A Thunderbolt Pilot’s War across the Pacific
James C. Curran and Terrence G. Popravak Jr.
Casemate, Philadelphia, 2015, 352 pages
Book Review published on: March 17, 2017
Check Six! is the riveting personal story of James C. Curran’s adventures flying the P-47 Thunderbolt in combat in the Pacific Theater during World War II; it is the kind of book that makes you proud to be an American. Growing up one generation removed from America’s “Greatest Generation,” I would sit for hours as a kid listening to the stories from my dad and uncles who were World War II veterans. I was particularly enthralled by one of my uncle’s stories of the hardships and depravations he experienced while serving as an aircraft mechanic in the Pacific. These stories and others like Curran’s in Check Six! played a key role in developing my love for military history, particularly World War II aviation history, and they ultimately inspired me to embark on my own personal military journey.
Like many of the young men in Curran’s generation, he was inspired to serve his Nation following Japan’s 7 December 1941 sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. On 8 December 1941, Curran found himself at the recruiter’s office in his hometown of Chicago signing up to fight the enemies of the United States. His story is very personal, and he spends a lot of time detailing his thoughts and emotions as he works his way through Army Basic Training; then on to Basic, Intermediate, and Advance Pilot Training at various bases throughout the country; and ultimately, on to combat in the Pacific theater of operations flying the venerable Republic P-47 Thunderbolt. Curran’s name is not known in the annals of our nation’s celebrated World War II heroes, but he is a hero nonetheless for the commitment and sacrifices he made during his four plus years of wartime service. He is an everyman of sorts, and his story was repeated thousands of times by the men and women of his generation who fought the enemies of freedom both in the Pacific and European theaters of war.
Check Six! is a fascinating tale of adventure and describes in detail Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s campaign in the Pacific from the perspective of a P-47 fighter pilot in the 5th Air Force’s 348th Fighter Group. Curran’s story is flavored by his personal fears, “Dear John” letters, R&R trips to Australia, successes, and the loss of flying buddies in combat. He describes a humorous, and thankfully brief, encounter with MacArthur in Australia that gives us insight in to the mindset and focus of this most celebrated military commander. The thing that sets this personal memoir apart from the many others from this era is how coauthor Terrence Popravak weaves in actual excerpts from the wartime history of the 348th Fighter Group to support and enhance Curran’s personal accounts. Popravak did an amazing job researching the 348th Fighter Group’s history, and the detailed notes that accompany the text are in and of themselves an amazing historical reference to Curran’s powerful story. Check Six! is a wonderful, fast-paced read, and I highly recommend it for any World War II aviation enthusiast.
Book Review written by: Lt. Col. Jeffrey W. Kilgo, U.S. Army, Retired, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas