/ Published November 28, 2017
Rocky Boyer’s War: An Unvarnished History of the Air Blitz that Won the War in the Southwest Pacific by Allen D. Boyer. Naval Institute Press (https://www.usni.org/navalinstitutepress), 291 Wood Road, Annapolis, MD 21402, 2017, 352 pages, $29.95 (hardcover), ISBN 978-1-68247-096-1.
One might build a good-sized collection of books by and about World War II pilots and aircrews, but a collection of books about support troops wouldn’t endanger the structural integrity of anyone’s bookshelves. That’s why this present volume is an important addition to United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) historiography. Allen D. Boyer, an attorney, author, and historian, has used his father’s diary to craft a well-written book about the experiences of one such support troop. The author’s father, Roscoe “Rocky” Boyer, was born in rural Indiana in 1919, and he was inducted into the Army fresh out of Franklin College in June 1941. He was commissioned a second lieutenant in the USAAF in November 1942 and made his way to New Guinea as a communications officer assigned to the 71st Tactical Reconnaissance Group a year later. Rocky began keeping a diary on the day he was inducted into the Army. But this book is much more than an annotated copy of that diary. The author has recounted the history of the Southwest Pacific air war as experienced by Rocky and the men with whom he served. Using the diary and other primary and secondary sources, Boyer describes the air war as experienced by reconnaissance crews flying from New Guinea air bases. Accounts of air raids, missions, and even single sorties, help us to understand the flow of the war on a smaller scale, while accounts of top-level discussions and decisions show us the view and perspective of Gen George Kenney, commander of Fifth Air Force, and Gen Douglas MacArthur, supreme commander of allied forces in the Southwest Pacific.
Boyer doesn’t shy away from issues not often discussed in World War II histories. For example, by 1944 combat fatigue among aircrew members manifested itself in such avoidable accidents as wheels-up landings, short landings, and collisions on the ground. Ground crew and support personnel were subject to the same general stresses. The author relates an episode where ordnance men loaded regular gravity fragmentation bombs on aircraft flying a mission that called for parafrag bombs. No pilots thought to check their own bombload, and they dropped the bombs from too low an altitude. Most of the planes suffered damage from their own bombs, and it is fortunate that no pilots were killed.
Rocky’s dealings with his superiors, peers, and his men could be friendly or fraught with misunderstanding and pettiness. The diary is truly a human document. Officers quibbling and enlisted men griping are common occurrences, and Rocky’s diary, and his son’s supporting narrative, contains a good number of accounts of dissatisfaction in the ranks. Indeed, it seems that the enlisted men had plenty of targets in the panoply of poor officership.
All military veterans know that “rank has its privileges.” Most of us understand and accept the concept, for better or worse. However, at times, the principle can be taken too far. This seems to have happened regularly in Rocky’s unit. There were frequent complaints from enlisted men about the excessive privileges enjoyed by officers. Consider these few instances cited by Rocky: enlisted men made to wait on tables in the officers’ mess; enlisted men eating from their mess kits (and washing them in a common can of hot water) while officers used plates, knives, and forks; officers appropriating lumber and other items for their personal use; enlisted men made to dig and build an officers’ latrine first; and the eternal complaints about officers getting preference for dating nurses and Red Cross workers.
Rocky’s last diary entry was in November 1944. This is a shame because shortly thereafter Rocky experienced ground combat at Dulag in Leyte when Japanese paratroopers attacked the airstrip. As a USAFF support officer engaged in ground combat, Rocky’s impressions of this event would have been interesting and valuable. After the war, Rocky returned home and married his college sweetheart, Margaret Anne Dillard. He earned a doctorate in psychology from Indiana University and taught at the University of Mississippi from 1955 to 1989. Rocky died in 2008.
There are no major weaknesses in this book, although this reviewer, who has a penchant for memoirs of soldiers who served in rear-area support units, would have liked to read more about the details of Rocky’s day-to-day work. Of course, the author was constrained by the source material he had on hand, and such an undertaking was probably not possible.
Twenty-eight fine photographs depicting the people, places, and things that Rocky saw enhance the text. Two maps—one of New Guinea and one of the Philippine Islands—are adequate to put the account into geographical perspective. The bibliography lists the author’s impressive array of primary and secondary sources; this is enough to satisfy those who seek more information on this aspect of the war.
This is an easily readable account of the Southwest Pacific air war woven together with the diary entries of a support officer who experienced that war. I recommend this to anyone interested in World War II USAAF history in general and to those who are interested in the Pacific air war in particular.
Maj Peter L. Belmonte, USAF, Retired
"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."