Reviews and Book Comments
from LOGBOOK magazine, Volume 12, Number 2, 2nd
A few years ago, here at LOGBOOK we
had the distinct pleasure to publish an article by Mr. Gary Metz
titled “How I found Harry Potter.”
In this particular case the Harry Potter in question was
not the character from popular fiction, but rather the son of
deceased U.S. Army aviator, Lieutenant Harry E. Dowd, Jr.
At the time he was shot down in 1943, Harry Dowd, who did
not survive, was a married man, and his wife was pregnant with
their first child. A
few months later a son was born and was named for his
father-Harry Dowd. Mrs. Dowd later went on to marry a man by the name of Potter,
who adopted the infant boy.
This was the Harry Potter that Metz was looking for.
It all started back in the late
1980’s. Gary Metz began to research the life of his uncle,
Captain Virgil Radcliffe, who was also a U.S. Army aviator and
fighter pilot, and who after months of combat in the
Mediterranean Theatre of Operations, perished in a training
accident in Florida. At
first this research was rather informal, simply delving in the
life of a close relative, and helping fill in the blanks in
one’s family history. As
happens, doing research on a specific subject often sends the
researcher off in pursuit of more information, often down
several avenues of inquiry.
In Metz’s case, he became interested in the stories of
a group of men associated with his uncle.
Years of investigation later, Gary Metz has compiled all
this information into a fine book titled Last of the Randolph
Metz’s book is sub-titled
“Personal Stories of Ten WWII Pilots.”
Each of the pilots constitutes one of the avenues of
inquiry that Metz pursued. The tie that binds all these men is that they all graduated
from the same flight school class – Class 42-E – at Randolph
Field, Texas. (The last class to wear the traditional blue
uniforms, hence the title) Then, all ten men were assigned to
the same fighter squadron – the 60th Fighter
Squadron, 33rd Fighter Group.
This included both Metz’s uncle Virgil and the above
mentioned Harry Dowd. The
squadron deployed to the Mediterranean Theatre, and at war’s
end, some of the men came home and some did not.
At the time Metz was researching this book there were but
three of the ten still alive.
While this book is an incredible
trove of information, it is more than just a bunch of facts and
figures. During the
research Metz conducted ongoing and in-depth correspondence with
all the families involved, and these families in turn allowed
Metz an almost unfettered access to letters, diaries and other
written material. Unfortunately,
in some cases, there were also copies of the Western Union
telegrams informing the families of bad news.
Interviews with surviving family members helped to give a
personal touch to the information.
Additionally, the vast numbers of personal photographs,
contained in this book is simply amazing.
These are candid, informal snapshots that show the men as
they actually were.
In addition to contacting the
families involved, Metz also visited archives from around the
United States, unearthing heretofore unseen documents, messages,
newspaper clippings and photographs.
All this material helped bind the story of these ten men
together. It set
the background for their lives.
Last of the Randolph Blues is
one of a genre of books that we find very important.
History is not made by machines, but rather the people
behind the machines. When
so many history books talk of the war from the standpoint of the
squadron, group or wing, it is important to remember that these
units are made up of human beings.
Metz’s book brings a personal, and therefore a more
important, history of people during wartime.
This is a great book.
By the way, Metz did eventually find
Blake author, historian and editor of the P-38 National
This book began
for its author as a labor of love—researching the life of his
uncle, Virgil Radcliffe, a WW II P-38 pilot, for a family
history project. But
as he began to correspond and meet with some of his uncle’s
old squadron mates and their relatives, he decided to expand its
focus to include the nine other pilots with whom Lt. Radcliffe
graduated from flight training at Foster Field, Texas, with the
Class of 42-E in May 1942. (The term “Randolph Blues” refers
to the distinctive blue uniforms worn by the cadets at
, until the early part of the war, when they were exchanged for
the typical Air Corps olive drab.
