Flyboys: A True Story of Courage

Flyboys: A True Story of Courage

by James Bradley


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The classic New York Times bestselling story of heroism and sacrifice—by the author of Flags of Our Fathers, The Imperial Cruise, and The China Mirage.

This acclaimed bestseller brilliantly illuminates a hidden piece of World War II history as it tells the harrowing true story of nine American airmen shot down in the Pacific. One of them, George H. W. Bush, was miraculously rescued. What happened to the other eight remained a secret for almost 60 years.

After the war, the American and Japanese governments conspired to cover up the shocking truth, and not even the families of the airmen were informed of what happened to their sons. Their fate remained a mystery—until now.

FLYBOYS is a tale of courage and daring, of war and death, of men and hope. It will make you proud and it will break your heart.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780316159432
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Publication date: 09/14/2004
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 464
Sales rank: 82,965
Product dimensions: 5.45(w) x 8.25(h) x 1.35(d)

About the Author

James Bradley is the author of the New York Times bestsellers The Imperial Cruise, Flyboys, and Flags of Our Fathers, and a son of one of the men who raised the American flag on Iwo Jima.

Read an Excerpt


By James Bradley

Time Warner

Copyright © 2003 James Bradley
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0316105848

Chapter One

All these years I had this nagging feeling these guys wanted their story told.

The e-mail was from Iris Chang, author of the groundbreaking bestseller The Rape of Nanking. Iris and I had developed a professional relationship after the publication of my first book, Flags of Our Fathers. In her e-mail, Iris suggested I contact a man named Bill Doran in Iowa. She said Bill had some "interesting" information.

This was in early February 2001. I was hearing many "interesting" war stories at that point. Flags of Our Fathers had been published recently. The book was about the six Iwo Jima flagraisers. One of them was my father.

Indeed, scarcely a day passed without someone suggesting a topic for my next book. So I was curious as I touched his Iowa number on my New York telephone keypad.

Bill quickly focused our call on a tall stack of papers on his kitchen table. Within twenty minutes I knew I had to look Bill in the eye and see that stack. I asked if I could catch the first plane out the next day.

"Sure. I'll pick you up at the airport," Bill offered. "Stay at my place. It's just me and Stripe, my hunting dog, here. I have three empty bedrooms. You can sleep in one."

Riding from the Des Moines airport in Bill's truck, I learned that Stripe was the best hunting dog in the world and that his seventy-six year-old owner was a retired lawyer. Bill and Stripe spent their days hunting and fishing. Soon Bill and I were seated at his Formica-topped kitchen table. Between us was a pile of paper, a bowl of popcorn, and two gin and tonics.

The papers were the transcript of a secret war crimes trial held on Guam in 1946. Fifty-five years earlier, Bill, a recent U.S. Naval Academy graduate, had been ordered to attend the trial as an observer. Bill was instructed to report to the "courtroom," a huge Quonset hut. At the entrance, a Marine guard eyed the twenty-one-year-old. After finding Bill's name on the approved list, he shoved a piece of paper across a table.

"Sign this," the Marine ordered matter-of-factly. Everybody was required to.

Bill read the single-spaced navy document. The legal and binding language informed young Bill that he was never to reveal what he would hear in that steaming Quonset hut / courtroom.

Bill signed the secrecy oath and he signed another copy late that afternoon when he left the trial. He would repeat this process every morning and every afternoon for the trial's duration. And when it was over, Bill returned home to Iowa. He kept silent but could not forget what he had heard.

Then, in 1997, Bill noticed a tiny newspaper item announcing that vast stashes of government documents from 1946 had been declassified. "When I realized the trial was declassified," Bill said, "I thought, Maybe I can do something for these guys now."

As a lawyer, Bill had spent his professional life ferreting out documents. He made some inquiries and dedicated eleven months to following where they led. Then one day, a boxed transcript arrived in the mail from Washington. Bill told Stripe they weren't going hunting that day.

