Sweetland (co-author: The Other College Guide, 2015) builds upon a cherished fragment of family history to create a comprehensive story of two opposing World War II pilots.
This well-researched volume tells of the author’s American uncle, Ted Sweetland, and the German who killed him, Joachim Müncheberg. On March 23, 1943, Müncheberg shot down Sweetland’s Spitfire over North Africa, but the American pilot steered his dying craft into the German ace’s Messerschmitt, killing him, as well. It was the 135th plane that Müncheberg had taken down and Sweetland’s first, as the German was a veteran pilot and the American a relative novice. Still, the author notes that the two were otherwise quite similar; both came from well-off families, and both were initially apolitical. The two even looked similar in appearance, she says: “[Joachim] was born just six months before Ted and when I saw his picture I thought they looked a little like cousins with their smooth white faces, light hair and deep blue eyes.” She details the histories of the two pilots as they make their ways to their joint, final fate. While Joachim, who came from a military family, was rising through the ranks as a pilot, Ted was trying to find himself as a California college student and fledgling writer and photographer. Joachim was shipped around the globe, wherever the Fatherland needed him; several months before the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in December 1941, Ted enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps against his parents’ wishes. Author Sweetland’s history is certainly quite a feat of research. She set out to learn more about the uncle she never met, starting with Ted’s war diary, then, through determined digging, located a nephew of Joachim’s, and this provided the foundation of this revealing work. Photos culled from family albums also help to bring the two men to life. In addition to family stories, however, Sweetland provides much-needed historical perspective by effectively explaining how World War II evolved and what exactly the two pilots’ places were within it. Overall, she’s done military-history readers a service by offering a war story on a very personal level.
A deft, engaging history of two young soldiers’ brief lives.