Finish Forty and Home: The Untold World War II Story of B-24s in the Pacific
by Phil Scearce, University of North Texas Press, Denton, 2011, $29.95
This book, by the son of a Pacific War veteran, shows the air war was vastly different for the crews of B-24 Liberators in the Pacific than it was over Europe. Phil Scearce points out that Pacific Liberator crews had some advantages: Because they usually flew at lower altitudes, they didn’t have to worry about oxygen, cumbersome masks and cold weather gear. They weren’t required to don easily damaged electrically heated suits, instead mostly flying in shirt-sleeves. But all that didn’t make up for having to undertake the longest missions of the war without fighter escort. The Pacific bomber crews also frequently encountered heavy flak in addition to enemy fighter opposition.
Sergeant Herman Scearce lied about his age and enlisted at 16. Starting with his dad’s experiences as a radio operator, the younger Scearce chronicles the grim history of the 42nd Squadron, 11th Bomb Group. Its members were trained by an inexperienced squadron commander who had to learn to lead his rookie crews on extremely long-range missions to heavily defended Japanese targets on small islands—without alternative landing sites in case of emergencies. Their losses through 1943 were stunning: 50 out of 110 crew members were killed. The book’s title reflects the fact that heavy bomber crew members in the Pacific were required to complete 40 missions before they could go home.
Scearce has done an unusually thorough job of research, interviewing survivors and their families and also gaining access to wartime diaries and correspondence. He supplements those accounts with information from unit reports at the Air Force Historical Research Agency and the National Archives. The result is a valuable contribution to Air Force history, as well as a tribute to those who didn’t make their 40 missions and never came home.
Originally published in the May 2012 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here.