Among the Headhunters

Among the Headhunters

An Extraordinary World War II Story of Survival in the Burmese Jungle

Robert Lyman

Da Capo Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2016, 288 pages

Book Review published on: April 21, 2017

Robert Lyman’s Among the Headhunters is an excellent World War II survival story. It follows nineteen passengers and two crewmembers as they make their way over the “Burma Hump” between India and China, the aerial resupply route to China in the war effort. This historical account details the personalities of the characters in the plane along with all the people who influenced this complex situation. Among the Headhunters looks in-depth at the political, social, tribal, and military situations that led to an amazing story of survival.

Lyman is an experienced author and well-regarded historian who specializes in telling stories about World War II. A very detail-oriented author and researcher, Lyman leaves no stone unturned as he writes about all aspects of this story. He is able to provide a narrative that is a complete understanding of the history affecting this story from multiple viewpoints.

The story of the twenty survivors acts as the thread that allows Lyman to write about a diverse set of situations and circumstances leading up to and happening in conjunction with the rescue attempt. Lyman covers these different topics in detail, often by the way of complete chapters. This detail allows him to discuss a variety of situations and expand multiple avenues of the story line, including the political situation in China during the war, the inner tribal relations, and the history of the aircraft flying the mission.

The biggest military advancements due to this rescue attempt came in aircraft search and rescue. The U.S. Army Air Corps’ experience in resupplying these stranded survivors and the achievements of individual pilots involved in the mission provided a template for future tactics, techniques, and procedures. The Army Air Corps dedicated pilots to search-and-rescue missions after this mission, and the dedicated resources and improved search-and-rescue techniques sparked by this event led to the saving of countless lives during future similar missions.

The book bounces around with different deep dives on topics influencing the situation, which could be difficult to navigate for the average reader. This is a historical account from an academic historian. Much of the book reads easily since, as the title suggests, it is a story, but Layman falls prey to his academic training at times; the chapters are weighed down with uncommon words, difficult cultural pronunciations, and an abundance of details that make for dry reading at times. However, when focused on the story of survival, the book flows well in a story-like manner, calling the reader to discover the fate of the survivors. Ultimately, Lyman accurately details this historical event.

Book Review written by: Lt. Col. Joe M. Schotzko, U.S. Army, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas