December 1, 2020

“The Wild Blue” by Stephen Ambrose

“The Wild Blue: The Men and Boys Who Flew the B-24s Over Germany 1944-45” is the whole title of historian Stephen Ambrose’s account of this lesser known facet of World War II. The war was waged with men and women of all ages, but American men age 18 to 21 filled many crucial military roles on land, on sea and in the air.

Some of the bravest recruits were the pilots and crew members of the B-24 Liberators which bombed Axis weapons factories and fuel depots throughout Europe. Notable young pilots were statesman Stewart Udall, filmmaker Robert Altman, actor Jimmy Stewart and the focus of the book, former presidential candidate, George S. McGovern.

Each bomber had a crew of ten: pilot, co-pilot, bombardier, navigator, radio operator, flight engineer and four gunners. They worked as a tight-knit team but all looked to the main pilot to get them to their target and safely back to base. Air servicemen were asked to fly thirty-five missions, with a fearsome number killed in air combat or captured as POWs after having parachuted from their burning planes.

I have to note that Ambrose was accused of plagiarism in copying some of the text from the footnote sources. (One of the sources is McGovern’s autobiography, “Grassroots.”) In response, Ambrose said he did give credit in the end notes and would issue a corrected version with more quotation marks. This might be a book for history-lovers only, but World War II buffs will find much of interest.

As some of you know, I am mightily interested in presidential history, including the also-rans for our top national office. I had the honor of knowing Senator McGovern as a family friend and South Dakota congressman. His bravery and rock-solid leadership in his early twenties give us a deeper understanding of the man who was trounced by Richard Nixon in 1972.

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