July 2003 Reads

March 5th, 2007


Ever wonder what it would have been like to sail aboard an explorer’s ship? With the help of one man’s incredible photography (and resolve), we have the ability to see the pictorial history of one expedition, that undertaken by Sir Ernest Shackleton in 1914. From the ice floes of Antarctica, to the skies over Europe, here are July’s reads.In my interview with Jones Quincy Adams, I was able to collect a first-hand account of what it was like to fly aboard a B-24 bomber in World War II. Wanting to learn more about the experiences described by Mr. Adams, I picked up a copy of Stephen Ambrose’s The Wild Blue: The Men and the Boys Who Flew the B-24s Over Germany 1944-45. In this book, Ambrose primarily focuses on the story of one crew, the captain of which happened to be George McGovern, the former senator from South Carolina and 1972 presidential candidate. McGovern flew 35 combat missions, earning the Distinguished Flying Cross along the way. McGovern was just 22 when he became a B-24 pilot in the 741st Bomb Squadron, which was based in Cerignola, Italy (Adams was also based at Cerignola, by the way). The book does a good job of providing a realistic picture of what life was like as a bomber crewman: the B-24, nicknamed the “Liberator”, had no heat, and was only lightly armored, suffering 50 percent crew casualties by the war’s end. Ambrose interviewed McGovern, his close friend, extensively for this book, and the book contains many quotes from McGovern and other airmen who flew the missions.

One of the things I liked about this book was the profile Ambrose provides of each of the crewmen before the war; their childhood, how they got into the Army Air Corps, etc. It personalizes the account, and illustrates how very eager and unselfish many young men were to get involved in the war effort. What was also interesting was the absolute and unquestioned respect that each man in that crew had for McGovern. To a man, they all looked up to him for his natural leadership qualities, and respected him as a pilot and as a man. After reading this book, you will have a much deeper appreciation for anyone who has ever flown combat aircraft.

Recently, PBS aired a series about the 1914 Antarctic expedition of Sir Ernest Shackleton. I remembered that a few years ago I received a book about that expedition as a present, and decided to pick it up again. There are a few books about that expedition, mine is The Endurance by Caroline Alexander. What is especially cool about this particular account of the expedition is the fact that Alexander intersperses some of the incredible photographs (170 in all) that the expedition’s photographer, Frank Hurley, took during the ordeal of the Endurance’s crew, described by some as the greatest survival tale of all time. Setting sail as World War I commenced, the “Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition”, led by Shackleton, tried to become the first ever to physically cross the Antarctic continent. However, their ship, the Endurance, became trapped in a drifting pack of ice, and was slowly crushed by the immense pressure. The expedition was literally stranded on the ice. The good news was that this was a group of veteran explorers and scientists. Led by Shackleton’s “undying optimism”, the group was able to almost entirely keep their composure throughout the 635 days of the struggle, under the most extreme of circumstances.

Talk about bravery- the crew sailed 800 miles of ocean in their remaining lifeboat, and had to trek mountains and glaciers on foot. All 28 men were rescued. Shackleton retuned to Antartica again in 1922 on another expedition, where he died of a heart attack. This is one of those books that you literally cannot put down once you start looking at the photographs, which are all in stunning black & white.

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