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Above the Thunder

Reminiscences of a Field Artillery Pilot in World War II

Raymond Kerns

Publication Year: 2009

An extraordinary memoir of an aviator’s service in the Pacific Theater

“If you’re looking for macho, fighting-man talk, you’ve picked up the wrong book. . . . This is just an honest narration of some of my experiences . . . during my service in the U.S. Army between 1940 and 1945.”
—Raymond C. Kerns

The son of a Kentucky tobacco farmer, Raymond Kerns dropped out of high school after the eighth grade to help on the farm. He enlisted in the Army in 1940 and, after training as a radio operator in the artillery, was assigned to Schofield Barracks (Oahu) where he witnessed the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and participated in the ensuing battle.

In the months before Pearl Harbor, Kerns had passed the Army’s flight training admission exam with flying colors. But because he lacked a high school diploma, the Army refused to give him flying lessons. Undaunted, Private Kerns took lessons with a civilian flying school and was actually scheduled for his first solo flight on the afternoon of December 7, 1941.

Notwithstanding his lack of diploma, Kerns graduated from Officer Candidate School and then completed flight training in the L-4 Piper Cub in late 1942. He was assigned to the 33rd Infantry Division in New Guinea and saw extensive combat service there and in the Philippines. In a simple but riveting style, Kerns recalls flying multiple patrols over enemy-held territory in his light unarmored plane, calling and coordinating artillery strikes. While his most effective defense was the remarkable maneuverability and nimbleness of the L-4, he was often required to defend himself with pistols and rifles, hand grenades, and even a machine gun that he welded to his landing gear and once used to blow up an ammunition dump.

Proud of his service and convinced of the effectiveness and cost efficiency of the L-4 pilots in the Pacific and Europe, Kerns earned the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Silver Star.

Above the Thunder, arguably one of the best memoirs of combat action during World War II, will appeal to military historians as well as general readers.

Published by: The Kent State University Press


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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. xi-xii

A Note on the Language

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p. xiii

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Preface and Acknowledgments

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pp. xv-xvii

If you’re looking for macho, fighting-man talk, you’ve picked up the wrong book. As you may guess when looking at my photos, I’m not that kind of fellow. And you won’t find lurid romance or exaggerated dramatization of fairly ordinary events—I hope. Not that I don’t like drama, I just can’t write it. This is just an honest narration of some of my experiences, observations, thoughts, and acquaintances...

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Introduction: The Heroic Liaison Pilots of World War II and the Amazing Piper Cub L-4

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pp. 1-31

Lt. Col. Raymond R. Kerns has written here what I believe to be one of the finest memoirs to come out of World War II. He witnessed and participated in some extraordinary events, including the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and he has the writing skills to bring them to life for us. One of the historians who reviewed the manuscript for the publisher ...

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pp. 35-38

One summer afternoon in 1927, when I was six years old, I was playing under some black locust trees just across the dusty pike from our farm home near Buzzard Roost in Nicholas County, Kentucky. (Well, the legal name of the little crossroads was Sprout, but since early settlement times it had been called Buzzard Roost, and so it is to this day, and it’s on my birth certificate.) Anyway,...

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1 The Pineapple Soldier

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pp. 39-71

According to accounts I’ve read, he was Lt. Akira Sakamoto. I can envision him pulling his flying goggles down over his eyes, hastily rechecking the “ready” switches for guns and bombs, and rolling his Aichi-99 into a howling plunge toward Wheeler Field. Behind him twenty-five more dive-bombers from the Imperial Japanese Navy’s aircraft carrier Zuikaku began peeling off to follow him down...

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2 Ninety-Day Wonders and Fair-Haired Boys

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pp. 72-103

In 1942, soldiers didn’t jet about the world in plush seats, waited on by lovely stewardesses. They carried their duffel bags up a gangplank and down into the dank depths of some ship that had been fitted out to accommodate the maximum number of men with minimum consideration of comfort, and that smelled like somebody’s dirty socks. We spent about a week between Honolulu and San Francisco...

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3 Kauai to Fortification Point

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pp. 104-139

The 33d Division’s mission in the Territory of Hawaii was twofold: to provide defense of the western islands and to continue its preparation for service elsewhere in the Pacific theater. Kauai, “The Garden Isle,” westernmost of the major islands of Hawaii, was a choice location. On Kauai, the 122d FA Bn put HQ and HQ Btry...

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4 Tornado Task Force

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pp. 140-192

There is nothing at all in my memory about our leaving Fortification Point, but we did, sometime along about the end of August 1944. I recall being aboard an LST, one of several that were shoving through sunny blue seas toward the northwest along New Guinea’s long coast, while off to port was a bank of clouds beneath which I could see wet, forested hills. One of those people who always knows...

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5 Luzon: Lingayen to the Hills

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pp. 193-226

Our Liberty ship lay at anchor off Wakde all through the dark night after we boarded her. Among several officers of battalion headquarters there was a big game of Black Lady Hearts that night. I was the scorekeeper, and, just for the hell of it, I kept the score in Japanese numerals. When anyone wanted to know the score, I told him. Capt. Norman Olsen, our assistant S-3, consistently lost, and although there was no money involved, losing...

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6 Over the Hills to Baguio

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pp. 227-252

The nearer we came to Hill 3000, the harder the enemy resisted our advance. We got the Footstool, and there we sat. Assault after assault met with defeat, in spite of heroic efforts by some of the best of Colonel Serff’s infantrymen. Army Air Force P-38s clobbered the knob with bombs and napalm until it was just a scorched and desolate pile of dirt into which the 122d poured tons of HE shell...

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7 Sashaying Around Up North

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pp. 253-275

General Clarkson set up his headquarters in the old Baguio Country Club building, and for the first time since Hawaii the air section people got inside a real house. It was a small frame schoolhouse near the Kennon Road and within a couple of hundred yards of the west end of Loacan Field. A shell had collapsed one corner, and the roof there touched the floor, but we made ourselves...

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pp. 276-281

At least until Mikhail Gorbachev’s ascension to power in the Soviet Union, the Cold War dominated international affairs after the end of World War II. Twice it escalated into shooting wars involving the United States, and in those wars many veterans went back to combat zones in Korea and Vietnam. I was one of those. When I landed after my...

Appendix: History and Specifications of the J-3 Piper Cub

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pp. 282-286


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pp. 287-295

Further Reading

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pp. 296-297


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pp. 298-305

E-ISBN-13: 9781612775791
E-ISBN-10: 1612775799
Print-ISBN-13: 9780873389808

Page Count: 192
Illustrations: (To view these images, please refer to print version)
Publication Year: 2009

OCLC Number: 759160284
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Above the Thunder

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • World War, 1939-1945 -- Campaigns -- Pacific Area.
  • United States. Army -- Aviation.
  • World War, 1939-1945 -- Personal narratives, American.
  • Kerns, Raymond C., 1921-2008.
  • World War, 1939-1945 -- Artillery operations, American.
  • World War, 1914-1918 -- Aerial operations, American.
  • Air pilots, Military -- United States -- Biography.
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