Backwards into Battle: A Tail Gunner's Journey in World War II

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9780964625303: Backwards into Battle: A Tail Gunner's Journey in World War II
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This gem of a book traces the transformation of a small-town boy who hated fist-fights into a seasoned B-29 tail gunner in World War II. Step-by-step, the author takes the reader into the Air Corps, through gunnery school, and on twenty-one bombing missions over Japan -- one of which ended in the death of three of his crewmates. The book is dedicated to those men.

But Backwards Into Battle is far more than a war story. Andy Doty recalls youth who may have been "the last truly innocent generation in America" -- teen-agers who did not drink nor smoke nor use drugs, and knew little about sex. It was a time when two boys never fought one boy, nor one boy against a smaller opponent. Kicking was not tolerated; anyone caught carrying a knife in school was subject to permanent banishment. Firearms were totally out of the question.

It was a generation taught by dedicated school teachers, most of them unmarried, "who demanded that we diagram the structure of sentences properly, recite the multiplication tables without a slip, and remember the outcome of the Peloponnesian Wars. Their right to grab an unruly boy by the ear and hustle him out of the classroom and into the principal's office was unquestioned."

His was a highly patriotic generation, as well, one whose heroes were Ethan Allen, John Paul Jones, the Rough Riders, Admiral Farragut and Sergeant York. The author and his friends viewed war as an accepted - even inevitable - way of life. To insure his acceptance into the Air Corps, he bought a book of tips on how to pass the entrance examinations.

The flavor of World War II military service is vividly portrayed: railroad terminals teeming with servicemen and echoing with train announcements; homesick 18-year-olds at night on their cots at a firing range; men lined up with their mess trays on swaying troop trains; seas of white sailor hats and army khaki on the streets of Honolulu; the barracks humor, Big Band music and wartime ballads that made danger and boredom tolerable for sixteen million Americans far from their friends and families.

The author's descriptions of his combat missions from Guam to Japan have been described as the best to come out of the B-29 campaign. They contain both the technical aspects of his tail gunner's trade as well as the fear he felt as antiaircraft fire crashed about his bomber over Nagoya -- or as his aircraft was caught in a cluster of searchlights eight thousand feet above blazing Tokyo.

Nor has anyone better captured the harrowing experience of bailing out of a faltering bomber into the dark sea -- a bail-out delayed when the strap of the author's life raft pack became snagged in his folded tail gunner's seat. As the bailout bell rang, he began tugging desperately at the strap and considered cutting it with his knife to allow him to dive out his escape hatch.

The author sums it all up at the end, commenting on the need to use atomic bombs to end the war and on the "moral posturing" of revisionist historians who condemn the bombings. Andy Doty explores also why and how men risk their lives time and again in wartime, often in the face of great odds. Backwards Into Battle is a touching personal account of the days when the youth of a united, resourceful, determined nation fought in the costliest, most destructive war in world history. The book "defines in gentle but honest words" the young men who participated in that monumental conflict.

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From the Publisher:

This book is now in its fifth printing. It has been warmly received by readers all over the country: veterans reliving their war experiences, WWII buffs delving into the history of the conflict; children learning about the experiences of their parents. "In my opinion, this is one of the most interesting personal stories to come out of World War II," wrote Chester Marshall, former B-29 pilot and aviation author/publisher. "It is a well-written, 'can't put it down' type story." Vice Admiral James Stockdale, a Navy flier held nine years in a North Vietnam prison, wrote: "This is a penetrating assessment and critical accolade of the life and times of the American World War II combat veteran. You have illuminated the reality of your service as a crewman on a B-29 firebombing Japan, bailing out, being rescued at sea, and being a true-blue teammate in a bomber crew that fought together, some dying together. With unabashed frankness, you have drawn out the mystical side of the comradeship, the responsibilities and the excitement of war that so many of us have come to identify as the one great lyric passage of their lives." Excerpts from other letters: "I had barely gotten into the book when I realized I was reading an articulate and literate work by a B-29 veteran who also happens to be a writer. The combination has produced an absorbing memoir that is a joy to read. What you have written about your missions -- including the tragic one -- is as vivid as anything I've read about tough missions in any air force. This book about who we were belongs in every airman's library and those of his children." -- D.M., Powhatan, VA "I read the whole book in one fascinated gulp. It was obvious after the first pages that the author was a professional writer -- not just an ordinary Joe writing a memoir." -- H.T.B., Atlanta, GA "Andy's book arrived yesterday. This book is pure GOLD. It is clean, magnificently balanced, the stuff of enduring literature. Andy wastes no words --- every part of speech carries its own weight. The book is a hymn to life: its wonder, its promise, its hardships, its gifts. Should be required reading for the populace, particularly for the disaffected youngsters who hoot at what they count as outworn values. Andy could easily have waded in bathos; instead, he evokes an entire spectrum of human emotion with enviable restraint and insight. More than once this old bastard swallowed whole apples and mopped a cloudy eye." ---R.C., Queensbury, NY "Betty saw me off at the airport and by the time the plane circled east I had started "Backward Into Battle" and was reveling in the early years of Andy Doty. I scarcely noticed Lake Tahoe, and came up for air at the Mississippi River, then saved the rest until I would be home.....Right now, in the hours I can't sleep, I'm savoring each chapter." -- J.M., New York, NY

"Couldn't put it down! I think you did a tremendous job in presenting your story from the individual, human side. I am sure that your story touched many men and produced several wet eyes. It did mine." ---W.S., Gulfport, MS "I remember that Thorton Wilder once said that OUR TOWN was his attempt to find a value above all price for the smallest events in the daily life he lived as a young man. It seems to me that kind of desire shines through your BACKWARDS INTO BATTLE and in a very real way you give back to thousands what was 'The Best Years of our Lives.'" --- B. R., Palo Alto playwright. "What truly hits me about your heartfelt story is that it is truly heartfelt!" --- A.C.R., Yucaipa, CA

"My husband just finished the chapter about the crew bail-out and was spellbound." --- S.B.S., Boulder, CO

"We think your book is a treasure. When I urge people to read your book I also suggest that they read it aloud. I looked up more than once to see a tear in Harry's eye as he read your words." -- S.H., Palo Alto publishing firm editor.

"I find the book spell-binding; it conjures up times past which many of us still remember." --- R.C.L., Christchurch, England "I sent copies to my crew members and have already heard from two who said they couldn't put it down -- read it from cover to cover as soon as it arrived."----G.B.R, former B-29 pilot, Woodland Hills, CA "I can't thank you enough for sending a copy of Andy Doty's Backwards Into Battle. I read it this past weekend and used as many post-its to mark one or another passage as there are pages. It's a marvelous memoir told very nicely. And as modestly as he tells his story, I am in awe of his war experiences at that age." - F.H., Princeton, NJ "Never has my flight (to England) gone so quickly as it did as I read your marvelous book -- even faster than my usual gripping page-turner mysteries" -- K.P., Palo Alto, CA "Your book was a wonderful trip back into a world that was essentially beautiful, for most of us. I had a feeling I was reading about a beautiful life well lived and a beautiful marriage. I wish all young people could read your book so they could know what the world was like -- once." -- G.W.B., Jackson, CA "The best book I have read on that aspect of the second world war. Well written, a first-class mixture of authority and down to earth experience." -A.W., Middletown, NJ "I was riveted to the book. It is a treasure. Every page grabbed me and I was right there through your innocent youth to the end of the book. You are a hero, Sergeant Doty! You have my gratitude for fighting in World War II to guarantee the freedom we live in today." -- Mrs. I. K., Atherton, CA

From the Author:

I have always enjoyed reading historical journals of all kinds -- the experiences of American pioneers crossing the continent under great hardship, the sad accounts penned by Civil War soldiers far from their homes, the words of the men who existed in the muddy trenches of World War I. I've admired the honest, unembroidered records they left for posterity.

As a former newspaper reporter who spent a forty-year career writing at three universities, it was only natural for me to begin my own memoir after I retired from Stanford University in 1993. I wanted our children to know about life in the Great Depression, when my father earned $18 a week and my four older brothers and sisters had to work in the mills rather than finish school. I wanted succeeding generations to know, too, about the way our generation responded when freedom was threatened around the world and our nation came under attack. Boys who had never traveled more than fifty miles from home suddenly found themselves fighting battles in every quarter of the globe.

Then there are the war experiences themselves, those indelible events that combat veterans carry with them forever. I became a tail gunner on the fastest, mightiest bomber built during the war and flew on twenty-one B-29 missions against Japan. We were in the air at least fifteen hours on each mission, often resting only a day or two on Guam before returning to Japan again. The raids included high-altitude runs on aircraft factories and oil refineries, and the spectacular low-level fire raids Tokyo and other Japanese cities. We lost three members of our crew one terrible night a little more than a month before the end of the war.

Finally, long after the end of the war, I try to relate my era's values to those of modern generations. I comment on the role that naivet, self-delusion, optimism, prayer and peer approval play as young men face death. I defend the use of the atomic bombs to end the war more quickly, arguing that modern revisionist historians enjoy "the lucid view that hindsight affords" when they condemn WWII airmen for using the weapons against a fanatical enemy. America's leaders were forced to make the cruel choice between the immediate loss of Japanese civilians through use of the A-bombs or the inevitable greater losses of Japanese and Americans in a later invasion of the home islands.

The book concludes with Henry V's words to his soldiers before the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, according to Shakespeare: "Gentlemen now abed in England will think themselves accursed they were not here." Shakespeare was right, as he so often was. Those who emerge alive and whole from combat share a camaraderie, a quiet pride, a sense of good fortune, that few others enjoy. That feeling and more comes through in a book that captures honestly and clearly the experiences of the thousands of young men who left home to face danger so long ago. When they were boys, "their hearts were touched by fire."

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