Dirty Eddie’s War: Based on the World War II Diary of Harry “Dirty Eddie” March, Jr., Pacific Fighter Ace

  • Published

Dirty Eddie’s War: Based on the World War II Diary of Harry “Dirty Eddie” March, Jr., Pacific Fighter Ace by Lee Cook. University of North Texas Press, 2021, 352 pp. 

Dirty Eddie’s War is a biography of a fighter pilot, Harry March Jr., set in some of the most momentous events in World War II’s Pacific theater. This often first-hand account puts a name and face to one who endured the reality in the mud and sky.

The Guadalcanal, Operation Watchtower campaign code name does not begin to delve into the literal muck and mire mixed with blood, sweat, fumes, and fears the men with boots on the ground and wings in the air experienced. The details, however, are so minute that you lose the forest for the trees at times. The author definitely gives his opinion and thoughts on what Eddie was feeling but backs it up with anecdotes and historical records. By the end of the book, the reader is invested in this courageous pilot, loving husband, and new father, which makes the final chapter truly gut-wrenching. 

Dirty Eddie’s War is a unique look at US airpower versus Japan’s. The history of triumphs and defeats and heroes being made, often in single pivotal days, tugs the heartstrings and sticks in one’s mind. Leadership decisions, which were far removed from the literal foxholes and mud, dictated the life or death of hundreds of men. It illustrates how rules were sometimes bent to the eventual achievement of the higher purpose. The camaraderie between brothers in arms is woven throughout with numerous poignant examples of how that bond is life-changing for better or for worse. We, as the Air Force, can learn much from these brave men and their ultimate dependence on each other.

“Service before self” is not just a quaint adage to this man; time and time again, the war has him facing impossible odds but instead of shirking away, he plows ahead full steam. His life is punctuated with greatness. This is partially because of innate athletic ability, he was a shoe-in for the Olympics in multiple events in track and field but also because of his work ethic, that would not allow him to be anything but his best. He eventually became an Ace. “Excellence” is the backbone of this man’s character.

The irony in this, is that the name Dirty Eddie came from a time when his best was continuing to crawl out of bed, or foxhole, every morning even if his grooming standards slipped. The demons of constant stress and feeling left behind by the superiors safe behind mahogany desks haunt him in every fiber of his being but yet he summons a deep inner strength to continue. In the dark monotony and unknown, he regularly expounds on his duty and privilege to send home earnings to his wife. Regardless of his own health or his longing for home, this man presses on to what he is called to do. He proves to be a stark reminder of the sacred calling those in power have.

This book has many ideas on what leadership is and deeply rooted thoughts on resiliency. It hones in on the impact that leadership can have- both negative and positive. It also gives vivid examples of what kind of mindset a person must have to stay sane in the most insane conditions. At one point, he loses a friend who had volunteered to take the place of a malingering peer, and the ensuing aftermath of that requires the reader to grapple with what he or she might have done in certain situations and highlights how truly noble this man was. “Integrity First” is shown in the letters he writes to his friend’s new widows and his obvious care for what duty calls for. A particularly poignant example is when he first visits his friend’s newly widowed wife before his own, even after not seeing her for over a year.

The historic happenings get a bit dry and lengthy toward the middle of the book, and the snippets to home become repetitive. Although this makes reading a bit of a chore, it accurately points to the monotony of the days, weeks, months, and years and his heart for his wife and later his child. It is a stark juxtaposition of the horrors of war and warm thoughts of home. This work delves into the innate character of the man, his incredible work ethic, and his view of how to surmount any obstacle in front of him even if it meant bending the lesser rules.

While highly authenticated with extensive delving into archives, letters, and photographs with dates and military operation details, it is often difficult to follow with random facts about a particular battle interspersed with the “DH’s” personal thoughts on the matter and loving sentiments to his wife. The table of contents provides an interesting topical guide to wanderings of the book. An incredibly lengthy index of mostly firsthand sources/historical archives finishes this historical account. More than 67 pages of meticulously documented appendices and a bibliography back up the events, places, and names covered in the book.

More than 40 actual pictures and illustrations of battle plans add to the overall comprehensiveness of the work and help bring the reader closer to the emotions and thoughts of the protagonist. The author, who has published multiple other books dealing with military history, took this on as a passion project. Cook spent more than a decade searching for the remaining members of the DH’s unit and had to suffice with his sister-in-law, as his immediate family had already passed away by the time his research took place.

Dirty Eddie’s War is a unique first-person perspective but not technically a journal, which the military forbade during that time. It resounds with humanity in the mundane and hellish with a spark of light reignited with a bottle of booze or a game of cards. Any leader or history buff will enjoy this behind-the-scenes look at the men and their meddle inside the thin metal of the aircraft they flew.

Major Rachel J. Stevenson, USAF

"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."