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Remains: a story of the Flying Tigers

Remains
"A cracking good yarn"

The story of the Flying Tigers--the mercenary pilots of the American Volunteer Group--has been told many times as history, though most AVG histories bear only the slightest resemblance to what actually happened in Burma in the winter of 1941-42. Here, by contrast, is a fiction that recreates the truth of that terrible winter, when the Japanese armed forces were besting British, American, and Dutch colonial forces wherever they met. Only the Flying Tigers gave as good as they got.

The story begins and ends with Eddie Gillespie, a 1990s expatriate who stumbles upon the wreck of an AVG Tomahawk fighter with a skeleton inside. These remains are guarded by a man who is part American, part British, part Burman, part Indian, and part Thai--a "whole United Nations," all by himself.

But the central characters are Aquila Fitzmartin and John Blackstone, buddies of very different background who joined the Flying Tigers for the sake of adventure, and found more than they'd bargained for. They are human beings, not the cardboard cutouts made famous by the John Wayne movie and a score of Flying Tiger romances. The love interest is provided by two mostly-proper English girls and an Anglo-Burman named Elsbeth McKenzie.

One of the buddies, of course, is fated to be entombed in that Curtiss fighter plane in the jungles of Thailand. In a beautifully limned conclusion, Eddie Gillespie finds himself wishing that "they'd leave the Tomahawk in the rain forest ... until there was no one alive to remember the Pacific War and the fall of Rangoon and the banner of the Rising Sun--until it was all gone, all of it, flesh and bones and wing panels--all moldered into the black earth of Southeast Asia."

Though the veterans of World War II are fading away, they will be remembered forever in the pages of this remarkable story.

Read some chapters

  • Ch. 1 - "Thai Ventures" (in which Eddie Gillespie finds a skeleton in the rain forest)

  • Ch. 2 - "Tailman Fitzmartin" (in which Fitz and Blackie get ready for war, more or less)

    What the reviewers say

    Thomas F. Norton in Air & Space/Smithsonian: "It's a cracking good yarn about interesting people, including the Japanese fighter pilot whose story adds special realism to the battles." (Click here for the complete review)

    Bruce Gamble (author of Black Sheep One): "Dan Ford wrote an excellent non-fiction account of the American Volunteer Group, so he knows his subject. In Remains, he draws from the colorful personalities of several real members to create his fictional characters--young mercenary fighter pilots who experience events that really did happen in the desperate days before the fall of Rangoon.... A believable and highly enjoyable read."

    Rory J. Aylward from Santa Monica, CA USA: "Does a great job of creating the feel of Burma in 1941-42. The characters of Fitz and Blackie are all the more believable for their foibles and youthful innocence as the grim reality of war overtakes them. Mr. Ford writes equally well describing dogfights over Rangoon or social clashes in the caste-divided clubs below.... I highly recommend it to anyone even slightly interested in the AVG, the period, the East or aviation. An absolute must-have for Flying Tiger buffs."

    Publishing history

    Published as a trade paperback by iUniverse, September 2000. 229 pages; $15.95. Published as an e-book, March 2002; $6 from the publisher or Amazon.com.

    Published as a Kindle e-book, 352 kilobytes, November 2007; $4.99 list price at Amazon.com.

    The author

    As a novelist, Dan Ford is best known for Incident at Muc Wa and the acclaimed Vietnam film Go Tell the Spartans that was based on it. This and two other novels were published by Doubleday & Co. and are still in print. As a military historian, Ford won the 1992 Award of Excellence from the Aviation-Space Writers Association for Flying Tigers: Claire Chennault and the American Volunteer Group, published by Smithsonian Institution Press--and soon to be issued in a revised and updated edition from HarperCollins. "War history as it should be written!" exclaimed the reviewer for the Naval aviation journal The Hook.