The son of a WWI fighter pilot describes, in most flattering and rarely analytical prose, the exploits of his father and of other airmen who helped win the war to end all wars.
The picket fences of exclamation points, the gee-whiz clichés and the author’s patent admiration for the American flyers diminish the effects of the very substantial research that Woolley conducted over several decades. This cannot bear the weight of all it must carry: it’s a memoir (the author tells us about the course of his research); a tribute to the author’s father (whom he variably calls “my father,” “Woolley,” and “Dad”); a history of the early days of combat aviation (with drawings of aerial maneuvers); a family saga (at the end we learn about his father’s postwar activities, courtship, marriage, fatherhood, career, death); and an argument for air power. As a result, very interesting segments about the evolution of aerial tactics and the development of weapons for aircraft are interspersed with hackneyed observations about male bonding and narration that sounds at times as if it had been crafted by Snoopy atop his doghouse. Still, the author teaches us patiently about varieties of aircraft, about the strengths and frailties of the Spad, the rise and fall of the Red Baron, the heroics of Quentin Roosevelt (Teddy’s son) before his death in combat, the emerging concept of “ace,” and the court-martial of Billy Mitchell. He quotes generously from letters, diaries, and interviews, sometimes amusingly. In a war that featured the use of both horses and airplanes, American protocol required commanding officers in the air service to wear spurs during parades. There are moments of poignancy here, as well. Woolley tells about flyer Bill Taylor, age 20, who, upon learning that a close friend was missing in action, flew off alone in a vengeful rage, attacked five German Fokkers, and quickly died for his efforts.
Splendid research; feeble prose.