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Rough War by Walt Shiel
'Rough War', a highly personal story of one man’s war in a 'forgotten theater' of WW II jungle warfare, weaves a chronology of the war around Eastman's diary and letters that describe his hopes, fears, and combat experiences. Today, doctors would diagnose Eastman with PTSD, but in the 1940s he had to deal with it on his own.
Battle fatigue...shell shock...PTSD... Terminology changes. The pain remains.
Paul Eastman, a small-town Wisconsin boy turned P-40 fighter pilot, lands in the jungles of Assam and Burma in 1943. Lt. Eastman's compelling story, gleaned from his diary and letters home and illustrated with his personal photos, provides unique insights into the realities of combat life and death, punctuated by love and concern for the wife he left behind. Author Walt Shiel skillfully interleaves an informative history of the broader war into Eastman's personal accounts.
Eastman evolves from an innocent abroad to a fatalistic combat veteran -- through missions that careen from mundane to adrenalin-fueled in a single heartbeat and through the humor, revelry, camaraderie, fatigue, and death that surround daily life. And through the "soul-numbing terror" of being shot down behind enemy lines. Like warriors before and after him, Eastman's war does not end after his 20 months of combat. After a decade of struggling to adapt, he finally takes his own life in a poignant episode that could be lifted from today's headlines.
Paul Eastman's war is, indeed, a Rough War.
Read Eastman's story, then give thanks to the veterans, past and present, who fight and die to preserve our freedoms.
Rough War: Finalist, 2012 USA Best Book Awards and 2012 Next Generation Indie Book Awards!
"In the annals of WWII aerial warfare Rough War is a jewel that has been missing for far too long."
--Jim Hooper, Author of A Hundred Feet over Hell
"Rough War is an important story that makes an equally important connection to the effects of war on the members of the US military today. A rare achievement that offers a rewarding, creative approach to history that should be a model for more writers."
--Ed Rasimus, Author of Palace Cobra and When Thunder Rolled
"A story of the war generation, of the forgotten theater, and of the terrible things just being in a war does to people."
--Eric Hammel, Author of The Road to Big Week
"Rough War presents a unique history of the making of a combat fighter pilot...While aviation technology changed for America's next war in SE Asia, the threats of the jungle, monsoon, and a determined enemy created similar issues during my own fighter-pilot experiences in Vietnam."
--William H. Lawson, Brig. Gen, US Air Force, Retired
"Rough War presents a highly personal view of air combat and daily life in the WW II jungles of Burma. Walt Shiel skillfully blends a history of that war with young fighter pilot Paul Eastman's personal diary, letters, and photographs. An engaging history of a small part of a global war."
--Robert F. Dorr, Author of Mission to Berlin
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The 7th of December 1943 found Paul again on alert … two years after the Pearl Harbor attack. In his diary, Paul reminisced about his whereabouts on "the day that will live in infamy" — a civilian at Claire and Ethel's Tavern playing cards. "Now I am in Upper Assam — the wettest spot on Earth — waiting for an alert to fight in the sky. I certainly hope and pray we shall not have to witness another infamous anniversary while engaged in war."
Paul did get airborne that day for a three-hour local patrol mission. Then, on 11 December, he recorded this account of his first real combat sortie (which lasted three hours, twenty minutes):
"11 December: Today I had my baptism in combat, but as it turned out it didn't amount to much. Yesterday, Ft Hertz — over the "Hump" — was attacked by Zeros. Our other squadron intercepted them, and knocked down seven confirmed and two probables without loss to our ships. So, today, we went out on a fighter reconnaissance to try to locate the field in Burma where these ships were based, and if possible to catch them on the ground and strafe them. We passed over the 'Hump' — a long stretch of desolate mountains and valleys of dense Burma jungle. The first field was Bhamo in lower Burma. The field was pockmarked by bomb craters, and no planes were there. We did strafe and destroy a steam engine though. Then we went over Katha and Indhal — both close by, but discovered no planes whatsoever. These fields were in good shape, too, but we could find nothing at all to destroy. We expected fighter opposition, as we went deep into their territory, but the whole trip — over three hours — was entirely uneventful. I'd sure hate to have to bail out in that country which we flew over. Nothing but jungle and mountains. Sure would be a tough proposition to walk out, for not only does it offer topographical obstacles, but Jap bases are everywhere."
The official report of the Japanese raid on Ft Hertz noted that the airfield was attacked by three bombers and four fighters, with all of the bombers and two of the fighters shot down by the Allied defenders.
On 13 December, the P-40 pilots at Teok spent most of the day on alert until finally receiving Paul's first "Red Alert Scramble" by radio from 80th FG headquarters. As the pilots raced to their planes, the alert duty sergeant fired three shots into the air from his rifle to alert all base personnel. Paul described Indian soldiers "jumping into foxholes and appearing, as if by magic, with full battle dress and all kinds of guns." He said it seemed funny … later, anyway. He recorded the details of the two hour, forty minute mission in his logbook ("Scramble — Japs in area — 36 bombers — 20 Zeros — No Contact") and also in his diary:
"13 December: We took off immediately — but were held in this area for reserves, so to speak, and were not allowed to join in the scrap going on just a short distance away from here. We circled aimlessly at 20,000 feet listening on the radio to the conversations which always take place during dogfights. There were 36 Sallys (Jap bombers) and 20 Zekes (Jap Zeros). The bombs they dropped were 100 lbs and did slight damage to a C-47 and destroyed a P-40 on the ground. However, two A-36As crashed on takeoff at a nearby field, killing one pilot and injuring another. During the fight, eight Japs were shot down and nine damaged. We lost one P-40, but the pilot got out safely by parachute. He also, by the way, destroyed the bomber that shot him down."
