November 30, 2020

IN THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, A NICE REVIEW for Joe Pappalardo’s Inferno: The True Story of a B-17 Gunner’s Heroism and the Bloodiest Military Campaign in Aviation History.


In “Inferno,” Joe Pappalardo tells the story of B-17s over German-occupied Europe before long-range escort fighters could help them survive. His major character—and what a character!—is an over-aged juvenile delinquent, a 31-year-old among teenagers who as a little guy gets the ball turret.

Maynard Smith doesn’t have much to commend him, but the American military isn’t fussy in 1942. The Army willingly takes him on when he is delivered to the induction center in handcuffs. (He failed to pay child support, and the judge made him choose between prison and patriotism.) He earns sergeant’s stripes at the end of his training, such as it is, and finds himself in England as part of the nascent 8th Air Force.

On his very first mission, Sgt. Smith runs into the worst sort of trouble, and for once he does everything right. He saves himself, the airplane and those still alive in it. For this, he is awarded the Medal of Honor, the first enlisted airman to receive America’s highest award for valor. Naturally, he will eventually lose those stripes and finish the war as a private.

I haven’t read it yet, but Pappalardo never disappoints.

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