From the authors of the New York Times bestselling The Heart of Everything That Is and Halsey's Typhoon comes the dramatic, untold story of a daredevil bomber pilot and his misfit crew who fly their lone B-17 into the teeth of the Japanese Empire in 1943, engage in the longest dogfight in history, and change the momentum of the War in the Pacific--but not without making the ultimate sacrifice. It is 1942, the Japanese war machine has rolled up nearly all of the Pacific Theater, and American forces are clinging to what little unconquered territory remains. While US Marines claw their way across Guadalcanal, small contingents of US Army Airmen make their way to the lonely, embattled Allied airbase on Papua New Guinea. Their mission: to defend Australia from invasion, harass Japanese supply lines, fly perilous bombing missions over enemy-held strongholds, and make reconnaissance runs to provide intelligence for America's nascent island-hopping campaign. Among these men are the pilot Captain Jay Zeamer and the bombardier Sergeant Joseph Raymond Sarnoski, whose swashbuckling reputations precede them. Zeamer, who cannot convince his superiors to give him his own plane, teams up with Sarnoski to recruit a crew of fellow misfits to rebuild a dilapidated B-17 bomber from spare parts in the base's junkyard. They christen the plane Old 666, naming it from its tail identification numbers. In June 1943, Zeamer and Sarnoski and their crew volunteer for a 1200-mile suicide mission into the heart of the Japanese Empire that may well change the course of the war--but which only one of the two friends will survive. In Lucky 666, Drury and Clavin bring to vivid life one of the last great untold stories of World War II. Featuring personal letters, diaries, US Army Air Force after-action reports, even the translated Japanese Imperial Air Force's official account of the longest dogfight in history, Lucky 666 is a tale of friendship, heroism, and sacrifice set against the horrific backdrop of vicious aerial warfare, wounded crewmates, and a white-knuckle emergency landing in the jungles of New Guinea--a must-read for anyone who loves pulse-pounding narrative nonfiction.
- ISBN-13: 9781476774855
- ISBN-10: 1476774854
- Publisher: Simon & Schuster
- Publish Date: October 2016
The heroes and failures of war
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.
This article was originally published in the November 2016 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.