Cowboy: interpreter, warlord, one more casualty


This is an amazing book, a micro-masterpiece. Omer Bartov's mother came from Buczacz in a much-trampled part of Eastern Europe that the Austrians called Galicia, the Second Polish Republic knew as its own kresy (borderland), and today is located in southwest Ukraine. (Between these formal changes, Buczacz was variously occupied by Hitler's Germany and -- twice! -- by Stalin's Russia.) Typical of Eastern Europe in the inter-war years, it had a mixed population, each with its own language, religion, and grievances. Poles were in the catbird's seat until September 1939, when the Russians came and let the Jews have a turn at government while the Polish "fascists" were exiled to the Soviet Union. The wheel turned again, and more ominously, when the Germans occupied Buczacz. Formerly neighbors -- friends, even -- the Hungarians eagerly assisted in murdering and dispossessing the Jews, while lording it over the Poles, their former masters. With admirable even-handedness, Mr Bartov interviewed the survivors and marveled at how differently each group remembered the mass murder that followed. Anatomy of a Genocide is the perfect companion to Timothy Snyder's macro-masterpiece, Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin.

Caleb Haynes famously "looked like a gorilla and flew like an angel," though that description never appears in Gary Yerkey's biography of an aviator who served in France during the First World War and went on to become a valued bomber commander for General Chennault in the Second. Indeed, he says very little about Haynes's combat career, or much else about the man, who apparently was so modest that he passed through life without writing about it. What a contrast to his vainglorious colleague, Robert Lee Scott! (You may recall that Scottie credited God with being his co-pilot. In real life, Col Scott reached China as co-pilot to Col Haynes.) As a result, our "hulking montaineer" passes through the pages of A Pilot's Pilot almost as a ghost, with the author speculating what he might have done and what he thought about it all. Thus Mr Yerkey quotes a British historian on the mystery of what caused war to break out in 1914. "Haynes was no doubt aware of that," he writes, "as well of the fact that many of those who fell in battle are never put to rest." And so it goes for most of the rest of Haynes's busy life.

Oanh Ngo Usadi wrote a glorious tribute to America in the Wall Street Journal last month, about tasting a few precious M&Ms when she was a child in the Mekong Delta, and how that delicious combination of chocolate and a colored topping made her and her brother long to emigrate. I immediately ordered up the ebook, Of Monkey Bridges and Banh Mi Sandwiches, the title referring to the tricky stream crossings of her homeland and to the sandwich shop that was her family's ticket to survival in Port Arthur, Texas. Such transitions are never easy. No matter how awful the world you fled -- and life under Hanoi's rule was brutal for those who had prospered under the Saigon government -- home will always be home. Ms Usadi was four when Saigon fell to the Communists, and still a girl when the family escaped on a fishing boat. While her parents never really mastered the American idiom, she grew into it as a teenager. Now English is her natural language, as she demonstrates in this lovely book. Blue skies! — Dan Ford

Flying Tigers
revised and updated

Daniel Ford's books:

Cowboy: The Interpreter Who Became a Soldier, a Warlord, and One More Casualty of Our War in Vietnam
The Only War We've Got: Early Days in South Vietnam
Flying Tigers: Claire Chennault & His American Volunteers, 1941-1942
Tales of the Flying Tigers (think of it as a lengthy appendix to the history)
The Lady and the Tigers (Olga Greenlaw)
Poland's Daughter: How I Learned About Love, War, and Exile
Glen Edwards: Diary of a Bomber Pilot
A Vision So Noble: John Boyd, the OODA Loop, and America's War on Terror
The Country Northward: A Hiker's Journal
The Greater America: An Epic Journey Through a Vibrant New Country (Ralph Paine)
~ ~ ~ ~
Michael's War: A Story of the Irish Republican Army
Remains: A Story of the Flying Tigers
Incident at Muc Wa: A Story of the Vietnam War
The High Country Illuminator: A Tale of Light and Darkness and the Ski Bums of Avalon

Sign up for the newsletter

Once or twice a month, I send out an email newsletter about my books and the subjects covered in them, most often about military aviation and the wars of the past hundred years. You can unsubscribe at any time.

Question? Comment? Newsletter? Send me an email. Blue skies! — Dan Ford

Dan Ford's books

Warbird Forum: Front page | Flying Tigers | Chinese Air Force | Japan at War | Brewster Buffalo | Glen Edwards & the Flying Wing | Vietnam | War in the Modern World | The Spadguys Speak | Bluie West One | Poland: War & Exile

Bookshelf | Book reviews | Question? | Google us | Website & webmaster | Site map

Other sites: Flying Tigers book | Daniel Ford's blog | Daniel Ford's books | Facebook | Piper Cub Forum | Raintree County | Reading Proust | Sail the coast of Alaska

Posted June 2018. Websites © 1997-2018 Daniel Ford. All rights reserved.