A U.S. Fighter Pilot Captured during WWII and His Father’s Quest to Find Him
R. C. George
Kensington, New York, 2019, 312 pages
Book Review published on: September 27, 2019
R. C. George’s book Lightning Sky: A U.S. Fighter Pilot Captured During WWII and His Father’s Quest to Find Him is an interesting and touching story about the World War II experience of Army Air Corps Lt. David MacArthur and Lt. Col. Vaughn MacArthur, David’s father and chaplain of the 8th Armored Division. The author does a good job of primarily focusing on David while weaving in the stories of Vaughn.
In early fall 1942, David was a student at South Carolina’s Clemson A&M University. As part of his freshman orientation, he was sworn into the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps as an infantry private, and upon graduation, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant.
Knowing his son wanted to be a pilot instead of an infantry officer, Vaughn informed David about an Aviation Cadet Selection Board being convened near Clemson. In November 1942, David was selected for the aviation program and reported to Initial Aviation Cadet Training in Miami Beach, Florida. Over the next sixteen months, he progressed through aviation training, moving to training assignments at many different airfields culminating in Eagle Pass, Texas, on 12 March 1944. His father, Vaughn, delivered David’s graduation address with the message that teamwork is key to achieving success, and without it, soldiers fail and can die. (A very powerful message for two hundred pilots headed to combat.) Vaughn felt pride as he looked over the crowd and quickly identified his son’s bright red hair.
With his new silver wings on his chest, newly minted second lieutenant and his fellow classmates went forth for final training in their specific type of fighter plane before going overseas. After a little more than sixty flight hours in the P-47 “Thunderbolt,” David was finally ready for deployment to a combat unit overseas on 7 July 1944. Arriving in the Bay of Naples by the end of July, he reported into the 15th Air Force and was assigned to a P-38 “Lightning” unit undergoing reequipping in North Africa. On 19 August 1944, he was assigned to the 49th Fighter Squadron at Triolo Airfield, located in the spur of the boot of Italy.
During David’s deployment overseas and his first couple of months in Italy, Vaughn’s 8th Armored Division was preparing for deployment to the European Theater. On 14 October 1944, he sat down to type a letter to David, a letter David would never receive. That same day, a Western Union delivery boy handed David’s mother a telegram regretfully informing the family that David had been “missing in action” since 6 October. The author then explains what happened on that particular day. On the morning of 6 October, David slept in, thinking he would have a lazy day. Unfortunately for him, he was grabbed to replace a missing pilot for a thirteen-plane strafing mission of an airfield near the coast of Greece. Only eight of the original thirteen planes returned from the mission. Dave’s plane was hit by flak, and he was forced to bail out over the water where he was quickly captured, thus beginning his ordeal as a prisoner of war (POW).
For the next six months, David was shuffled between numerous camps. His stubborn streak kept him going until the end of April 1945 when Patton’s 3rd Army liberated Stalag VII-A, the Germans’ largest World War II POW camp, in Moosburg. As the 8th Armored Division fought across Germany, Vaughn kept searching for his son. Learning about the liberation of thousands of POWs in Moosburg and hoping his son was there, he received permission on 2 May to borrow a plane and pilot. Upon landing, Vaughn was being escorted to the command post when he suddenly saw the red hair of his son. For the next two weeks, the MacArthur men were able to catch up, celebrate Germany’s surrender, and prepare for David’s journey to return to the United States. Vaughn took his son to the Halle Airdrome, where they shared a last hug before Vaughn drove back to his unit. Unfortunately, that was the last time David would see his father. On 9 June 1945, while David was on a ship enroute to the United States, his father died in a jeep accident in Pilsen, Czechoslovakia.
I highly recommend this book. Lightning Sky is a very good book that shares the story of David MacArthur and his experience during World War II. It is easy and entertaining to read. The author does a good job detailing experiences, such as re-creating David’s POW experience, which almost makes you feel like you are there sharing the same experiences. However, those familiar with World War II history will notice that one drawback of the book is the author occasionally providing faulty information such as calling the P-47 “Thunderbolt” by the nickname Juggernaut; or falsely stating that three people who successfully escaped from Stalag Luft III, one of the POW camps David was sent to, made it to the United States.
Book Review written by: Lt. Col. David McCulley, U.S. Arm, Retired, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas