Howard Snyder, pilot of the B-17 Susan Ruth was "a little apprehensive" when he learned that he and his crew would be taking the same position in flight formation of a bomber that had been lost in a similar raid on Frankfurt four days earlier, but he had learned in the few short months of training and combat to not let fear and nerves affect him before a mission. However, February 8, 1944, would prove to be a fateful day for the plane's crew and their families stateside when the Susan Ruth was suddenly "shot down" over Belgium.
In his highly informative and well-researched book, Howard's son, Steve, tells the story of not only his father's experiences in World War II but also gives snippets of history from the lives of several others caught up in the conflict such as Howard's fellow crew members, enemy combatants, and members of the Belgian Resistance. Heavily augmented by photographs of the participants as well as selections out of their letters to others, Snyder's memoir offers up a multifaceted chronicle that paints a vivid picture of the daily lives of Air Force personnel stationed in England, as well as those secretly undermining Nazi efforts in their occupied homeland. For example, in England there is sometimes the frustrating delay between missions that is relieved somewhat by socializing with locals, frequenting the pubs, or occasionally traveling to London or Scotland. When the time to fly arrives, there is always the lurking knowledge that with so many potential dangers—the risk of miscalculation in takeoff, maintaining formation, and landing, and then the constant threat of enemy fire—it is highly possible that some of the friends you have made will not be coming home again when the day is over. For those across the water in the Belgian Resistance, as well as the fliers who have been shot down and are in their care, life is a deadly game of hide and seek, one where being found can mean torture, a prison camp sentence, or execution for not only the Americans on the run but for those who help them evaded capture.
Snyder fills his book with priceless vignettes, putting a human face on the war, such as the time a drunken German Luftwaffe officer comes staggering up and tries to become pals with Howard who is in disguise as a border patrolman in an ill-fitting uniform while on his way to a safe house, or when a young German soldier shows kindness by putting Joe Musial's partially severed foot on his own lap to keep it out of the dirt when transporting the injured flier to a house to get medical attention. He also goes into great detail over the ins and outs of a B-17 and its crew, even quoting the flight manual at times to bring new insight into his subject. Packed with enough information to satisfy the most demanding history buff and yet containing enough human interest elements to touch the hearts of those who prefer tales focusing on courage and self-sacrifice, Snyder's well-written and fascinating account is a winner on both fronts.
RECOMMENDED by the US Review