The transcript contained the full proceedings of a trial establishing the fates of eight American airmen-Flyboys-downed in waters in the vicinity of Iwo Jima during World War II. Each was shot down during bombing runs against Chichi Jima, the next island north of Iwo Jima. Iwo Jima was coveted for its airstrips, Chichi Jima for its communications stations. Powerful short- and long-wave receivers and transmitters atop Chichi's Mount Yoake and Mount Asahi were the critical communications link between Imperial Headquarters in Tokyo and Japanese troops in the Pacific. The radio stations had to be destroyed, the U.S. military decided, and the Flyboys had been charged with doing so.

A stack of papers my brother found in my dad's office closet after his death in 1994 had launched me on a quest to find my father's past. Now, on Bill's table, I was looking at the stack of papers that would become the first step in another journey.

On the same day my father and his buddies raised that flag on Iwo Jima, Flyboys were held prisoner just 150 miles away on Chichi Jima. But while everyone knows the famous Iwo Jima photo, no one knew the story of these eight Chichi Jima Flyboys.

Nobody knew for a reason: For over two generations, the truth about their demise was kept secret. The U.S. government decided the facts were so horrible that the families were never told. Over the decades, relatives of the airmen wrote letters and even traveled to Washington, D.C., in search of the truth. Well-meaning bureaucrats turned them away with vague cover stories.

"All those years I had this nagging feeling these guys wanted their story told," Bill said.

Eight mothers had gone to their graves not knowing the fates of their lost sons. Sitting at Bill's table, I suddenly realized that now I knew what the Flyboys' mothers had never learned.

History buffs know that 22,000 Japanese soldiers defended Iwo Jima. Few realize that neighboring Chichi Jima was defended by even more-Japanese troops numbering 25,000. Whereas Iwo had flat areas suitable for assault from the sea, Chichi had a hilly inland and a craggy coast. One Marine who later examined the defenses of both islands told me, "Iwo was hell. Chichi would have been impossible." Land troops-Marines-would neutralize Iwo's threat. But it was up to the Flyboys to take out Chichi.

The U.S. tried to blow up Chichi Jima's communications stations for quite some time. Beginning in June of 1944, eight months before the Iwo Jima invasion, American aircraft carriers surrounded Chichi Jima. These floating airports catapulted steel-encased Flyboys off their decks into the air. The mission of these young airmen was to fly into the teeth of Chichi Jima's lethal antiaircraft guns, somehow dodge the hot metal aimed at them, and release their loads of bombs onto the reinforced concrete communications cubes atop the island's twin peaks.

The WWII Flyboys were the first to engage in combat aviation in large numbers. In bomber jackets, posing with thumbs up, they epitomized masculine glamour. They were cool, and they knew it, and any earthbound fool had to know it too. Their planes were named after girlfriends and pinups, whose curvy forms or pretty faces sometimes adorned their sides. And inside the cockpit, the Flyboys were lone knights in an age of mass warfare.

In the North Pacific in 1945, the Flyboys flew the original "missions impossible." Climbing into 1940s-era tin cans with bombs strapped below their feet, they hurtled off carrier decks into howling winds or took off from island airfields. Sandwiched between blue expanses of sky and sea, Flyboys would wing toward distant targets, dive into flak shot from huge guns, and drop their lethal payloads. With their hearts in their throats, adrenaline pumping through their veins, the Flyboys then had to dead-reckon their way back to a tiny speck of landing deck or to a distant airfield their often-damaged planes never made it to.

The Flyboys were part of an air war that dwarfed the land war below. In 1945, the endgame in the northern Pacific was the incineration of Japan. This required two layers of bombers in the sky-huge B-29s lumbering high above with their cargo of napalm to burn cities, and smaller, lower-flying carrier-based planes to neutralize threats to the B-29s. My father on Iwo Jima shared the same mission with the Chichi Jima Flyboys: to make the skies safe for the B-29s.

