Tales of a War Pilot, by Richard C. Kirkland, Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C., 1999, $21.95.
Lieutenant Richard C. Kirkland flew Lockheed P-38 Lightnings in New Guinea during World War II and Sikorsky rescue helicopters in Korea. In the course of both wars he met celebrities, war heroes and nuclear scientists, as well as a MASH (Mobile Army Surgical Hospital) doctor named Hawkeye, whose antics would later be related in a book, film and television show.
Tales of a War Pilot is not a structured chronology. Kirkland just relates the stories he likes to tell. Four of the book’s 11 chapters are narratives gleaned from other fliers, such as a downed fighter pilot who survived in the New Guinea jungles that were teeming with malaria and headhunters.
After World War II–to which he devotes the first five chapters–Kirkland became a helicopter pilot and was sent to Alaska in search of a missing Convair B-36 bomber. Then he made his way to Eniwetok Atoll in the Pacific, where he ferried nuclear scientists around the island chain in preparation for two atomic blasts.
In Korea, Kirkland was sometimes stationed at Ch’o Do, a tiny island off the coast. One night he got a call from a front-line aid station to evacuate a dying soldier. At first Kirkland thought it was a prank by the infamous Hawkeye to see if he would disobey the order not to fly at night. But when he realized the call was legitimate and he was the wounded man’s only hope, Kirkland flew to the aid station in the middle of the night while under fire and got him back to MASH 8055.
Tales of a War Pilot is recommended for both the aviation enthusiast and anyone interested in the early days of the Cold War.