Private Snafu, the reluctant protagonist of the Army’s World War II instructional cartoons mentioned in our “Letter From the Editor,” can be seen enduring “A Lecture on Camouflage” and battling “Malaria Mike” in Private S.N.A.F.U. (Rhino Home Video, 60 minutes).
The men who flew the Enola Gay on its fateful mission over Japan owed much of their knowledge of the B-29 to an exhaustive U.S. Army Air Forces manual now authentically reproduced for the anniversary of the war’s end. How to Fly the B-29 Superfortress: The Official Manual for the Plane That Bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki (Greenhill/Stackpole Books, 160 pages) is exactly what its blunt title suggests. Thumbing through its big manila pages, you learn about “Planning the Mission,” “Operation of the Bomb Bay Doors,” “Formation Flying,” “Standard Bombing Procedure,” “Combat Gunnery,” “Escape from the Plane,” and “First Aid in Flight.” A series of blurry photos is meant to help bombardiers distinguish between hostile and friendly vessels on the high seas.
The historian Thomas Childers opened a drawer in his grandmother’s house one sleepless night several years ago and found some V-mail letters that led him to track down the story of his uncle Howard Goodner, a young radio operator killed when the Black Cat , a B-24 bomber, went down on April 21, 1945, in Germany. It was the last American bomber shot down there during the war. After interviewing German witnesses and poring over the letters of the crew members, Childers has written a finely detailed chronicle of young men thrown into fire at the tired end of the deadliest war: Wings of Morning: The Story of the Last American Bomber Shot Down Over Germany in World War II (Addison-Wesley, 288 pages). Childers’s eloquent combination of detective story and family history climaxes with his visit to Regensburg, Germany, where he found people who still remembered the Black Cat ’s crash fifty years later.
Charles Guggenheim’s documentary D-day Remembered (Direct Cinema, 53 minutes) debuted too late for mention in last June’s issue, which contained DeRonda Elliott’s original article “D-day: What It Cost.” Since then the film has been nominated for an Academy Award and brought out on video. It is a superb piece of work and stands above anything else on the subject. Guggenheim relies exclusively on German and Allied footage from the invasion’s planning and execution. Veterans’ voices eerily overlay the black-and-white scenes of their youth, without the usual cutting between past and present or between boy and man. The lack of interruption makes the story more authentic—reminding you of the terrifying uncertainty of the enterprise without flashing forward— until by the end the old footage has become the reality.
The book that fifty years ago launched the editorial cartoonist Bill Mauldin on his long career (along with that of his hardboiled and epigrammatic GIs Willie and Joe) has been republished in a commemorative facsimile edition, Up Front (W. W. Norton, 240 pages).
The savage engagement at Okinawa is the subject of a big, thorough new study by the former 1st Marine Division veteran Robert Leckie, Okinawa: The Last Battle of World War II (Viking, 220 pages).
Robert H. Ferrell, guest columnist this month, should know whereof he speaks when it comes to President Truman, having written or edited nine books on the man from Missouri, including the new Harry S. Truman: A Life (University of Missouri Press, 501 pages).