Japanese military experts would later agree that the napalm dropped by these B-29s had more to do with Japan's surrender than the atomic bombs. Certainly, napalm killed more Japanese civilians than died at Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined.

Most of the Chichi Jima Flyboys fought and died during the worst killing month in the history of all warfare-a thirty-day period in February and March of 1945 when the dying in WWII reached its climax. If you look at a graph charting casualties over the four years of the Pacific war, you will see the line jump dramatically beginning with the battle of Iwo Jima and the Flyboys' assaults against mainland Japan. And few realize the U.S. killed more Japanese civilians than Japanese soldiers and sailors. This was war at its most disturbing intensity.

It was a time of obscene casualties, a time when grandparents burned to death in cities aflame, and kamikaze sons swooped out of the sky to immolate themselves against American ships. It was the time of the worst battle in the history of the United States Marine Corps, the most decorated month in U.S. history, a valorous and brutish time of all-out slaughter.

By February of 1945, logical, technocratic American military experts had concluded that Japan was beaten. Yet the empire would not surrender. Americans judged the Japanese to be "fanatic" in their willingness to fight with no hope of victory. But Japan was not fighting a logical war. Japan, an island nation, existed in its own moral universe, enclosed in a separate ethical biosphere. Japanese leaders believed that "Japanese spirit" was the key to beating back the barbarians at their door. They fought because they believed they could not lose.

And while America cheered its flyers as its best and brightest, the Japanese had a very different view of those who wreaked havoc from the skies. To them, airmen who dropped napalm on defenseless civilians living in paper houses were the nonhuman devils.

This is a story of war, so it is a story of death. But it is not a story of defeat. I have tracked down the eight Flyboys' brothers and sisters, girlfriends, and aviator buddies who drilled and drank with them. Their relatives and friends gave me photos, letters, and medals. I have scoured yearbooks, logbooks, and little black books to find out who they were and what they mean to us today. I read and reread six thousand pages of trial documents and conducted hundreds of interviews in the U.S. and Japan.

The families and friends of the Flyboys could only tell me so much. Their hometown buddies and relatives had stories of their youth and enlistment. Their military comrades had remembrances from training camp up until they disappeared. But none of them-not even the next of kin or the bunkmates who served in the Pacific with them-knew exactly what happened to these eight on Chichi Jima. It was all a dark hole, an unfathomable secret.

In Japan, some knew, but they had kept their silence. I met Japanese soldiers who knew the Flyboys as prisoners. I heard stories about how they were treated, about their interrogations, about how some of the Flyboys had lived among their captors for weeks. I met soldiers who swapped jokes with them, who slept in the same rooms.

And I ventured to Chichi Jima. Chichi Jima is part of an island chain due south of Tokyo the Japanese call the Ogasawara Islands. On English maps the chain is called the Bonin Islands. The name Bonin is a French cartographer's corruption of the old Japanese word munin, which means "no man." These islands were uninhabited for most of Japan's existence. They literally contained "no peoples" or "no mans." So Bonin translates loosely into English as No Mans Land.

I hacked through forest growth in No Mans Land to uncover the last days of the Flyboys. I stood on cliffs with Japanese veterans who pointed to where they saw the Flyboys parachute into the Pacific. I strode where Flyboys had walked. I heard from eyewitnesses who told me much. Others revealed a great deal by refusing to tell me anything.

Eventually, I understood the facts about what happened to Dick, Marve, Glenn, Grady, Jimmy, Floyd, Warren Earl, and the Unknown Airman. I comprehended the "what" of their fates.

But to determine the "why" of their story, I had to embark upon another journey. A trip back in time, back 149 years, to another century. Back to when the first American military men walked in No Mans Land.


