Reviews and Previews: Soldier of Fortune

The life and mysterious death of an American ace in the Spanish Civil War

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Scearce’s father, Herman, a B-24 radio operator and gunner, flew his 40 missions and came home with stories that enthralled his son. The younger Scearce has grown up to be a meticulous researcher, and he builds on the frame of his father’s memories a chronicle of daily life in the lesser-known bomber theater. Without delay, the reader is grounded in reality. Herman Scearce doesn’t step out of a Norman Rockwell scene with Glenn Miller playing in the background; he lies his way into the military at age 16, fleeing severe family dysfunction, toxic poverty, and small-town aimlessness.

The elder Scearce’s tour of the Pacific begins with a mission on which every bomb misses a Japanese-occupied island entirely. It ends with pinpoint placement of 2,000-pound mines while flying a hundred feet above blazing enemy warships. In between, the detail is high-resolution.

Phil Scearce’s precise narrative and illuminating footnotes convey the facts. His father’s recollection early in the book states a more plain-spoken truth. “All of us prayed selfish prayers…. God, just get me back on the ground again.”

Stephen Joiner is a frequent Air & Space contributor.

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