A macho, like-it-was memoir of aerial combat in WW II's Southwestern Pacific theater. Following a frustrating tour of duty in a training command after Pearl Harbor, Annapolis grad Blackburn, then 31, was finally ordered to form a new naval fighter squadron, VF-17. Many of the men he recruited proved world-class disciplinary problems. Under Blackburn's demanding leadership, however, they were top guns in the air. Flying gull-winged F4U Corsairs (dubbed "hogs" for their handling characteristics) from an island base in the Solomons, VF-17 downed over 150 Japanese aircraft during the 76 days it was in action during the 1943-44 period. Equally impressive, the so-called Jolly Rogers (whose emblem was indeed a skull and crossbones) never lost a bomber they were escorting to enemy fire. Blackburn (who had 11 kills) and his irregulars were innovative as well as effective. To illustrate, VF-17 devised the tactical doctrine for roving high cover and convinced the brass that Corsairs could carry bombs. Having done so, the squadron raided a brothel catering to Japanese officers on Rabaul. With the ably unobtrusive assistance of collaborator Hammel, author of a well-received trilogy on Guadalcanal and of Munda Trail (p. 29), Blackburn makes clear that the victories were achieved at no small cost. All told, 13 VF-17 pilots (including a Pillsbury heir) did not make it back. He also conveys the often ugly realities of waging war without mercy, e.g., strafing a Japanese pilot who had bailed out of his flaming Zero so he would not live to fight another day. A gritty, action-packed slice of WW II life for fans of the down-and-dirty aspects of military history. The frequently harrowing text has 16 pages of black-and-white photographs (not seen).