Thursday, August 11, 2016

Lost in the Pacific: Epic Firsthand Accounts of WWII Survival Against Impossible Odds edited by L. Douglas Keeney

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: August 2, 2016

With dreams of flying, they enlisted from all across America, eager to defeat the Japanese and bring an end to the war. Most were no more than 21 or 22 years old, fresh from pilot training, with quick reflexes, sharp eyes, and keen intelligence. And when they crashed, they needed every physical and mental advantage to survive. Their ordeals began with blunt-force impact with the sea. From overhead, a hail of bullets from enemy planes. From below, the imminent danger of shark attack. Then the ongoing perils of drowning, exposure, heat, storms, and capture. Two out of three airmen who survived their crashes were forever lost. The lucky ones lived to tell these amazing stories. The creator of the "Lost Histories of World War II" series and cofounder of The Military Channel, editor L. Douglas Keeney reviewed hundreds of reels of microfilm from the archives of Maxwell Air Force Base’s History Center, searching out the most captivating first-person accounts among the crash-and-rescue reports from WWII’s Pacific Theater. Each of these 23 previously unpublished narratives, recounted in the airman’s own words, tells a true-life tale that’s stranger than any fiction. Each forms a testament to human resilience, character, and fortitude. All offer inspiring new insights into the heroics of the vanishing generation whose valor will live forever.

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L. Douglas Keeney’s Lost in the Pacific: Epic Firsthand Accounts of WWII Survival Against Impossible Odds isn’t my favorite WWII book of all time, but it’s definitely high on the list. Unearthed from aging archives and copied off microfilm, Keeney compiled a truly inspiring collection of survival, determination, and ingenuity.

Each story is edited from a firsthand account as written by the man who lived it. The details vary and are sometimes graphic, but each chapter gives affords a very unique insight to some truly extraordinary situations as well as the actions and decisions that ultimately saved these men from death in the Pacific.

Lost in the Pacific offers a comprehensive snapshot of aviation operations and safety protocols during WWII. I was fascinated by the development of the survival kits, but I was equally impressed with how often those kits were used in ways they hadn’t been designed for. You can’t make this stuff up and I appreciate Keeney both for finding these stories and compiling them as he did.

Keeney does not glorify these men, he’s actually very careful to remind his readers that they were the exceptions rather than the rule and that most, once medically cleared, desired only to take to the skies and resume their duties. Lost in the Pacific stands as testament to humble men and the fortitude it took to survive extreme circumstances. A definite must read for all WWII enthusiasts.

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“For every airman who was rescued, two were lost. For every man who was found alive on a floating raft, two died, blistered and dehydrated in the sun. Sharks swarmed. Enemies strafed. Cold water chilled. Bombers fell apart in the sea—half the crew reaching a raft, the other half sinking in the wreckage. In most cases, airplanes became flying coffins. And in many others, young men drifted in the ocean, hopelessly waiting for help that never came.”
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