Book: Hell's Angels

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As noted in the dedication and preface, Harry Gobrecht, a pilot with the 358th Bomb Squadron, committed himself—long years of himself—to the preservation of the unit’s history. He catalogued the 303rd’s achievements in his authoritative work Might in Flight: Daily Diary of the Eighth Air Force’s Hell’s Angels 303rd Bombardment Group (H), from which his family graciously allowed me to borrow extensively. Edgar Miller was a fellow pilot who labored mightily to compile a list of known veterans of the 303rd and its support units. He began his task with a few hundred names on index cards. When he finished, he had produced eighteen hundred pages in six volumes. Many more 303rd veterans labored long, unheralded hours extracting information from, and organizing, official documents. Much of that work benefitted me in this effort.

Gobrecht, Miller and most of their comrades are gone. And the once-vibrant 303rd Bomb Group Association is no more. But Gary Moncur, the son of Vern Moncur, who piloted Thunderbird through so much peril, maintains the 303rd’s legacy through the most extensive and professionally maintained Web site of its kind. It includes twenty-seven hundred pages and more than five million words. It can be readily accessed at Gary also knows as much about the 303rd as anyone living. His work belies a passion for the 303rd and the men who made it what it was—many of whom he grew to know very well during the past few decades. His help and encouragement during the writing of this book were of great value. Thank you, Gary.

The 303rd Bomb Group Association produced a regular newsletter from 1976 to 2006. Those newsletters grew in size and sophistication, and through the decades were a means by which the veterans told their personal stories in their own words. Those stories were an inestimable treasure to me. I thank the individual contributors as well as the hardworking and underappreciated editors: Al Martel, Jr., Harry Jenkins, Bud Klint, Hal Susskind and Eddie Deerfield.

Peter Park was, for many years, part of the Commander’s Action Group with the Joint Analysis Center at modern-day Molesworth. He was also the base historian and an ardent supporter of the 303rd’s heritage. As fellow historians, veterans and airpower buffs converged on Molesworth over the last many years, it was Peter who met and stewarded them about the base as special guests of the commanding officer. I had the pleasure of just such an experience and enjoyed the hospitality not only of Peter, but also of the commander of the JIOCEUR Analytic Center, Colonel Kristin Baker (U.S. Army), and the reserve management officer, Colonel Elizabeth Coble (U.S. Army).

Many 303rd members and families were gracious with assistance and material. I used much of it, but it was impossible to use it all. Nevertheless, that unused material was still valuable, as it furthered my understanding of the group’s men and their actions as a whole. I am glad and thankful I had the opportunity to review it.

Ben Smith, Richard “Dick” Johnson and Brian O’Neill have written excellent books dealing with various aspects of the 303rd’s history; they were useful to me. Smith’s Chick’s Crew—A Tale of the Eighth Air Force, is a remarkably candid account of his service that is a joy to read. Johnson’s Twenty Five Milk Runs (And a Few Others) is remarkable not only for his wartime perspectives but also for the amazing story of his growing up. O’Neill’s outstanding Half a Wing, Three Engines and a Prayer: B-17s Over Germany follows the actions of one crew but in the broad context of the 303rd’s operations.

E. J. McCarthy has been my agent for more than a decade. He has always been unstinting in his support and superb in matching my work to the right publishers. He’s done it again: Natalee Rosenstein, Robin Barletta and the rest of the staff at Berkley Publishing Group have done a tremendous job not only in presenting this work in the finest fashion possible, but in getting it in front of a broad audience. It is something that the men of the 303rd and the rest of their World War II comrades deserve.

Others who helped in varying ways include Dr. James Perry, who reviewed the manuscript and made genuinely useful critiques; Mark Forlow, who shared generously from his photograph collection; Ford Lauer, Gary Groth, and Bob Levandoski, who also shared photographs; and Ryan Bartholomew, who helped me with the Ehle Reber diary. There are others too numerous to mention to whom I apologize for not doing so.

Finally, my dogs shed a great deal, but they adore me. My daughters do daughterly things and adore me perhaps a bit less. My wife is beautiful, tender and engaging. And she lets me do what I will. When it pleases her. For all of this—minus the shedding—I love them with every bit of my heart.

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