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Saturday, September 8, 2018

MISSION: JIMMY STEWART and the FIGHT for EUROPE (audiobook) by Robert Matzen

Published in 2017 by Blackstone Audio.
Read by Peter Berkrot.
Duration: 11 hours, 45 minutes.

The chief mechanic of the B-24 Liberator Nine Yanks and a Jerk 
sticking his head out of the hole blown through the cockpit by a piece
of unexploded ordinance. Jimmy Stewart was in that cockpit on
that flight.
Just a few months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Hollywood actor Jimmy Stewart was a new recruit in the U.S. Army angling for the chance to fly a bomber in combat. At the time, he was the reigning male actor in Hollywood, having recently received the Oscar for Best Actor.

But, deep down, Jimmy Stewart wanted to continue the family tradition of military service. The Army tried to divert Stewart to a non-combat role, aided by some string-pulling by his movie studio. But, Stewart pulled some strings of his own and eventually found himself training to fly bombers, despite the fact that he was easily at least ten years older than all of the other trainees.

Stewart and his men flew their bombers to England and joined the massive collection of planes involved in the bombing campaign in November of 1943. Stewart's age and extensive pre-war flying experience played a part in him becoming an leader of his squadron of B-24 Liberators. He felt the profound weight of the immense responsibility of leading his men. He was all too aware that a simple mistake on his part could kill dozens of men, including himself.

Maybe it was that sense of responsibility, maybe it was just dumb luck, but Stewart's men did much better than average when it came to getting there and back successfully, although it took a profound toll on Stewart. He visibly aged during those 16 months. He felt like he was losing even his nerve as the mission (and the close calls) added up. Despite his concern, he led larger and larger missions up to the end of the war.

Robert Matzen's three-pronged look at World War II in Europe mostly focuses on the early life and military service of famed Hollywood actor, but it also tells the story of German civilians that ended up being near a site bombed by Stewart and the story of another airman that went briefly interacted with Stewart on a shake-down run. His story, though, is used to show what could have happened to Jimmy Stewart since he is shot down over Europe and eventually is captured.

This was an interesting audiobook. Peter Berkrot was the narrator and when it comes to narrating the danger and drama of a bombing run of Nazi Germany, there is literally no one better. Berkrot's pacing and dramatic delivery are perfect. But, the problem is that Berkrot never turns that dramatic style of reading down - everything is equally dramatic, including very mundane things like the descriptions of Stewart's childhood. So, it becomes sort of a mixed bag.

I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5 and it can be found on Amazon.com here: MISSION: JIMMY STEWART and the FIGHT for EUROPE by Robert Matzen.

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