Share This Article

Missions Remembered: Recollections of the World War II Air War, by the Men of the Middle Tennessee Fighter Pilot Association, McGraw-Hill, New York, 1998, $22.95.

American fighter pilots in World War II were often ordinary young Americans who were called upon to perform extraordinary deeds and acts of bravery in the skies over Europe and in the Pacific. In 1992 a group of those men, now mostly retired professionals from the Nashville, Tennessee, area gathered to form the World War II Middle Tennessee Fighter Pilots Association.

Here are the reminiscences of a group of men from the Nashville area who had one thing in common: They were all fighter pilots during World War II with actual combat experience. Though most of the men whose stories are told here flew for the U.S. Army Air Forces out of England or Italy or in the Pacific, there are several Navy fliers and at least one Vought F4U Corsair­flying Marine represented.

There are tales in Missions Remembered about flying virtually every American fighter aircraft of World War II, from the pilot-friendly Bell P-39 Airacobra to the slow but tough Curtiss P-40 over the skies of North Africa. There are also stories of flying Republic P-47 Thunderbolt ground-attack missions against German trains, harrowing tales of North American P-51 Mustang pilots tangling with the world’s first jet fighter, the Messerschmitt Me-262, and even desperate Corsair pilots taking on kamikazes to save their own carriers.

Virtually none of the 85 individual stories and anecdotes presented have ever appeared in print before. In addition to the tales of combat flying, there also are stories about training, the intricacies of flying a particular plane, and glimpses of a fighter pilot’s daily life. One memorable anecdote tells how a fighter plane’s wing tanks were reconfigured so that they could carry beer from a distant brewer to the pilot’s airfield. An hour at 30,000 feet made “the brew good and cold,” according to that author.

The 34 men who participated in this project were on the spot–flying on D-Day, during Operation Market Garden, in Rabaul and in Okinawa–and their stories are a testament not only to their own fighting spirit but also to the courage of those who did not return.

Mark A. Keefe IV