A World War II Story of Extraordinary Heroism, Sacrificial Love, and a Race against Time
Jon Erwin and William Doyle
Nelson Books, Nashville, 2020, 240 pages
Book Review published on: June 11, 2021
Jon Erwin and William Doyle’s Beyond Valor: A World War II Story of Extraordinary Heroism, Sacrificial Love, and a Race against Time tells the true story of Erwin’s grandfather, Henry Eugene “Red” Erwin, who saved his B-29 crew during a bombing raid over Tokyo and the personal battle that followed. This is the story of overcoming incredible odds. Red never considered himself a hero, but he was awarded the Medal of Honor and was known as a hero for the rest of his life. He stated that he only did what any serviceman would do. Real heroes are the ones who give the ultimate sacrifice. Red credits his faith in God, the love and support of his wife, and his fellow crewmembers for getting him through his agonizing recovery after that perilous day on 12 April 1945.
Staff Sgt. Erwin served as the radio operator on The City of Los Angeles, a $3 billion B-29. Since the opening for the bomb chute on the B-29 was located at the radio operator’s feet, Red’s extra duty on missions over Tokyo was to drop a series of three smoke grenades and one twenty-pound white phosphorous bomb, which burned at over one thousand degrees, through a chute in the plane deck. During these raids, entire cities, factories, and military bases of the Japanese empire were burned to the ground in an attempt to force its government to surrender. The numerous raids caused great fires that consumed tens of thousands of Japanese civilians. On the dreadful day of 12 April 1945, the white phosphorous bomb ricocheted up the chute and exploded at Red’s feet. The plane filled with smoke and began an out-of-control dive toward the ocean. Blind, on fire, and without stopping to think, Red found the bomb and picked it up. He prayed, “Lord, I need your help now!” He recalled three things simultaneously. First, his pain was canceled out. Second, his mind registered the tiny chance that he could save everyone’s lives if he could get the bomb out of the nearest window that opened. Third, he sensed the presence of angels near him giving him a loud-and-clear message of “GO! GO! GO! You can make it!” Red managed to get the bomb out of the plane, sustaining severe third-degree burns to his head, face, neck, hands, forearms, and legs. The pilot, Capt. George Simeral, and his copilot were finally able to regain control of the aircraft at just three hundred feet above the ocean.
The book tells how Red, at the very young age of seventeen, had a solid Christian foundation when he joined the U.S. Air Force. He was married for only three months before his deployment to Guam. He easily made friends and was well liked by his peers. All of these things played a major part in his extensive two-year recovery. After an emergency landing on Iwo Jima, Red received basic care at the brand new hospital that had just opened. The phosphorous that could not be removed from Red’s skin continued to smolder and reignite for months after his injury. He underwent forty-one surgeries and his pain was so unbearable that several times he prayed to die. He never lost faith in God, even though he sometimes lost the will to live. Red’s wife stayed with him through every step of his rehabilitation. While he was still recovering, Red’s hometown hosted a Hero’s Welcome Home Parade. Thousands of well-wishers raised $10,000 in order to buy Red and his wife, Betty, a modest house. In 1945, President Harry Truman issued an executive order stating that Medal of Honor recipients would be entitled to a job with the Veterans Administration. So for the next thirty-seven years, until he retired in 1985, Red was a one-man champion for all veterans, getting them the help, treatment, benefits, and respect they deserved. Red and his crewmembers held numerous reunions until their deaths.
I enjoyed the book but found it difficult to follow the storyline at times. Overall, the account of a true American hero was well done and a worthwhile read. Beyond Valor is an extraordinary true story of bravery, heroism, faith, and devotion. It will inspire anyone who has ever served, anyone serving today, or anyone who is trying to overcome unspeakable odds.
Book Review written by: Lt. Col. Robert B. Haines, U.S. Army, Retired, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas