Book: New Guinea Skies by Wayne P. Rothgeb

A fighter pilot's memoirs of the second world war

Wayne P. Rothgeb
New Guinea Skies: A Fighter Pilot's View of World War II
Iowa State University Press, 1992
ISBN: 0-8138-0836-7
261 pages

Wayne P. Rothgeb was born in 1920 and grew up as a farm boy in Indiana. Like many boys of his generation, he was inspired by Charles Lindbergh's solo flight across the Atlantic in 1927 and dreamed of becoming a pilot. At the age of 16, he got his first airplane ride. It was a birthday present, cost $2, and lasted around 15 minutes. He decided then that he was going to join the Army Air Corps. He worked his way through the necessary two years of college at Purdue University and in July of 1941 was accepted as an aviation cadet and learned that he'd be called up in December. On December 8, the United States entered the second world war.

In the book, we follow Mr Rothgeb through the various stages of his flight training and then his deployment to New Guinea.

The fighter pilots stationed in New Guinea had the job of flying above allied bombers and cargo planes to intercept the Japanese Zeros that would try to bring them down. It was widely supposed that the Japanese wanted to take New Guinea and use it as a stepping-stone to an invasion of Australia. Mr Rothgeb and his colleagues were there to prevent that.

The narrative doesn't move quickly. Getting Mr Rothgeb to New Guinea takes around half of the book. And, almost as soon as he arrives there, he leaves again to go to Australia to learn to fly new P-38 Lightning that was replacing the older P-39 Airacobras. Soon after he returns to New Guinea and begins flying the Lightning, he crashes after takeoff and spends two months recovering before returning to flying. He doesn't actually attack a Japanese plane until page 194.

Nothing that Mr Rothgeb does in the book is especially remarkable or conspicuously heroic. But the book isn't really less interesting for that. Or, to put it another way, all the stories like his are remarkable and heroic.

In the book, Mr Rothgeb and his colleagues come across as being the sort of people that Americans often aspire to be: they're generous, friendly, and brave, and they recognize that it's important for them to be helping out, even far from their homes. On a tiny Pacific island, an American soldier hears that Mr Rothgeb is from Indiana and says to him, "Why, I'm from Pennsylvania. We're neighbors."

There are a few minor editing errors: the name of the Norden bomb-sight is misspelled (p. 70), there's "pilots'" for "pilot's" (p. 230), "pealed" for "peeled" (p 243), and Pittsburgh is misspelled (p 254).

Posted: Wed - April 20, 2005 at 07:18   Main   Category: