My uncle Robert Bruce Dickson passed away recently. He flew a carrier-based fighter plane in World War II. He recommended Herman Wouk’s War and Remembrance to me. It was a gripping read and it explained a lot that I didn’t know.
I didn’t really come to know and love his characters. Everything happened so fast. They were really just vehicles to portray the global drama that they were all caught up in.
But there are moments in the book which make it a great work of literature as well as a great work of historical fiction.
I’m thinking of the American officer who is sent as a liaison to the Russians. Part of his job is to see that the US gets a little credit for all the Lend-Lease aid we had been sending. He’s sitting with a Russian general at a review somewhere and remarks that a soldier is wearing a uniform made in America.
The general replies, ” Russian body.”
Wouk also gave a beautifully understandable explanation of the Battle of Midway, when the outcome of the war was decided by a break in the clouds.
Wouk explains that the plan of attack for the US aircraft went like this: first the fighters were supposed to arrive to engage the enemy fighter planes. Then the dive bombers were supposed to attack.
Then, when the enemy’s fighters were all engaged, the torpedo bombers were supposed to come in. That’s because they had to come in low and slow and release their torpedoes along their exact flight path.
The problem was, the torpedo planes arrived first, three waves of them, and they were all annihilated by the Japanese fighters. Wouk lists their names. They all died except for one guy, Lieutenant George Gay who somehow managed to bail out and witnessed the entire battle.
The Japanese then brought their aircraft back and began rearming them with bombs for an attack on Midway Island. It was then that a squadron of US dive bombers arrived and saw, through a break in the clouds, four Japanese aircraft carriers.
They destroyed three of them and in that moment decided the Battle of Midway and turned the tide in the Pacific War.