THE FIRST HEROES by Craig Nelson
Kirkus Star


The Extraordinary Story of America’s First World War II Victory
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A riveting history of the daring April 1942 bomber raid on Tokyo led by Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle.

Given the decidedly civilian subject matter of Nelson’s previous work (Let’s Get Lost: Adventures in the Great Wide Open, 1999, etc.), his decision to chronicle the Doolittle Raiders’ mission over Japan seems a bit of a stretch. But, inspired by his father’s WWII service, the author brings a passionately fresh perspective to this amazing story. Nelson details the extensive challenges inherent in a strike against Japan, which had not only destroyed the American fleet at Pearl Harbor but also established a buffer zone around the home islands by securing islands throughout the Pacific. Though this seemingly prevented Allied bombers from taking off from and returning to aircraft carriers, aviation hero Doolittle organized a group of volunteers who would bomb Tokyo and then bail out of their fuel-starved airplanes over Japanese-occupied China. Meticulous research and extensive interviews with 20 of the mission’s surviving participants demonstrate that Doolittle’s audacity trickled down to these volunteer aviators. The author suggests that the mission’s real danger lay not in forcing huge B-25 bombers to take off from storm-soaked aircraft carrier decks or making bombing runs over Tokyo in broad daylight, but in the crews’ struggles to reach friendly forces in China. The aviators, most of them seriously injured, found themselves evading escape throughout Asia or tortured in Japanese POW camps. Ultimately, Nelson judges the Doolittle Raiders to be heroes, not only for their incredible Tokyo mission, but for their continued struggle against fascism even after cheating death early in the war.

A gripping drama of WWII, retold with such freshness that it’s nearly impossible to put down.

Pub Date: Sept. 30th, 2002
ISBN: 0-670-03087-2
Page count: 430pp
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 2002


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