Sunday, November 8, 2009

Rite of Passage Book Review

Recently finished a great book about WWII bomber crews entitled Rite of Passage: A Teenager's Chronicle of Combat and Captivity in Nazi Germany, and highly recommend it to readers with an interest in WWII bomber crews and the Prisoner of War experience. Click on the hyperlinked book title for more information. Readers can get a signed copy for the same price as a traditional trade paperback in a bookstore. Would make a great birthday, Christmas or Chanukah gift for the WWII aviation buff on your list. My review follows:

"Many books have been written about bomber crew experiences in the skies over Europe in World War Two. And many have been written about the Prisoner of War experiences of those crewmen who were shot from the skies. What makes Ray Matheny's book stand out is the meticulous attention to detail and his eye for description. Matheny's book was originally popular in Germany in translation, and only recently has it become available to the American reading public. Matheny was a top turret gunner/flight engineer aboard the B-17 'Deacon's Sinners' of the Eighth Air Force's 384th Bomb Group. Graced with dollops of mechanical and technical aptitude, he is so trusted by his pilot and copilot that he becomes, in essence, a third pilot on the crew, flying the plane for hours while the pilots catch up on their sleep. He describes the interpersonal dynamics of his crew in great detail, and I found this to be fascinating. The pilot, a frustrated fighter pilot wannabe, who takes unnecessary risks with the airplane. The copilot, perhaps justly feeling that he is more qualified and at times resenting Matheny's flying time. Each man on the crew is fleshed out so that the reader can identify with him. This becomes a double-edged sword when the crew is shot down, killing most of the men. And that is where Matheny's adventure takes on a completely new twist, as a prisoner of war in Nazi Germany. Matheny gives the reader an intimate glimpse of POW life, and of the long march near the end of the war that the emaciated POWs make to stay ahead of the advancing Russian Army.

The book, filled with three-dimensional, carefully drawn characters and situations, stands out in the many books I've read over the years in this genre. I cannot recommend it highly enough. A major addition to military aviation history"

1 comment:

f3red said...

Matheny may have been flying with the 379th (vice 384th).