Finish Forty and Home
Finish Forty and Home: The Untold World War II Story of B-24s in the Pacific (Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Series)
Author: Phil Scearce
Publisher: University of North Texas Press (2011)
Binding: Hardcover, 352 pages
During the early years of World War II in the Pacific theatre, against overwhelming odds, young American airmen flew the longest and most perilous bombing missions of the war. They faced determined Japanese fighters without fighter escort, relentless anti-aircraft fire with no deviations from target, and thousands of miles of over-water flying with no alternative landing sites.
Finish Forty and Home, by Phil Scearce, is the true story of the men and missions of the 11th Bombardment Group as it fought alone and unheralded in the South Central Pacific, while America had its eyes on the war in Europe. The book opens with Sgt. Herman Scearce, the author's father, lying about his age to join the Army Air Corps at 16. The narrative follows Scearce through training and into combat with his new crewmates, including pilot Lt. Joe Deasy, whose last-minute transfer from training duty thrusts the new crew into the squadron commander’s role.
After bombing Nauru, the squadron moves on to bomb Wake Island, Tarawa, and finally Iwo Jima. These missions bring American forces closer and closer to the Japanese home islands and precede the critical American invasions of Tarawa and Iwo Jima. The 42nd Squadron’s losses through 1943 were staggering: 50 out of 110 airmen killed.
Phil Scearce explores the context of the war and sets the stage for these daring missions, revealing the motivations of the men who flew them: to finish forty combat missions and make it home again. He based his story upon substantial research at the Air Force Historical Research Agency and the National Archives, interviews with surviving airmen, and interviews and correspondence with the survivors of men who were lost. His is the first book to document America's bomber offensive in the early days of the Pacific War.
Phil Scearce's well-written account of the B24 squadrons in the 11th Bombardment Group is a wonderful read. Using the memories of his father as the center point for his narrative, the author has delved deeply into the archival records and used oral history to relate a comprehensive story of Liberators flying bomber missions in the Central Pacific area of the Pacific War. These B24 squadrons received very little attention from military historians before Louis Zamperini published his memoir of flying for the group is his 2003 work, Devil at My Heels. Scearce has now added more depth and texture to the 11th Group’s story, giving it a long-delayed recognition for its role in the American victory in the Pacific.
While the combat sequences are well-told, the highlights of the book are the fine details of the day-to-day grind that each squadron faced as the American fliers fought their way step by step through the Gilberts, Marshalls and Marianas islands on the long road to Japan. Describing everything from the airfield construction to the food and the living conditions on now-all-but-forgotten bases such as Funafuti and Johnston, Scearce has paid homage to the pilots and crews and ground personnel alike. The reader comes to know these men, their families, their feelings toward one another and their personal reactions as they fight the war. This alone makes the book stand out, for it brings the war home on a very personal level.
Scearce's unifying theme is not the usual "greatest generation" one of victory over world-threatening tyranny that is so often employed in Second World War literature. Rather, Scearce focuses on the daily battles against the savagery of modern warfare itself, the loneliness and the strain experienced by the men trying to survive with their sanity in a foreign and hostile environment. Death came from accident and rotten luck just as often as from combat; one poor man, a long-serving Army noncom, was killed by lightning as he slept in his bunk. Scearce’s use of interviews, unit reports and letters is superb, allowing the reader to be caught up in the tensions as the air crews struggle to complete the required forty missions that would permit them to return to the States. In so doing, Scearce has underscored the fact that even in this largest of American wars, the veterans who fought it understood what few others do -- that the only good things about this "good war" was that they won it and made it home.
This excellent book should be on the list of any reader interested in the air war or the Pacific conflict, and anyone who appreciates a focused look on the impact of warfare on those who fight the battles.
Reviewed by: Terry Shoptaugh (2012)