About this Product
Bill Reed had it all - brains, looks, athleticism, courage and a talent for leadership. After a challenging childhood in Depression-era Iowa, Reed joined the US Army Air Corps, but the outbreak of World War II saw him give up his commission. Instead, he travelled to China to fly for the American Volunteer Group - the legendary Flying Tigers. After a brief return to America, he resumed the fight as a senior pilot and later squadron commander in the Chinese-American Composite Wing. Soon afterwards, Reed tragically lost his life in a desperate parachute jump late in the war, by which point he was a fighter ace with nine confirmed aerial victories. His obituary was front-page news throughout the state of Iowa.
This book is a biography of his extraordinary life, focusing on his time spent flying with some of the famous aerial groups of World War II. It draws heavily on Reed's own words, along with the author's deep knowledge of the China air war and years of research into Reed's life, to tell his compelling story.
The author has an "aha” moment in 1981 at a reunion of wartime China pilots when he realizes the depth of feeling in the room for Bill Reed and first considers writing this book.
Three letters to Bill's mother: From Bill re: leaving for AVG; From Bill re: leaving for second combat tour in China; From General Chennault re: Bill's death.
Part One - The Making of a Man
Chapter 1 "Everything anyone would ever want to be.”
Starts with tease to Bill getting shot down over China in June 1944 (not his fatal flight).
Family history - Stone City and Marion, IA; prosperous grandparents but working-class parents; high school success as a scholar and athlete.
Intersperses a section on early aviation in eastern Iowa and plants the seed.
Closes with Bill's high-school valedictory speech condemning war and his determination to become an aviator.
Chapter 2 "From the testimony presented, we believe the occurrence to be justifiable homicide.”
Starts when Bill gets a lucky break that allows him to attend college thanks to the generosity of a local lawyer.
Bill's father dies in 1936, leaving the family in difficult financial shape.
But the focus of the chapter is on older brother Ken, with a detailed account of how he was killed in a labor dispute known as the Chicago Memorial Day Massacre 1937.
Chapter 3 "Three of us passed out of 47. Home Saturday.”
Start with background on the war in China, which was going strong while Bill was finishing college. His nephew and best friend, Dick Reed, follows him to college and outshines him in sports.
After graduation, Bill takes a boring office job with Quaker Oats but quickly applies for pilot training in the U.S. Army Air Corps and is accepted.
Bill learns to fly in courses at Chicago and two bases in Texas. Includes information on the massive Air Corps buildup before the U.S. entered the war.
After graduation Bill spends six months in Training Command, teaching other fledgling pilots what he had just learned about flying.
In May 1941 Bill is recruited to join the American Volunteer Group, a secret unit of American mercenary pilots who will fly in the service of China against the Japanese. Includes background on the air war in China and introduces Bill's future commander, Claire L. Chennault.
Bill leaves the Army and travels to San Francisco, where he will ship out for Asia. The excellent pay as a mercenary pilot will help Bill and his mother escape the debt they accumulated during his years in college.
Part Two -- A Grand Experiment: the AVG
Chapter 4 "Nothing but water, day after day”
Bill is one of two dozen volunteers who travel by ship to Rangoon, Burma, with stops in Hawaii, Australia, Manila, Java and Singapore. Much of this travelogue is in Bill's own words.
Chapter 5 "Don't be too much concerned, will you?”
This chapter covers September to December 1941, as Bill and the rest of the AVG train for combat at a remote jungle airfield in Burma. Chennault lectures the pilots on his innovative tactics for confronting the Japanese in the air, developed during his previous five years of serving as an advisor to the Chinese Air Force.
In Bill's letters home to his mother Mayme Reed, he attempts to assure her that he is in no danger, though that's clearly not the case. Tension builds throughout Asia.
Chapter 6 "The Jap exploded right in my face.”
With the start of the war on Dec. 7, 1941, Bill and his squadron, the Hell's Angels, are sent to Rangoon to defend the port from Japanese air attacks.
Bill shoots down a Japanese bomber during his first combat mission, Dec. 23, 1941, but he loses a close friend in the combat. The Japanese come back on Christmas day, and Bill shoots down two more enemy aircraft. Both combats are described in detail by quoting Bill's diary entries and adding information from other sources.
Chapter 7 "This is no time to take a runout.”
With the war going badly throughout the Pacific, the AVG is one of the few "good news” stories of early 1942 and the unit acquires the nickname "Flying Tigers.”
