This year marks the 75th anniversary of America’s entry into World War II. While the major events of the war have been extensively chronicled, this anniversary is a reminder that many untold stories remain. Two books focusing on the Pacific war represent a great start for digging deeper.
HOW PEARL HARBOR HAPPENED
In Countdown to Pearl Harbor, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Steve Twomey uses his impressive research and storytelling skills to recreate the dozen days leading up to the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Drawing on a range of resources, including public investigations and interviews conducted by legendary Pearl Harbor historian Gordon Prange, Twomey creates a dramatic, page-turning narrative that feels both fresh and suspenseful. Events, missteps and, most importantly, the human players leap off the page. Among others, we get to know Husband E. Kimmel, commander in chief of the Pacific Fleet; Harold Stark, chief of naval operations; and Isoroku Yamamoto, bold mastermind of the Japanese attack.
Overconfidence, poor communications and complacency at all levels played a part in the tragedy. While Kimmel kept a laser focus on training and offensive readiness, he underestimated Japan’s capacity and never mounted sufficient defensive reconnaissance. As Twomey notes in his conclusion, “Assumption fathered defeat.” Countdown to Pearl Harbor offers a new and fascinating look at one of the defining events in U.S. history.
‘BORN TO FLY TOGETHER’
When Tom Brokaw coined the term “the greatest generation,” he might well have been describing Medal of Honor recipients Jay Zeamer Jr. and Joe Sarnoski, the heroes of Lucky 666. The resourceful, independent Zeamer was a renegade who was transferred after falling asleep as a co-pilot on a B-26 combat mission.
Redeployment to the Port Moresby-based 43rd Bomb Group put Zeamer right where he wanted to be—at the controls of a four-engine B-17 Flying Fortress. In early 1943, Zeamer was reunited with an Army bombardier named Joe Sarnoski. Zeamer remembered that the two were “close enough to feel that we were born to fly together.”
The unconventional pilot and bombardier set out to pull together their own handpicked men to undertake dangerous reconnaissance missions. One commander wrote that Zeamer recruited “a crew of renegades and screwoffs. . . . But they gravitated toward one another and made a hell of a team.” With Zeamer’s engineering talents, the team “Zeamerized” a broken down B-17, dubbing it Old 666.
In June 1943, Zeamer and Sarnoski volunteered for the heartbreaking “impossible mission” that forms the core of this remarkable account of friendship and bravery. Authors Bob Drury and Tom Clavin not only tell the inspiring story of these two young airmen, they also provide a cogent, absorbing analysis of the air war in the Pacific. Lucky 666 is highly recommended for WWII and aviation history buffs alike.