The Untold World War II Story of B-24s in the Pacific

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Finish Forty and Home awarded top prize at the Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference

Finish Forty and Home was awarded the top prize in the 2010 Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference, held annually near Dallas, Texas. The prize, which includes a publishing contract with the University of North Texas Press, was awarded by Village Voice Media during the Literary Lights awards dinner.

UNT Press Release

Sunday, July 4, 2010

About the book

During the early years of World War II, against overwhelming odds, young American airmen flew the longest and most perilous bombing missions of the war. They faced determined enemy fighters with no fighter escort of their own, relentless anti-aircraft fire with no deviations from target, and thousands of miles of over-water flying with no alternative landing sites.

Finish Forty and Home, by Phil Scearce, is the true story of men and missions of the 11th Bombardment Group as it fought alone and unheralded in the South Central Pacific while America had its eyes on the war in Europe. The book opens with Sgt. Herman Scearce, the author's father, lying about his age to join the Army Air Corps at 16. The narrative follows Scearce through training and into combat with his new crew mates, including pilot Lt. Joe Deasy, whose last-minute transfer from training duty thrusts the new crew into the squadron commander's role. Inexperienced crews are pressed into combat with navigational training inadequate for the great distances flown over Pacific routes, and losses mount.

Finish Forty and Home takes the reader into combat with B-24 Liberator bomber crews facing the perils of long missions against tiny Japanese-held island targets. These missions bring American forces closer and closer to the Japanese home islands and precede the critical American invasions of Tarawa and Iwo Jima. The book explores the context of the war and sets the stage for these daring missions, revealing the motivations of the men who flew them: to finish forty combat missions and make it home again.

Finish Forty and Home is based upon substantial research at the Air Force Historical Research Agency and the National Archives, interviews with surviving airmen, and interviews and correspondence with the survivors of the men who were lost. It is the first book to document America's bomber offensive in the early days of the Pacific War.

Q & A with Author Phil Scearce

What motivated you to write Finish Forty and Home?
This book needed to be written. As the son of a B-24 veteran, I tried to find books about the part of the war in which my dad served, but there just aren’t any. Finish Forty and Home tells the story of the American bomber offensive in the south central Pacific, which was a cruel and unforgiving place for young men to fly and fight. The men who flew these missions made a significant contribution to the war effort, but their story hasn’t been told until now. I hope my book honors the men I’ve written about.

Why the title?
By 1944, bomber crews needed 40 combat mission credits before they could go home. They didn’t talk about it much, but they all knew where they stood, especially when they were getting close. There are some gut-wrenching stories of men shot down with 38, 39 missions, just one to go. The title comes from the fact that the number one thing in the back of their minds was to finish forty combat missions and make it home again.

The book tells about your dad signing up at 16 and his job as a radio operator. How did he come to tell you his story?
Right. He lied about his age. As far as telling the story, it’s hard to say, really. I don’t know why Dad opened up to me, but once I was old enough to understand, and since I was interested, he shared his experiences. Maybe it was just that enough time had passed, because Dad saw some terrible things. As I completed research and background work, I was able to add depth and context to the stories, and broaden them beyond Dad’s memories. I was also fortunate enough to locate and meet some of the men who served with my father.

Who were you able to find?

Joe Deasy, pilot and commander of the 42nd Bomb Squadron, a man who was a hero to me growing up because I knew Dad had enormous respect for him. Deasy’s actions made all the difference in my Dad’s survival. I also met Jack Yankus, former B-24 flight engineer and Dad’s wartime buddy. He shared stories about my Dad which I could have heard from no one else. I also met and interviewed Ed Hess, gunner on the crew, and the surviving family of Bob Lipe, assistant engineer. When I met the Lipe family, and was able to tell them why Bobby had flown with the crew he was lost with--it was an emotional visit for all of us. I interviewed or corresponded with many more veterans or the families of veterans, and their input helped me bring the book’s characters to life in a very real and faithful way.

How’s your dad doing?
He’s well, thank you. He stays busy. He doesn’t live in the past, but he does enjoy hearing when I’ve talked to one of his old friends.

What’s your next project?

My next book-length project is about B-29 aircrews and their missions. B-29s flew from bases in the Marianas to targets in Japan, and airmen called the route the "Hirohito Highway." That may be the title of the book.

"All of us prayed . . . selfish prayers. God, just get me back on the ground again."
-T/Sgt. L. H. Scearce, Jr.