Saturday, January 08, 2011

A new journal of the Flying Tigers

Here is a great find in a rather unfortunate package. Though the book is credited to Jennifer Holik-Urban, the better part of it consists of the war journal of Robert Brouk of the AVG 3rd Squadron "Hell's Angels." Though riddled with spelling errors (some committed by the diarist himself, others introduced by a misreading of the handwritten original), it's very much worth obtaining for its entirely new account of the events from August 1941 to the spring of 1942, and especially Brouk's account of being strafed by the 64th Sentai as he landed at Namsang on April 21. Amazing that his journal has never surfaced before now!

Though introduced as a diary, it isn't quite that. Rather, Brouk seems to have acquired a blank day-book and jotted down his recollections at intervals of a week or so. They are headed by the month, though it's unclear if Brouk himself did this, or whether the headings were added by Holik-Urban. And Brouk often has a nice touch for what is so seldom remarked--the strange beauty that war can present. This is how he described his first combat, the December 23 raid on Rangoon: "Although the bombing was terrible and devastating, but it was a picturesque sight to see the large [Japanese] bombing formations of 21 and then another of 18 that came in a second wave. They held a beautiful close formation and you could see the black particles of smoke [as] their bombs hit Rangoon. The spots were scattered, and about 10 or 12 fires were started, bellowing smoke straight up and forming a mushroom about 3000 feet." I love that bellowing smoke!

It's a pity the journal wasn't published in a more professional manner--something on the order of Charlie Bond's A Flying Tiger's Diary, with the names straightened out and some context provided. It would be good to know, for example, that the AVG doctor who cared for him in Kunming was Sam Prevo, not "Prino" as it is spelled in the book. And I for one could have done without the Mitsubishi Zero being shot down on the cover! For all that, I recommend it to any AVG buff. At the present time, the hardcover is available only from the print-on-demand firm of Lulu.com for about $31 including postage. That's too rich for my blood, so I bought the $9.99 digital edition for Amazon's Kindle e-book reader. You don't need to own a Kindle to read these digital books; just download the appropriate software application for your computer, iPad, or smartphone. Blue skies! -- Dan Ford

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