Excerpted from Flyboys by James Bradley Copyright © 2003 by James Bradley. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Flyboys 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 379 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Based on the cover and what you can read on the back of the book, it would seem that Flyboys is centered solely on some of the experiences that American fighter pilots endured in the Pacific during World War II. But, to say that this is all the book covers would be quite a misstatement. Before and between the stories about heroic American pilots, author James Bradley provides historical events that help the reader to understand why the war fought the way it was. Although major portions of the book are dedicated to the brave actions of the flyboys, I would say that the major theme of the book is actually about understanding why the war was fought. Bradley not only includes information about the fanatical culture that engulfed Japan during the war, but also provides examples of events centuries ago that helped lead Japan and the World towards WWII. I found that these insights into Japanese life in the early 20th century were among the most interesting parts of the book to me. One part of the book I wasn¿t fond of was the way that Bradley seemed to sympathize with the actions of the Japanese by blaming them on American actions. Although I think Bradley does a good job of supporting the major theme of the book, understanding the war based on historical facts, I do not always agree with the conclusions he reaches. For instance, attributes Japan¿s actions in China far more than I do to the actions of the United States in places like Hawaii and Central America. It is clear that Bradley did extensive research to write this book, talking to many of the flyboys and their families and friends, and even interviewed George H.W. Bush about what their life was life before during and after the war. Overall I would say that this was a pretty good book that included a lot of interesting historical info that you don¿t hear a lot about from many other places. I would recommend this book to anyone that wants to learn more about the Pacific Campaign in WWII and won¿t be overly offended by certain ideas that contradict many mainstream views of the war. I would not recommend this book to the squeamish however as some of the horrific actions depicted in the book can only be described as grisly.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book truly surpasses Flags of our Father. The true characters of the book gave it the ability to be part of the story. Enjoyed every minute of it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The footnotes are not fitted to the text. The quoted text is tied together by questionable interlineations and interpretations. For example to quote George Washington (calling Native Americans 'wolves') as if this were equivalent to the racism of Tojo and Hitler is obnoxious in the extreme. Washington learned his military lessons from the allied French and Indians and knew them to be fierce opponents. The attempt to balance the Japanese perspective with the view that we were once just as bad may as well be an attempt to justify Hitler on the basis that he was no worse than barbarians of centuries past. 'Civilization' takes a pounding in this book that seems to ignore that there are civilizing forces at work in the world that in the long term improve our lives.
Shellsers More than 1 year ago
It was clear from early on in the book that I would have to be very stoic to get through the descriptions of the horrendous war crimes. This book is very fair to both sides and gives a unique perspective on how easily morality is blurred when engaged in war. This book was heartbreaking and stirred feelings inside of me that I have never felt from any other war account. At the end of the book I felt like I was mourning with the families of those Flyboys who were so brutally murdered. But my tears were also tears of gratitude for these brave boys who were forced to become men at such a young age. I wish I could have known them, and I thank God for them and pray that America will always be worthy of their sacrifice. Every American who is old enough and mature enough to handle the graphic descriptions in this book should read about these heroic men.
Guest More than 1 year ago
During my 18th & 19th years I was what Bradley called, a 'Flyboy'. I read and enjoyed Flags of Our Fathers, as well as Flyboys which I just finished. But I must tell you I am surprised and shocked about how----and mystified by why---- he made such an effort to equate American military actions toward Japan with the brutal treatment, including enslavement,by the Japanese of Allied POWs. In my case, the war was ended----and the killing stopped----just as I was finishing Bombardier School and slated to go to the Pacific in the nose of a B-25. Except for the B-29 battering of Japan by Gen LeMay and the dropping of the A-Bomb----both of which he seems to suggest to be at least quasi-atrocities----I , along with many thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of other teenaged Americans would have become candidates for the same fate as the eight he wrote about. Mr Bradley is obviously a brilliant man and a gifted writer. Hence ----whether he will admit it or not----- he is surely aware of the absurdity of these comparisons. I have searched my mind for a wholesome reason for his actions and I am truly sad to have to say that the only reason that makes any sense (but dubious morality) is that he is pandering to the Japanese market in order to sell books. In doing so he insults the memory of every American who sacrificed so much---many with their very lives----in World War II to preserve his right to do so.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Wow powerful I learned more from this book then all the other books I read combined. What a story I mark dozen of pages so I can go back. A must read for anyonr
