Trade ed. ISBN 978-0-545-92811-3 $12.99
E-book ed. ISBN 978-0-545-92812-0 $12.99
Reviewed from galleys R Gr. 4-7
As the Japanese military raced across the Pacific taking island after strategic island in World War II, the United States military turned to World War I pilot hero Eddie Rickenbacker and an escort to inspect the airbase at Guadalcanal and report on conditions and morale. A B-17 transport with a six-man crew headed by Captain Bill Cherry was assigned to shuttle the prickly, officious VIP to the island. The first attempt at takeoff failed, but at Rickenbacker’s insistence, they immediately switched to a new and untested plane with questionable equipment. The jury’s still out on whether impatience and preventable equipment failure contributed to the imminent disaster, but the B-17 never located its destination, and with fuel running out, it was forced to ditch in the Pacific, leaving eight men alive but crammed into three inflatable lifeboats, adrift for over three weeks and given up for lost by the press. Olson is a masterful storyteller who lets the facts unleash the thrills and never taints authentic tension with florid cheesiness. The book also guides readers to look beyond the injuries, sharks, and dehydration to consider whether Rickenbacker’s involvement in the mission was ultimately responsible for prioritized rescue efforts and why those that went down with him might have resented rather than lauded the war hero. A closing note discusses Olson’s evaluation and use of primary sources; black and white photographs and a bibliography are included.