If you’ve read my bio you know I’m a product of the Cold War. My formative years were spent travelling around the country with my family as my dad was stationed at various naval bases. He was an aviator like his father before him so I was steeped in stories of World War II and other conflicts. As you might guess it is a part of me and I’ve studied the history of our wars for most of my life. At first it was just pictures of cool equipment and battles. As I grew older the interest shifted to the human element, though I do remain fascinated by the technology.
Naturally, as a writer, I remain interested in this time period. I have always been enthralled by the European Air War. Massive fleets of aerial battleships clashing in the skies over Germany. Having flown in a B-17 only heightens the terror of this all-too-real reality. And of course, I have an ongoing love affair with the P-51 Mustang and the Spitfire, powered by the incredible Rolls Royce Merlin engine. So, I thought it would be interesting to write a screenplay on the genesis of the P-51 Mustang and its introduction to the war.
For several years I studied this incredible story, one of the most amazing stories of that time, becoming an expert on the subject and ultimately writing Mustangs, a brilliant screenplay that tells a fascinating story. So when Red Tails came out I was shocked. To say it is inaccurate is to be kind. So I wrote a letter to my dad expressing some of my frustrations about the movie and how it was twisting the facts (and making up others) for what seemed to be political reasons. My dad sent the email along to his possibly hundreds of war buddies, and I think it’s probably been around the globe a few times now.
At any rate, this evening I received this email from out of the (sky)blue, no doubt inspired by my missive on Mr. Spielberg’s latest fictionalized account of reality. This is the complete message I received.
“In the late fall of 1944 my brother was flying top cover for the squadron as they were dive-bombing a marshalling yard in southern Germany. As the squadron formed up the leader called by brother and said “We have destroyed the target, get rid of your bombs and less go home”. He left the formation and dived bombed a large I shaped building not far away. When he released his bombs, he looked back over his shoulder and saw the two 500 pounders going through the roof. The building was totally destroyed by a tremendous explosion. The blast hit his aircraft blowing him upward almost causing him to lose control. When he landed the squadron leader asked him what he hit. He replied “I have no idea”. The squadron leader also said that he thought that he had been killed, but then he saw that jug come flying out of that cloud.
“He heard from somewhere that a p47 left the formation as he did and blew up the German nuclear research facility. This supposedly came from Churchill’s memories. The pilot that did this was reported to have been killed on a later mission. My brother was shot down and first reported to have been killed, but he survived the ball out and was captured. Do you have any information on this?”
I can only assume my letter on Red Tails reached this man and he thought, being an expert on the subject, I might know something about it. Sadly, I probably can’t help him. But what a fascinating story. Is it possible that a lone pilot in a P-47 inadvertently destroyed a major Nazi nuclear research center? How might that have changed the fortunes of that horrible war? Would the outcome have been different had those bombs fallen elsewhere? Had Hitler perfected a nuclear weapon I have no doubt that he’d have used it first on the Russians, and then on the West. But he didn’t perfect it. Because of a lone P-47 pilot who never knew what he did.
How many other stories like this came out of that tumultuous time. It makes me sad to think that such incredible feats wind up being known by no one. And while it is fiction, I’m reminded of Roy Batty in Blade Runner, sitting on the top of that roof holding a dove as the rain fell on his battered body and the words he spoke at that time. “All of these things will be lost, like tears in rain.” It is a scene of beauty and depth in an otherwise grim (but awesome) story.
And so it is with this man’s story, and how many others. Lost, like tears in rain.