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A fantastic novel covering multiple stories that keeps your interest.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
While the subject matter could have been very interesting and Bradley did approach the subject in new ways, his complete absence of respect for the United States military is appalling. Its one thing to try to see from another point of view, its something completely different to attempt to change recorded history.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Great book. Told a great story and was filled with good facts about the war. Some of the facts are not known by most people, i think. Its a good book goes great with Flags of our Fathers. Its a great read for someone who wants to learn about the war or someone who just wants to read a good book. Not for young kids though, sometimes a little gory and gruesome. All in all a pretty nifty book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Maybe the best book on WWII I've ever read...very informative...very inspiring...very humbling. My two sons are now 20 and 17. I cannot begin to imagine them going through the hell those boys, and many thousands of other like them, had to go through...for a cause much bigger than themselves...what sacrifice...what loss...what a tremendous loss to their families...they were just boys. The book left me numb and speechless, but it also instilled a deeper appreciation of my freedom earned by the supreme sacrifices of those who went before me. This book touched my every emotion. War should never be portrayed a a glorious event...makes me wonder why a major war zone is refered to a a 'theatre'. Thank you veterans for your hardships endured for those of us who will hopefully never have to experience were just boys...thank you.
Guest More than 1 year ago
While his overall goal is worthy, Bradley's style, inaccuracies, and lack of solid authority make this book more of a miss than a hit. He should have stuck to the basic story of the downed flyers on Chichi Jima, a story which he tells well. The preface, which attempts to explain Japanese-American relations for the past 200 years, is sophomoric and in need of deeper inquiry. The Washington Post review of the book sums it best.
Guest More than 1 year ago
¿Flyboys¿ is an excellently researched and very informative book. The title is somewhat misleading as I was expecting the book to be about the flyers like other books I have read in this genera such as, ¿War¿s End¿ by Charles Sweeny and ¿Flight of the Enola Gay¿ by Paul Tibbets. However I was not disappointed in the story that Mr. Bradley chose to tell. The book begins by illustrating the events that led to war with Japan and the strategical significance of Chichi Jima in that war. This information is interesting but it does make the beginning of the book a little slow. I urge the reader to keep reading, the rest of the book will make the effort worthwhile. Mr. Bradley then introduces the reader to a group of common young men, typical of those who fought and died in WWII. After a short background is established on each he tells their story, and how their story fits with the bigger story of the war. Mr. Bradley has taken a great deal of care to use direct quotes from eyewitnesses to the events wherever possible. His writing style tends to be more of a textbook style than that of a novel, but in doing so he has paid the respect to the events that they deserve, without adding much of his personal feelings about the events. I have known many WWII veterans and several of them were Flyboys, this book accurately portrays what many of them have expressed to me. Parts of this book are disturbing to read, but it will provide the reader with a better understanding of the events leading up to the beginning, and the end of WWII.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Bradley told it as it was!! The brutality of the Japanese captors as well as the ruthless tactics of the Americans. War is a filthy buisness and Bradley detailed it all. I learned a lot about Japan as it evolved towards WWII and what the citzenry endoured. I enjoyed this book cover to cover.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Amazing account of a group of flyboys in the Pacific Theatre during the madness that was the destruction of the war against Japan. Bradley also introduces the fact that the hatred that culminated in Pearl Habor and ultimatley the Atomic Bombs had its beiginnings when Commodore Matthew Perry landed in Japan in 1853, unknowingly bringing an isolationist Japan into the forfront as an industrialized nation. Also, the book refelcts the facts that both governments viewed each other as 'uncivilized barbarians' and pushed these feelings into the minds of the public through propaganda, fueling the hatred. The human element is also brought into the equation from both sides with horrifying accounts from the U.S. fire bombing of Tokyo, which killed 100,000 civilians in one night, to the atrocities Japan brought upon our captured flyboys and other military personnal. Definatley a great read and a lesson for generations to come that war is not as glorious for the winners as well as for the losers.
