Chadwick's Reviews > The Wild Blue: The Men and Boys Who Flew the B-24s Over Germany 1944-45

The Wild Blue by Stephen E. Ambrose
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Jun 20, 08

bookshelves: military-history
Read in June, 2008

Stephen E. Ambrose is kind of the Ken Burns of WWII history--he is a popular historian with a dash of the sentimentalist, and an occasionally tedious excessive reverence for the men (mostly men, that is) who are his subjects. All of his characters run together, the texture of his interviewees reduced to a sort of Norman Rockwell, Greatest Generation mush. That being said, these men were heroes, they are fascinating because of their transcendence of their prewar lives into warriors capable of acts of extreme bravery, of endurance of hardship that I personally cannot imagine. If we have to suffer Ambrose's hagiographical tendencies in order to get at something of the marvel of these citizen soldiers' self-creation and sacrifice, it is worthwhile.

Wild Blue: The Men and Boys who Flew the B-24s Over Germany (a bit of a misnomer, as most of the missions detailed in the book are over Italy, Austria, and Czechoslovakia) is not as good as Band of Brothers. It is a view into the slice of war that were the pilots of the B-24 Liberators. It covers their backgrounds, training, and the missions they flew. It doesn't shy away from the dark moral terrain faced by men who drop tons of bombs into highly populated cities, only hitting their industrial targets about half the time at points. The book's central figure is 1972 presidential candidate George McGovern, who piloted a Liberator in Italy in 1944 and 1945. McGovern comes across as an exemplar of the men who made up the flight crews of the Army Air Force in these years. Not a godlike air-ace or daredevil, just a brave man doing something that he believed in.

Wild Blue is a perfectly good, readable history of this aspect of WWII. The research is thorough, and Ambrose seems especially talented at prying absolute anecdotal gems from his subjects. However, as I mentioned above, all of the characters bleed together into some vague History Channel composite. I'd like to read an account of this war that didn't seem to have the Glen Miller orchestra playing in the background the whole time. Our perspective of this was is made up of a such a web of cliche and nostalgia (did every unit, group, sqaud or whatever have a "Tex" and a "Brooklyn?") that it is becoming increasingly difficult to comb through the tangle of resolute nobility and tousle-headed Italian scamps to arrive at an understanding of the human cost of this conflict and what it accomplished. Ambrose's agenda is to never let us forget the sacrifices and victories of these warriors, and that is a noble aim. I just don't think that it is the whole picture.
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