The best personal accounts of World War II air combat

Jay A. Stout Author Of Jayhawk: Love, Loss, Liberation, and Terror Over the Pacific
By Jay A. Stout

Who am I?

I am an aviation historian and writer, a defense analyst, and a retired, combat-experienced, Marine Corps fighter pilot. I am one of the lucky ones. Since early childhood, I wanted nothing more than to become a fighter pilot. It was a combination of good fortune, hard work, and a bit of talent that made it possible for me to realize that dream. I was inspired by the memoirs and recollections of World War II fighter pilots, and I read every book on the topic that I could find.  Following my military service, I transitioned from a reader to a writer; my experience as a military pilot helps to make my books real and credible.


I wrote...

Jayhawk: Love, Loss, Liberation, and Terror Over the Pacific

By Jay A. Stout, George L. Cooper,

Book cover of Jayhawk: Love, Loss, Liberation, and Terror Over the Pacific

What is my book about?

It is a story like no other. Born in the Philippines to an American father and a Filipina mother, George Cooper saw action over some of the bloodiest targets in the Pacific. Adding tension to his war was the fact that he fought the same enemy that held his family captive in the Philippines. This isn’t just a story of patriotism and combat, rather it explores personal relationships, emotions and the process of becoming a man in the skies of World War II.

The books I picked & why

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Flights of Passage: Recollections of a World War II Aviator

By Samuel Hynes,

Book cover of Flights of Passage: Recollections of a World War II Aviator

Why this book?

Perhaps the very best crafted book of this selection, this is a remarkable story about a relatively unremarkable combat career.  Samuel Hynes—who later taught at Northwestern and Princeton—gives the reader not just a rote recounting of his experiences as a Marine Corps pilot during the war, but he also shares what and how he felt. He is unwaveringly honest, and includes an account of a sexual encounter that at the very least causes the reader to reflect on the morals of that time. His book is a refreshing look behind the façade of “The Greatest Generation,” and reassures the reader that, other than circumstances, there is little that distinguishes individuals from one generation to the next.


Fly for Your Life: The Story of R. R. Stanford Tuck

By Larry Forrester,

Book cover of Fly for Your Life: The Story of R. R. Stanford Tuck

Why this book?

A classic biography about one of the Royal Air Force’s most colorful fighter pilots during the early part of the war.  Robert Stanford Tuck was born into a wealthy family, but had an individualistic spirit that was sometimes at odds with that family.  Prior to the war, he went to sea aboard a tramp steamer where he did much growing up. Upon his return, he was drawn to the excitement of flight and joined the Royal Air Force. Not an intrinsically gifted pilot, he nearly washed out of training, but ultimately flourished. He excelled as a leader as one of the “few” during the Battle of Britain. 


Combat Crew: The Story of 25 Combat Missions Over Europe From the Daily Journal

By John Comer,

Book cover of Combat Crew: The Story of 25 Combat Missions Over Europe From the Daily Journal

Why this book?

The odds of completing a full combat tour as a bomber crewman with the Eighth Air Force over Europe during 1943 were about twenty percent. John Comer, a B-17 flight engineer and top turret gunner, arrived in England during that time and his descriptions of air combat are well worth the read.  Perhaps just as valuable are his descriptions of the relationships between his comrades, the non-combat aspects of his life as a combat crewman, and the sheer, mental and physical exhaustion that such duty exacted on the men.


God is My Co-Pilot

By Robert L. Scott,

Book cover of God is My Co-Pilot

Why this book?

The archetypal combat flying story, this is an easy, fun, and eye-opening book that Scott wrote only months after returning from the war. Scott clearly loved to fly and had done so since the early 1930s after graduating from West Point. Resourceful and tenacious, he received command of a fighter group in China after having been officially told the previous year that he was too old (at the ripe old age of 33) to fly fighters. This is a rollicking read that will be enjoyed by readers of all ages.


I Could Never Be So Lucky Again

By James H. Doolittle, Carroll V. Glines,

Book cover of I Could Never Be So Lucky Again

Why this book?

A leader, a pilot, and a scientist—and a top-notch salesman—James Doolittle was one of the most important figures in American aviation, having participated in virtually every aspect of research, manufacturing, and operations. Rather than being centered almost exclusively on air combat, this book describes Doolittle’s life, including his considerable achievements prior to World War II. Very importantly, it addresses the challenges associated with leadership at the very highest levels. This aspect is rarely ever addressed in other accounts of World War II air combat, and by itself is worth the read.


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