The Hunt for Jimmie Browne: An MIA Pilot in World War II China -- The US Army in 1940 required prospective pilots to have completed two years of college, so Jimmie Browne did what many youngsters of the time were doing: they hopped across the Canadian border and became sergeant-pilots in the RCAF. Jimmie became a ferry pilot in England, and after the United States went to war, he signed on with the Chinese paramilitary airline to fly Douglas airliners across the Hump of the Himalayas between Kunming in Yunnan province and Dinjan in India. So it was that in November 1942 he sat in the right seat of CNAC Flight 60 as co-pilot to John Dean, formerly of the AVG Flying Tigers, with a Chinese radioman and a cargo of tin ore bound for the US war effort. (This is how China repaid the American loans that had funded, among other things, the 1st American Volunteer Group.) They were never seen again, the first of many CNAC crews that vanished over the Himalayas.
Jimmie had a younger cousin, Bob Willett, who of course was awed by the romance of flying for China and seared by the young man's loss, and as an adult he set out to find the wreck and bring the body home. This is the story of that quest, and a good story it is, especially for fans of the Flying Tigers, for John Dean's body would be among the remains. Incredibly, CNAC 60 was found -- just five air miles from the bustling tourist city of Dali, and about one mile from a cable car built upon a neighboring peak and to about the same altitude. Yet so formidable are these mountains that neither the Chinese nor the US government seem interested in recovering the remains. To the bureaucrats, Mr Willet concludes, Jimmie Dean was "just a case, and we were a pain in the ass."
Between Two Fires: Truth, Ambition, and Compromise in Putin's Russia -- Russia and its despotic rulers have a never-ending fascination. Whether the man at the top is Ivan the Terrible, Joseph Stain, or Vladimir Putin, it seems that to rule the country effectively, one must be a monster. Joshua Yaffa is from San Diego but he lives and works in Moscow, though I wouldn't bet money that he'll be living there after Mr Putin sees this book. He has gathered up an intersting colletion of Russians -- a television producer, a guy in Crimea who operates a wildlife farm, a Chechen civil-rights activist, and even a sort of saint who devotes her life to rescuing children -- and shows how they have adapted to Putinism. Even the saint gets coopted. She's so sweet that when someone hands her a bouquet, she passes it off to Putin to hold -- and he holds it! But what she doesn't realize that it's not she who is using him, and he who is using her, and burnishing his image in the process. In short, you can't survive in Putin's Russia without kissing the feet of the new Tsar. Good stuff. (The e-book is reasonably priced.)
The invaluable Steve Sherman and Radix Press have launched the second volume of Viet Nam Veterans for Factual History, a digital magazine free to anyone who signs up at the VVFH website (donations of course are always appropriate). Volume 2, Number 1, is given over to the never-ending debate over the Vietnam War: was it a monstrous act of neo-colonialism (the "orthodox" view, especially popular in American universities) or a mismanaged war that could have and should have been won (the "revisionist" argument, advanced most notably by many of the men who fought there). Since I'm familiar with the arguments, I didn't find much that was new in the magazine, until near the end, where Jim Webb eloquently summarizes the betrayal of South Vietnam by the US Congress and wonders how the anti-war protestors of 1973 can look a wounded Vietnam vet in the face. (So eloquent is Mr Webb, indeed, that I promptly ordered a copy of I Heard My Country Calling, a 2014 memoir of his own and his father's service.) Blue skies! -- Dan Ford
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