Guest More than 1 year ago
It's surprising that the man who wrote such a beautiful book as Flags of Our Fathers could turn on the memory of America's honorable military veterans and write a book that equates their actions with the brutality of the Japanese. Mr. Bradley makes no bones about his view that America's military conduct in wars dating to the 19th century is as brutal and illegal as the Axis nations'. Any WW2 vet should be outraged by this moral equivalency. 'Flyboys' insults their memory.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Mr Bradley lived in Japan for a few years and has let his experiences and admiration for the Japanese people color his acceptance of the Japanese Army in WW2. His attempt to justify their actions is hard to take. Please try reading 'The Rape of Nanking' by Iris Chang to get a real picture of the actions of the Japanese Army. Mr. Bradley's father never forgave them for what he saw on Iwo Jima.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have to say that the book is very powerful that I couldn't put it down after I started to reading. Caution: Chapter 15 is very digusting and I suggest you don't eat while you are reading Chapter 15. Nine young men actually boys left to do their duties only one who came back alive. I can understand why President Bush never stop wondering what jad happened to his friends who never came back alive and how they actually died and etc. I hope that those brave Flyboys are finally at the peace.
dharper1 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Good book, great insight to some of the key events of the Pacific theater during WW2.
DirtPriest on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It's pretty rare when the nice lady at your local bookstore (Sleepy Hollow Books in Midland MI) loans you a book that she wants you to read. Joey asked me to read this and I put it off for a while because I knew that there would be alot about the war atrocities on both sides of the Pacific War. I was right. This book tells the long hidden tale of several carrier pilots that were shot down near Chichi Jima and held prisoner on the island. Chichi is the next island after Iwo on the way to Japan. Their few days on the island were not very cool at all. There are similarities with Flags of our Fathers in that the author interviewed many people who knew these airmen when they were alive, but the background depth and set-up is much more extensive. This is to set the stage for explaining the extreme barbarism on both sides of this sad conflict. Bradley goes so far as to describe how the US sent armed warships into Tokyo bay after Japan had closed its borders for over a century to the West, the US invasion of the Phillippines (kill everyone over age ten), and the evolution of the Westernized Japanese military. Oh, and the whole Rape of Nanking thing. Lots of gruesome deeds are described, but as a history buff, sometimes you have to walk through the blood to try and understand why man can be so animalistic to his fellow man. It's actually really outstanding historical writing.
irishliberator on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
this is a book that has the downfall of great nation
PeterFWarren on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Recently read this book and overall I liked it. It revealed the brutality that Japanese soldiers showed to our flyers when they were captured. Our men were decapitated and cannabilized by their capturers. Well written by Bradley and it contained some recently released information that had been kept from the public for years.
ckoller on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Terrific story about Flyboys of the pacific theater in WWII. It was a great sotry which incorporated a great amount of resources and information about other aspects of the war. I really loved this book.
lamour on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is more than a description of what happen to eight fliers (including George Bush, Sr.) who were shot down over Chichi Jima in 1945. It is a history of US foreign policy in the Pacific, an analysis of how Japan became militaristic in the early 20th Century and an examination of the Allies war crime trials in Japan.
apelph on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book, but be warned that it is not a feel-good story, as you might think from the title. The basic story of the 5 downed US pilots is just a vehicle for a very well written look at the atrocities of war and how they came to be. It illustrates very well the moral ambiguity of war, and how ethnic, political, social, and military development of a society can propel individuals who may be either good or evil at baseline to perform horrible acts. I agree with another reviewer that it should be read by mature readers only - I wouldn't want my son to read it until he was in (or already out of) college. I think a person needs to be well secure in the belief that humans are basically good before they read something like this that will severely challenge that belief.
peggyar on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An engrossing and sometimes gross story about the Pacific battle against Japan during W.W.II. Gives a lot of insight into the mindset of the Japanese and what led up to the war and the disastrous consequences for all.