HAP: The Story of the U.S. Air Force and the Man Who Built It, Henry H. ""Hap"" Arnold by Thomas M. Coffey

HAP: The Story of the U.S. Air Force and the Man Who Built It, Henry H. ""Hap"" Arnold

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The first biography of WW II air chief Henry H. ""Hap"" Arnold has been written, reasonably enough, by the author of Decision Over Schweinfurt (1977)--a defense of US daytime precision-bombing of key German targets, at murderous cost to the Eighth Air Force and with still-debated results. In its own way, however, that was a revealing work; and so is this. From Arnold relatives and associates, Coffey has composed a half-successful portrait of the impatient, hearty, nothing-is-impossible airlord as the mischief-prone son of a stem, exacting father (West Point, by comparison, was lenient) and an outspoken, regulation-flouting young officer repeatedly in hot water. It's also an inside track on US army aviation from a handful of Signal Corps observation planes, via Billy Mitchell, to the Superfortress and world domination. Arnold, denied the Cavalry, got into flying to get out of the Infantry. Sent to Dayton (in 1911) for training by the Wrights, he earned US Army Pilot's License Number Two. Then came celebrity; increasing nervous strain; a near-disaster; and, in reaction, four years (1912-16) of no-flying. At that point the narrative starts to unravel. Arnold, tall and good-looking yet never comfortable with women, marries the ""unattainable"" Bee Pool; for uncertain reasons (her pampered upbringing? his domineering personality?), she becomes increasingly neurotic. They have three sons, whom he browbeats (like his father before him), and a daughter, whose highly erratic behavior he closes his eyes to. These domestic strains are updated annually and uneasily. The inter-war period, for similar want of selectivity and shaping, is a long slog. And even when Arnold, the new air force chief (1938), is faced with myriad WW II problems, these tend to run on parallel, stepped tracks: fighting to prevent all the newly built planes from going to the Allies; fighting the British on daytime bombing, on bombers-without-fighter cover (there, he had to admit himself wrong); fighting to get the B-29 built, to keep it from the Navy in the Pacific. Arnold, to his lasting regret, never commanded men in battle; one suspects that he might have been less bellicose, and perhaps less hasty, if he had. There is a lot going on here--even if much of it is only partially digested.

Pub Date: Oct. 29th, 1982
Publisher: Viking