/ Published April 06, 2015
This autobiography details the life and career of James B. Story, a bomber pilot from Winfield, Kansas, from his initial flying training and subsequent World War II service in the Pacific to his retirement following a tour in Vietnam. The main text is a detailed account, recorded in Story's private journal, of his wartime experience flying missions over the Solomon islands and Coral Sea as a lieutenant. With the authority of one who has "been there," he candidly recounts what it was like flying with Jimmy Doolittle Jr. and a host of other brave young men in twin-engine B-26s and, later, B-25 bombers.
Their unit, the 69th Bomb Squadron, prosecuted torpedo and skip-bombing missions throughout New Caledonia and New Hebrides, engaging Japanese submarines and surface combatants. Flying was hazardous business, from enemy action to mechanical problems. In addition to antiaircraft fire, Story and his companions suffered almost nightly sleep deprivation from "Washing Machine Charlie" (p. 73), their nickname for enemy air raids, often delivered in three or four waves in a single night.
Knitted throughout this wartime diary, Story relays timeless lessons about deployed service, including the trials of bedding down aircraft, men, and equipment and the establishment of expedient billeting, messing, and operations and maintenance facilities. Amidst his description of various missions, Story skillfully weaves a tale of the simple pleasures of life during war, such as mail from home, the availability of fresh food, and the occasional reel-to-reel movie.
Following his Pacific theater experience, he spends the remainder of the book detailing his many and varied post-World War II assignments, including test program work at Edwards AFB, California; accident investigation work at Norton AFB, California; and several assignments in Europe. In contrast to the practice of Air Force safety culture today, Story openly shares several experiences that simply would not pass muster, such as a particular tour at Hurlburt Field, Florida, in the late 1950s. There, he and a fellow captain trained three squadrons' worth of B-66 pilots in the Air Force's newest bomber. Since no two-seat trainers were available, they fashioned makeshift instructor pilot seats for themselves out of bomb-fin shipping containers that they dubbed the "AM-1 milk can." Story subtly acknowledges the unorthodox nature of this locally developed solution, ending simply with "we had no accidents" (p. 142).
Even with the occasional departure from operating by the book, this autobiography is both relevant and worthwhile, especially for students of airpower history in its raw, uncut form. A quick and enjoyable read, The Story will appeal to Airmen of all walks who seek insight into the World War II era and early days of the Air Force.
Col Shawn D. Harrison, USAF
Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio
"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."