The next day, the squadron bombed and strafed the Japanese forces at Myitkyina. Each P-40 carried three 100-pound bombs (one on each wing and one on the belly). On their first pass, each pilot dropped his bombs along the runway or on the basshas alongside it. Paul described the action:
"14 December: One bassha — after a direct hit — exploded violently, emitting fire and smoke about 2,000 feet into the air. While we were thus engaged, over us passed a B-24 and four P-40s — evidently on their way to bomb another place. After bombing, we proceeded strafing. About all we could find however — besides a few basshas — were a herd of elephants and water buffalo in the water. We gave 'em hell all right. Coming back we were all short of gas, and Weston got lost from us — arriving back ahead of us, and landing the wrong way — directly in our path. Johnson was almost out of gas but to avoid a wreck he had to go around again. When he finally did get in — he just landed when he ran out of gas and his engine quit! Close!"
The following Monday, Paul flew two missions to Thaipa Ga in Northern Burma. Intelligence briefed them to expect lots of enemy equipment. Sixteen P-40s flew in a relay all day to bomb and strafe. Paul took off at 1215 and again at 1500, for a total of four hours, with three 325-pound depth charges on each sortie ("all TNT and have a terrific blast power"). He dropped his bombs and expended 1,000 rounds of .50 caliber ammo on his first sortie but "didn't see a damn thing." However, while strafing on his second mission:
"20 December: I noticed a cloud of dust and an object moving below me. I immediately kicked over — but when in range discovered it was a big black water buffalo. I was so mad (I had expected a truck of Japs) that I let loose. All six .50s caught him dead — and he rolled ass over tea kettle. Dull day!"
Hightly Recommended -Midwest Book Review
In a life or death situation, the most important thing is to keep a level head. "Rough War: The Combat Story of Lt. Paul J. Eastman, A 'Burma Banshee' P-40 and P-47 Pilot" is a war biography from Walt Shiel, writing about Eastman who took up the call as a combat pilot following the Pearl Harbor attack. Fighting in a lesser known front of China, India, and Burma, he tells a story of a man pulled away from life and the struggles of survival where one wrong move could mean a fate worse than death. "Rough War" is a riveting war story, highly recommended.
Entertaining and Educational -MWSA
Rough War is a very well documented, historical account of an American pilot’s experiences while flying and fighting in World War II. The story of Paul J Eastman, a young man from Wisconsin who volunteers to fight for the United States shortly after Pearl Harbor, is truly fascinating, and Walt Shiel does an excellent job in setting forth that story in this book. In 1943, as a fully trained fighter pilot, Eastman is sent to India and then onto Burma to fight the Japanese. Drawing from Eastman’s personal diary and from letters that Eastman had written home, the author compiles an “up close and personal” view of an airman’s life in the jungles of Burma along with his experiences in combat in the skies over some of the toughest environments faced in WWII. The author does a superb job summarizing events happening in the overall war, and within Eastman’s theater of combat, alongside Eastman’s personal experiences.
I liked this book and found it to be both entertaining and educational. This is a book that should be included as recommended reading somewhere in an officer’s professional military education. I specifically recommend it to anyone who enjoys reading about WWII, airpower, the Chinese–Burma–India Theater of operations during WWII, and those studying the emotional impact of long exposures to combat.
A Rip-Saw Edge -Jim Hooper
World War II aviation memoirs hold a particular fascination, and my book shelves groan under their weight. But only after reading Walt Shiel’s "Rough War" did I realize how sparse were those regarding the CBI Theater. Tales of the Flying Tigers in China and flying the ‘Hump’ aplenty, but a search for first-person accounts of USAAF fighter squadrons in India and Burma would have drawn a blank. Sandwiched between the more dramatic and widely reported aerial battles in Europe and the Pacific, it was a forgotten campaign. Now, through the diaries and letters of a forgotten fighter pilot, Shiel has brought it to life.
As a ‘Burma Banshee’ flying P-40s and then P-47s, Lt Paul Eastman left behind a fascinating record, one that might have slept in an old trunk in a dusty attic, thumbed through by passing generations with no understanding of the events described, perhaps eventually thrown away by a disinterested descendent. That his sons kept the diaries and letters is a boon to the history of the CBI; that they ended up in the hands of an accomplished writer to be resurrected in "Rough War" makes them a gift to be savored.
Constructing a memoir based on wartime jottings is a daunting challenge: what does the author condense, what does he elaborate? It is to Shiel’s credit that he included the minutiae of everyday life recorded by Eastman. From the details of flying halfway around the world to his wartime assignment, told with the wide-eyed astonishment of a youngster who until two years previously had not been beyond the borders of Wisconsin, to descriptions of exotic cultures, Eastman is the quintessential innocent abroad. But tales of flying from jungle airstrips, of bombing and strafing missions against the Japanese, of being shot down behind enemy lines, of comrades killed in action and accidents give "Rough War" a rip-saw edge that can only be truly appreciated when the poignant epilogue is reached. In the annals of WWII aerial warfare "Rough War" is a jewel that has been missing for far too long.
Jim Hooper, author of 'A Hundred Feet Over Hell'
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