By Rick Bretz
In the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit this book is my first authored by Stephen E. Ambrose. After finishing it in less time than it took veterans travelling from the United States to Italy by boat in 1944, I will read more written by Ambrose, who also wrote “Band of Brothers”, “Undaunted Courage”, “Eisenhower: Soldier and President”, and many others.
The Wild Blue, with the subtitle, “The Men and Boys Who Flew The B-24s Over Germany”, is well researched and an entertaining read. It is not a thorough examination of air power used in World War II. It, however, depicts the stages several individuals passed through to get ready, travel to a foreign country, and fly combat missions and hopefully arrive safely back home. The book zeroes in on one particular B-24 unit, the pilots and crews of the 741st Squadron, 455th Bomb Group, and one crew in particular that flew missions from Italy into Central Europe at the end of the war.
As Ambrose’s story unfolds chapter after chapter, the reader understands the commitment and courage bomber crews exhibited during the last days of World War II. Ambrose died in 2002 and with this book, published in 2001, he left us with the story about another significant American, 1972 Democratic Presidential Candidate and Senator from South Dakota, George McGovern, who died in 2012, and the his fellow servicemen.
Before George McGovern worked as an author, history professor, US Representative, Senator from South Dakota and Presidential Candidate, he was a trained pilot. By all accounts from the book, he was an excellent, composed pilot, respected and admired by his crew. Ambrose’s description of McGovern’s training and the dangers involved just to make it through the training is riveting. His account of how his fellow crew members came to sign up for the Army Air Forces and how they worked their way through training to graduation is enlightening. Some potential pilots washed out while some didn’t make it back. The book takes you through McGovern’s and his crew’s missions during World War II while describing his leadership style. The account of how he earned his Distinguished Flying Cross is particularly captivating.
The book is thorough but short enough to satisfy the reader who wants to know about the B-24 Liberator bombers and the story of George McGovern’s experience during the war.
I’m giving away my age here, but I was 12 years old when the 1972 Presidential Election was decided by the voting majority. I didn’t know much about either candidate back then. Today, I know more about former President Richard Nixon. I understand that McGovern was against the Vietnam War as early as 1962. As a World War II bomber pilot, McGovern understood the cost of war and in reading this you develop more insight into his thinking during those turbulent days in the 1960s.