The 42-E cadets were the last to wear them, hence the
book’s title.) All
ten newly minted USAAF pilots were assigned to the 60th
Fighter Squadron of the 33rd Fighter Group on the
Mr. Metz, as a result of a tremendous amount of research
provides info on all ten men and then documents their flight
training and subsequent military service, in considerable
detail. One of them
was soon killed in a flying accident in the States and one was
transferred to another unit that served in
later. The other
eight pilots were delivered with their unit and its P-40s to
French Morocco soon after the landings their in November 1942,
and the book then follows their adventures during the Northwest
African campaign. As
to the book’s P-38 Connection, in late December 1942 seven of
the 60th FS pilots were TDY’d to the 1st
FG to fly lightnings for a couple of months.
As it turned out, three of them, including Lt. Radcliffe
stayed on with the 1st Groups 27th FS.
The book is also a detailed portion of the 60th
and 27th Fighter Squadrons.
The author tells his story by alternating the pilots’
personal letters to and from home with official USAAF documents
(especially unit histories), interspersed with his well-written
and informative commentary.
It is heavily illustrated with several hundred photos,
from both private and governmental sources, plus copies of maps,
personal letters, postcards and documents.
None of these pilots were “aces” (together they were
credited with six enemy aircraft destroyed and several others
probably destroyed or damaged), and they were neither
high-ranking nor particularly highly decorated.
But they did serve their country well and contributed
materially to its final victory.
Five of them gave their lives in the process—three in
combat and two in flying accidents in the States--a 50% fatality
rate. The author, a
longtime member of the P-38 National Association, does and
excellent job of telling their stories and thereby keeping their
memories alive for posterity.
This reviewer’s criticisms are few.
There are more typos, misspelled words and names (i.e.,
“Raul Luftberry” for the WWI American ace Raoul Lufbery) and
factual errors than there should be, but fortunately not enough
to be a major distraction. The
photo reproduction varies from poor to good, due to the type of
paper used to print the book and depending on the quality of the
original prints and published sizes.
LAST of the RANDOLPH BLUES is a fascinating account of
the North African air war and many of its individual
participants, and is highly recommended.
Perko daughter of Major Roodenburg
I received your
book several days ago but have been sick and decided to save it
for today, Jan. 11, the 70th anniversary of my father's death.
Powerful! I am up to
. It's strange knowing what's going to happen to these
beautiful young men. Your opening paragraph is profound.
I'm glad to have you holding my space today, as it were.
What a tribute your book is to what went on.
Coulter daughter of Captain Dick Coulter
The books arrived
in the mail today. I misted up, to finally hold the book
in my hand. I love the size and format -- the only way to
do justice to the pictures, letters and clippings.
All I could think of was how excited and proud my dad
would be to have these stories told. I cannot imagine how
huge it must have felt to you to hold the first copy in your
hands, after the years of dedicated work.
I think this has to be among your peak experiences.
Wambach Metcalf niece of Harry E. Dowd, Jr.
This is just wonderful,
Gary! So proud of you and so grateful for everything you have done
for the Dowd family!
David S. Gray son of Sgt David S. Gray USAAF
I just finished reading, Last
of the Randolph Blues. This is a topic near and dear to my
heart as my Dad was a P-38 crew chief in the 71st Squadron of
the 1st Fighter Group in the North African campaign. In fact,
asked for permission to use a quote from my Dad's diary in the
book and it is in there!
learned a number of new aspects to Operation Torch that I didn't
know, which is significant as I have read all that I can get my
hands on about this theater that my Dad served in. I was not
aware that they flew the P-40's from the deck of a converted
carrier with no option but to land on a - hopefully - secured
air base in
. The Pantelleria campaign was something I was only marginally
written home are a real gem as glimpses into the character of
the young men serving far from home in rather rough conditions.
The optimism and faith that they would someday soon be home is a
marvel as colleagues are going MIA or KIA as the months pass.
These days the word "swell" is derided as nerdy and
naive, but to these brave guys it clearly held a much more
serious meaning than it does today.
has performed a labor of love that honors our predecessors that
lived through some rather precarious times. It brings to mind
the quote that we cannot choose the time in which we live, but
must make the best of the time that is given you.