In 1972 Senator George McGovern of South Dakota was the nominee of the Democratic Party for President of the United States. To a large degree, McGovern's candidacy was based upon opposition to the war raging in South Vietnam and Southeast Asia. Richard Nixon, the incumbent President, had been elected in 1968 with a promise to end the war. Four years later that promise was unfulfilled. McGovern's antiwar campaign brought strong opposition from many veterans and the organizations to which they belonged. When McGovern appeared before such groups, his reception was less than enthusiastic. That veterans viewed Senator McGovern with such disdain was ironic. In truth, he was one of them. In 1944 and 1945 Senator McGovern flew 35 missions as a B-24 bomber pilot over Europe. But for the military policy limiting missions, the number would have been larger.
Renowned historian and author Stephen Ambrose is a 30-year friend of Senator McGovern. THE WILD BLUE: The B-24s Over Germany was originally a project commenced by a different author. Ambrose took on the project at McGovern's request and expanded the story to include other men with whom he served. In numerous books, Stephen Ambrose has covered the war in Europe from the land. In THE WILD BLUE the contribution of the B-24 bomber and its crew is added to the saga. It is a story of courage and heroism that only a writer as skilled as Ambrose could bring to light. It reminds us once again of the contributions from the men and women who served in World War II; their efforts saved America and the World from tyranny.
There were more B-24 airplanes built than any other aircraft in American history. The Liberator Production Pool of Consolidated Aircraft Corporation, Ford Motor, Douglas Aircraft, and North American Aviation constructed over 18,000 planes. The B-24 was operational only during World War II. In a modern era of computer jets and weaponry, it must be remembered that the B-24 was a bare boned, totally unrefined flying machine. It lacked heat despite outside air temperatures that could reach as cold as 50 degrees below zero. Pilots maneuvered the plane by brute strength and, because the B-24 lacked windshield wipers, often navigated by sticking their heads out the window. The plane existed and was flown for one purpose only, to carry 500 and 1,000 pound bombs to be dropped on enemy targets. For that role, the Army Air Force needed thousands of men at a time when only a handful knew anything about flying. THE WILD BLUE is the story of those men and how they became the margin of victory in World War II.
The pilots and crews of the B-24 were America. They came from every state and region of the country, they were all volunteers and they represented all walks of life. Almost none of them had ever been in an airplane and indeed most of them had never seen aircraft. The Dakota Queen, piloted by 22-year-old George McGovern, would eventually fly 35 missions over Germany and southern Europe. For his efforts he would be awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. However, many of his comrades would not be so blessed. Casualties for B-24 crews were extremely high --- over half of the crews and planes never returned from their missions.
Through interviews and reminiscences, Stephen Ambrose has followed the crews of the B-24 from their college campuses and small-town lives to their training camps and, ultimately, to their bases in Europe and their bombing missions. Describing the experience, Senator McGovern says, "Piloting a B-24 in combat with eight other guys, sometimes nine other guys, took every ounce of physical energy I had, every bit of mental abilities I had, and literally every shred of spiritual resource that I had." For McGovern's crew, and for millions of men and women during World War II, it was an effort made willingly.
Stephen Ambrose has spent a great portion of his professional writing life sharing the saga of the combat soldier of World War II. In addition to being a remarkable writer, he has the skill to draw from his subjects anecdotes that serve to humanize what it meant to be part of the effort to destroy tyranny. No event in history can equal the second World War, and the men and women who fought and died in that effort can never receive the gratitude they deserve. We can only be grateful that men like George McGovern and writers like Stephen Ambrose continue to remind us of the contributions made by the generation that kept America free.
Reviewed by Stuart Shiffman on January 24, 2011
The Wild Blue: The Men and Boys Who Flew the B-24s Over Germany