Bill and the Hell's Angels have a quiet spell in Kunming while they rest and refit, and then they rejoin the fight in a series of combats as they oppose the Japanese advance into northern Burma.
Bill has a close call on one mission when his P-40 blows black oil over its windshield, blocking his vision while he is attempting to dogfight with Japanese aircraft. He makes a perilous landing while covered with oil.
Chapter 8 "A pretty good day's work.”
On his most notable mission of 1942, Bill and his wingman make a sneak strafing attack on the Japanese-held airfield and destroy 15 enemy aircraft.
When the AVG is disbanded on July 4, 1942, Bill decides it's time for him to go home. He travels by ship with his good friend R.T. Smith and several others from India around Africa and arrives in New York, completing his round-the-world adventure.
Chapter 9 "If I'd known what was going to happen when I got home, I might have stayed over there."
Bill returns home to a hero's welcome in Marion, IA. The government soon recognizes his skill at public speaking and recruits him to sell War Bonds on a tour with Hollywood celebrities throughout the Midwest. He becomes friendly with Jinx Falkenburg, a beautiful starlet and cover girl.
Part Three - Back to China: the CACW
Chapter 10 - "I felt a hit in my engine and it started to smoke.”
Bill rejoins the U.S. Army Air Force and resumes his flying duties in early 1943. Now he's teaching gunnery to fighter pilots preparing to go overseas. Meanwhile, Bill's nephew and best friend Dick Reed has completed his Army pilot training and deploys to North Africa as a member of the famed Checkertails fighter group. Dick survives a harrowing experience over Sardinia, including being held briefly as a prisoner of war.
Chapter 11 "There isn't anyone I'd want to be with half so much as Chennault.”
Bill quickly tires of training duty and procures an assignment to go back to China. He leaves in the summer of 1943, much to his mother's displeasure. His diary tells the story of his second trip to the Far East, which was much faster than the first.
Bill arrives in Karachi, India, and is assigned to the new Chinese-American Composite Wing. The CACW is a unique unit made up of Chinese and American pilots with a dual command structure. Background on why and how the CACW came to be.
Chapter 12 "Time we stopped fooling around and got to work.”
Bill forms his own squadron, the Seventh, with his Chinese counterpart, Captain Hsu. After a chilly start to their relationship, they form a close bond while training their men for combat.
Explains how the war situation in China has changed during the 18 months Bill has been away.
Chapter 13 "Stay in there and try a little harder.”
Training complete, Bill leads the squadron to China in late January 1944 and finds himself back in familiar surroundings at Kunming. Bill's squadron moves up to the forward base at Kweilin, and Bill leads its first offensive mission on March 4, 1944.
As missions continue, the Japanese are preparing for a major ground offensive in China; background on that. The Ichi-Go offensive opens in April, and the squadron moves north to oppose it from another airbase at Liangshan.
In two big air battles on May 16, Bill shoots down four Japanese aircraft to reach the honorary status of "ace.”
Chapter 14 "It was just one of those Goddamned nights.”
On June 6, 1944, Bill is shot down by ground fire and force-lands behind enemy lines. He is rescued by Chinese guerrillas and walks out to safety. Along the way, a Chinese officer presents Bill with a fancy sword captured from a Japanese officer. On return to Liangshan, Bill is sent to India to pick up a new airplane.
Combats continue through the summer and fall of 1944. Bill leads a very successful mission on October 27, in which he records his last aerial victory of the war.
Jinx Falkenburg shows up in China with a USO troupe and Bill takes time off to be with her.
On December 18, 1944, General Chennault realizes his dream of pulling off a mass coordinated air strike against Japanese facilities at Hankow. Bill leads his squadron in the attack.
The following night, Bill is killed in an unsuccessful parachute jump after his plane runs out of fuel in the dark. He dies three weeks shy of his 28th birthday.
Chapter 15 "The most staggering blow”
Bill's friend Charles Lovett retrieves the body, and Bill is buried in Kunming.
Word of Bill's death reaches Marion, IA, and Mayme learns the sad news before being officially notified by the Army. The front-page newspaper story opens with the quote, "Death loves a shining mark.” A funeral service takes place, though his body remains buried in China.
Condolence letters pour in to Mayme from servicemen and celebrities, leading her to wonder what Bill might have become if he had lived. General Chennault sees to the delivery of Bill's Japanese sword to the family.
Two years later, the U.S. Government retrieves Bill's body, and he is buried in Iowa. Mayme's beloved son finally has come home.