Reviews and Book Comments


Book review from LOGBOOK magazine, Volume 12, Number 2, 2nd Quarter 2014

 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 Blues. 

 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 Harry Potter.

Reviewed by

Steve Blake author, historian and editor of the P-38 National Association newsletter.

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 Randolph Field , Texas , 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 East Coast.

            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 North Africa 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.


Book Comments


Sue 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 Randolph .  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. 

Della 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.

Donna 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, Gary asked for permission to use a quote from my Dad's diary in the book and it is in there!

 I 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 Morocco . The Pantelleria campaign was something I was only marginally aware.

The letters 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.

Gary 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.
Thanks; Gary !





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