The Impossible Mission That Changed the War in the Pacific
Bob Drury and Tom Clavin
Simon and Schuster, New York, 2017, 368 pages
Book Review published on: April 10, 2020
Lucky 666: The Impossible Mission That Changed the War in the Pacific is the fifth book that Bob Drury and Tom Clavin have written together. The book recounts the experiences of an Army Air Corps pilot, Jay Zeamer, from his childhood through World War II in the Pacific. To get a better understanding of Zeamer, the book begins with his childhood growing up in a well-to-do family in New Jersey. This background is important in understanding Zeamer’s decisions and actions as a pilot. The book also follows Zeamer’s childhood friend Joe Sarnoski, who follows a different path in the Army Air Corps. Sarnoski enlists in the Army Air Corps and leaves behind a very poor family. However, the childhood friends are reunited in the same squadron and eventually Sarnoski serves as Zeamer’s bombardier.
From childhood through his Army Air Corps career, Zeamer remains a maverick who never seems to fit in. In his early years of education, he is seen as a very smart student; however, he seems to believe the rules do not apply to him, and this trend continues through flight school and into his career as a pilot in the Pacific War.
Zeamer becomes a very good pilot but has issues following Army bureaucracy. He is seen as a troublemaker in his squadron, and none of the crews want to fly with him so he forms a bomber crew of misfits like himself. His crew fixes a broken aircraft and begins flying missions. Zeamer’s crew becomes extremely proficient by following his leadership. They also become very loyal to their maverick leader.
While describing Zeamer’s accounts, the authors also provide background on the events taking place at the strategic level during World War II. At the strategic level, President Franklin D. Roosevelt has made the decision that the European theater is the priority; therefore, the Pacific theater commanders need to fight for inadequate parts, personnel, and aircraft. Throughout the book, the authors provide updates of what is happening in the European theater to keep readers cognizant of the strategic priorities.
At the operation level, the authors discuss the Pacific theater of war and how it is divided between Adm. Chester Nimitz and Gen. Douglas McArthur. These two flag officers are in constant competition for the limited resources sent to the Pacific. They fight for planes, supplies, and personnel.
Finally, the book describes Zeamer and his squadron at the tactical level. The book does a very good job of connecting the strategic and operational issues so that the reader can fully understand where and how Zeamer’s squadron fits in the larger scheme of the war. At times, the story of the crew seems small compared to the story of the war.
At the conclusion of the Lucky 666, readers discover that Zeamer was a brilliant officer and leader who did not quite follow the rules but was able to pull together a misfit crew and become one of the most productive crews in his wing. The book provides a very good example on how to develop junior officers who might not fit the correct Army mold but have the potential to become great officers if their superiors can recognize their talent and then develop it.
Book Review written by: Michael Jones, U.S. Marine Corps, Retired, Fort Belvoir, Virginia