kid!
After the initial bits about his childhood and training, including quite a few troublesome antics, "Scotty" ended up training pilots and transporting mail in the United States. He was a very determined man, though, and eventually ended up in a group that was scheduled to perform a secret mission. The Japanese were winning the war on the Pacific/Indo-China front, at the time, and disaster led to the cancellation of the mission. Instead, he and his fellow pilots ended up stationed in India, transporting parts across "the Hump" - the Himalayas. Eventually, though, Col. Scott managed to finagle himself a fighter plane and went off on missions against the enemy completely alone.
The point at which the author began describing his missions is about halfway through the book and that's where it really began to become gripping. Later moved closer to Japanese occupied Indo-China, Scott became a leader in General Chennault's fighting forces, the Flying Tigers. The tales of adventure during his time in this elite group of fighter pilots are absolutely amazing and definitely made it worth hanging in there with this book. Still, there were some yawn moments. He described his missions, particularly the geography, in painstaking detail. And, I'm an American - or a United Stater, or whatever we're supposed to call ourselves, now - so I don't really know my geography all that well. A good atlas would have been much appreciated. As it was, I eventually used Google Earth a bit and discovered, darn it, that Google Earth is not as great as I imagined. I finally trained myself to skim over the details that went over my head and continue to enjoy the meaty parts of the book. I'm going to hang onto this one for a future reread, though, and next time I'll have maps handy.
The book was written in 1943, when the war had not yet ended. Although my copy was published in 1971, it doesn't appear to have been edited or altered to reflect the fact that the war was long since over. I think that was incredibly sensible on the part of his editors as it gives the reader a genuine sense of immersion in the time and place. In fact, there are even some rather shocking racial slurs; and, his hatred for the enemy is almost tangible. I have no doubt that a 2007 printing of this book would be altered in places.
Back to the story . . . when the author was sent to India, the Allies were in bad shape. They had suffered major defeats, there were few airplanes or supplies and they were fighting a losing, mostly-defensive war. So his anger is somewhat understandable. At the same time, I found it rather difficult to read about his joy when he bombed trucks or boats and then strafed the soldiers who tried to escape. I've read about WWII from many angles, now, and the one thing that really jumps out at me is that everyone is essentially the same. We're all just humans. The horror of those being shot at and bombed on the ground or plummeting in a burning plane is universal. So, at times the book can be a little disturbing.
4/5 - sometimes gripping, sometimes a little dull but an excellent read, in general
Haunted Castles of the World - for the RIP II
Dying in Style - for the Cozy Challenge
Soon, soon - I will get that sidebar updated to reflect the latest challenges, oh, yes I will.
Photographed - a would-be car thief, trying to open the Honda door:
Thanks to all for the birthday wishes. I decided to call any book that entered my home, this week, a birthday present. That made the birthday appear to be a serious windfall, as I got received two books won in a blog contest, bought two, received 5 from Paperback Swap (two of which I'd had on my wish list for over a year - I'm almost out of points!), and happened across an ARC-giveaway at the library. I'll post a list or photos of my acquisitions, later.
Last night was a doozy. We emptied the linen closet, searching for a bedspread for eldest son's new bed, refolded and piled everything on the futon . . . and then I fell asleep on top of the piles when I realized my reading was disturbing the hubster's sleep and climbed on top to finish up God is My Co-Pilot. Since I'm known to have Princess-and-the-Pea problems (a fold in a pillowcase will literally keep me awake all night, if I can't figure out how to get it out of my way), it's shocking that I actually slept on piles of blankets, regardless of how neatly they were folded. And, here's the kicker - the bedspread we offered the kid was "too girly", after all that work digging through the linens. Apparently, I haven't taught him the "When you're broke, you accept what you're offered" adage well.
Bookfool, who shows no other signs of royalty