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Book Review: “Rocky Boyer's War: An Unvarnished History Of The Air Blitz That Won The War In The Southwest Pacific”

Half an hour before midnight, the first Japanese shell exploded overhead. It was a star shell, a sudden smear of blinding white light against the black night sky, and the scorching glare lit up the airfield. The bomb craters in the runway. The tanks of aviation gas, drained dry. The gray smoke above the fire in the bomb dump. The control tower and the banged-up bomber and the burning wreck of the fighter plane. The brass shell-casings fired off by the antiaircraft guns. And on the tarmac, a scattering of silhouettes and shadows: the handful of Fifth Air Force men and the empty bomb trolleys they were wheeling back into cover…

5th Air Force patch from Boyer’s WWII coveralls. Courtesy Author’s collection.

For three long hours now they had watched the Japanese warships come south along the coast toward them. They had seen searchlights and ripples of flame and sometimes a swarm of firefly lights in the darkness. The firefly lights were their own bombers’ running lights, and the ripples of flame were enemy antiaircraft guns, shooting at the bombers. No matter what their planes had done, the Japanese ships were still coming south.
from “Rocky Boyer’s War,” Introduction

Basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, 1941.

Rocky Boyer’s War is the story of a young officer and his fighter reconnaissance squadron in the heat of combat in the Southwest Pacific during World War II, as told by the officer’s son, Allen D. Boyer.

It is based upon the unauthorized wartime diary of Roscoe A. (Rocky) Boyer, a Communications Officer who lived, caroused, and dared with the pilots in the vanguard of General Douglas MacArthur’s island-hopping campaign from Australia through New Guinea to the Philippines–and finally to the Japanese home islands.
For me, a pilot (Navy) a generation later in the Vietnam War years, the book evoked many forgotten memories and emotions of the intense fear, boredom, homesickness, camaraderie, and frat-house tomfoolery typical of a squadron of pilots in war. It is a great read for everyone who wants to get a non-history book feel for what it’s really like to be a military pilot in wartime.

P-51 Mustang from the 82nd Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron, taken on the island of Morotai, in late 1944. Courtesy Fifth Army Air Force – collection of Bob Rocker.

Last night 80% of the officers were drunk. The evening started with gambling: poker, rummy, blackjack and craps and ended with a football game in the officers’ club. Most of the glasses were broken and no fights resulted but about two this morning we were awakened by three officers driving a jeep across the boardwalks between trees and through the small ditches.
Left Laurel at 4:30 p.m. The train consisted of 10 coaches, two boxcars serving as baggage and one baggage car converted into a GI kitchen. Personnel included HQ and 82nd Fighter Squadron. The 17th Bomb Squadron was supposed to follow us immediately. The train turned east at the gate so it looks like the East Coast. The newspaper headlines say “12 Ships Sunk.”
— From “Rocky Boyer’s War,” Chapter 2

The headquarters section of the 71st Tactical Reconnaissance Group, taken at Salinas, California, in late 1942. Boyer is pictured standing in the far right, back row. Colonel William C. Sams, a native of Meridian who studied at Ole Miss before entering West Point, is seated lower left.

Much in the style of Steven Ambrose in his best-selling “Band of Brothers,” the story traces the 71st Tactical Reconnaissance Group from its training base in Laurel, Mississippi, through its journey to Port Moresby, and on to the combat zones in the remote, jungle-covered islands of New Guinea, Biak and the Philippines.
The Flying Musketeers – nickname for the 110th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron. Courtesy Author’s collection.

Allen Boyer draws on now-public sources to bring broader context to the story and demonstrate how Rocky and his squadron fit into MacArthur’s aggressive use of air power to leapfrog up from Australia to the southern door of Japan’s home islands. Boyer cleverly illustrates the tactics of armed reconnaissance and resupply interdiction that made the strategy a success.
Perhaps my perspective is biased by having had similar experiences as a military pilot, but I give Rocky Boyer’s War my highest 4-5 star rating.

As an aviator in the Navy (July ’69 – August ’74), Scruggs flew A-6 Intruders off the USS Roosevelt.

Richard “Dickie” Scruggs, one of Oxford’s best-known former attorneys, is the founder of Second Chance MS, which works to raise awareness and funds for adult education and work skills training.  
For questions or comments, email hottytoddynews@gmail.com.

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