A NOTE FROM JIM LEHRER
Why and how did I come to write a novel about a World War II B-29 pilot?
The first seeds were planted fifty years ago when I was a kid living in Wichita, Kansas, during World War II. Wichita was the site of one of the Boeing plants where many of the B-29's were made for the U.S. Army Air Forces and my mother worked on the B-29 assembly line as a wire- cutter. The result was growing up with a strong fondness for what we all believed was the most magnificent fighting machine ever created.
That B-29 interest implant pretty much lay dormant in me until 1996 when a man told me—almost casually—that the 20th Air Force used Bangkok, Thailand, for target practice as it got ready to bomb Japan. He said many thousands of Thai people were killed and much of the city was destroyed. I had never heard that before and, out of simple curiosity, I started looking into that. And I found out that, yes, 114 B-29's did bomb Bangkok as a kind of dry run before Japan. Thailand had declared war on the United States after Pearl Harbor so it was technically at war with us. Little damage was done in the raid and barely 1,000 people were killed.
That was that. But in researching this Bangkok story I got hooked again on the B-29, as an airplane, and on the young Americans who flew them.
I discovered that as a result of the Doolittle Raid in 1942, the Japanese government designated all captured U.S. Aviators "Special Prisoners" subject to torture, bad treatment and execution without much due process.
As a consequence, less than 5 percent of all American flyers taken prisoner by the Japanese survived captivity. The survival figure for all American military personnel was 60 percent. (Among all U.S. prisoners taken by the Germans, the figure was 96 percent.)
My interest in the young American flyers who rained liquid fire down on the cities of Japan night after night in 1944 and 1945 led eventually to a like interest in the Japanese civilians who endured those firebomb raids.
And, soon, I was reading a lot about revenge and forgiveness, healing and believing, and the other emotions and factors that drive people involved in war on all sides.
The end result was The Special Prisoner ...
Pub date: 04/19/01
Price: $14.00/20.95 Canada
5-1/2 X 8-1/4
Carton Quantity: 40
Selling Territory: WORLD EXCL. UK & COMMONWEALTH
Pub history: Random House hc