Sunday, August 26, 2007

Book Review: Tom's War by James Hammond

Veteran South Carolinian journalist James T. Hammond has written a great new book entitled 'Tom's War: Flying With the Eighth Air Force in Europe, 1944', published by iuniverse in 2007. James' father, Tom Hammond, was the son of a small-plot farmer in Greer, South Carolina. Young Tom was fascinated by airplanes and when war broke out, he went into the Army Air Corps and became a B-17 pilot in the 95th Bomb Group. This book follows Tom through 'Tom's War', from training to combat and the eventual joyful return.

Shortly before he leaves for duty, Tom meets a young neighbor named Callie and the two maintain a correspondance throughout the war. The letters begin as friendly pen-letters and turn into love letters over time. One of the things that makes the book so poignant is Hammond's reliance on these letters back and forth between Tom and Callie. In addition to chronicling Tom's war and Callie's difficult job at a shirt factory, where she buttons Army shirts all day long, the letters allow the reader to witness a young couple falling in love with each other.

When author Hammond delves into the personal lives and feelings of his characters, this book really soars. It bogs down a bit in the mission-by-mission details, especially if, like me, you have read hundreds of accounts of the air war. However, for a layman, who knows little of the planning and execution of missions over Europe, this would probably provide valuable insight.

Tom was a co-pilot who flew with the same crew for all thirty-five missions, give or take a couple of make-up missions. By this time in the war, crews were required to fly 35 rather than 25 missions, in part to speed the end of the war and in part because of the decreased risk of the depleted German Luftwaffe. By mid-1944, the main threat was the highly accurate German flak.

James Hammond tells the story of Tom's joyful return, his long recovery at a hospital in the Miami Beach area after nose surgery, and his reunion with the woman he loves.

Tom Hammond's next war will be waged against dementia, lung, and heart ailments that eventually claim him in his early eighties. Son James' story here is powerful and compelling in its universality. The titans who saved the world at age 20 are now leaving us as old age accomplishes what fighter and flak failed to do. By the time Tom Hammond passes away, one feels a bond with the scrappy farm kid who grew up in the South during the Depression, and one feels a real sense of sadness that is mitigated only by the selfless care given to him by the love of his life, his wife Callie.

Hammon ends the book by tracking down his father's crewmen. It's interesting to see how time has treated each man. Some have become successful, others have never really got the gears turning.

This is a fine tribute to a member of the Greatest Generation. I recommend it to anybody who has an interest in World War Two bomber stories.

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