Pontifications: Heroes and a thriller – two book reviews
Fly Boy Heroes, the Story of Medal of Honor Recipients in the Air War Against Japan
By James H. Hallas. Stackpole Books, $29.95.
The first counter-spy
By Kay Haas and Walter W. Pickut. Lyon Press, $29.95.
August 22, 2022, © Leeham News: Two books of my summer reading are not about commercial aviation but will be of interest to the wider aviation community.
These are Fly Boy Heroes, the Story of Medal of Honor Recipients in the Air War Against Japanand The first counter-spy.
fly boy tells short stories about American medal recipients who flew against Japan in World War II. Author James Hallas begins with the Japanese air raid on Pearl Harbor and ends with an April 12, 1945 Boeing B-29 raid on Japan. In between, the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo in April 1942, the Battle of the Coral Sea, Midway (the aftermath of the Doolittle Raid) and other combat missions are told. The Medal of Honor recipients of these battles are, as the title of the book suggests, the flyboys whose outstanding exploits earned them the medal. Not all of them survived their missions, but some did. For those who did, not all had a happy ending after the end of the war or in civilian life.
Being from the Chicago area, I knew that O’Hare International Airport was named after Lieutenant Commander Edward O’Hare, more commonly known as “Butch.” I also knew, though few others know today, that Butch was the son of Chicago mobster Edgar J. O’Hare, or EJEJ was a lawyer for Al Capone and testified in the tax evasion trial of Capone who sent the gangster to Alcatraz. For his troubles, EJ was assassinated in 1939.
One of the Ace pilots from the United States
Butch became one of America’s first fighter pilot aces. Assigned to the aircraft carrier, Lexington (the first), in an action in February 1942, Butch shot down or chased several enemy aircraft. He was credited with shooting down five bombers, earning the Medal of Honor. Post-war analysis reduced the number to three.
The Lexington’s The captain credited Butch with preventing damage or even destruction of the carrier. Lexington would later be heavily damaged and sunk by destroyer escorts rather than allowing the damaged and heavily heeled ship to be boarded or even captured by the Japanese.
Assigned to carrier Company in 1943, Butch was killed in action in November.
Chicago’s Old Orchard Airport (this is the origin of the airport code, ORD) had been a field of war. Douglas Aircraft Co. built C-54 (DC-4) transports at ORD. The airport was renamed in 1949 after Butch.
Captain Harl Pease, another Medal of Honor recipient, flew Boeing B-17s in the Pacific Theater. Originally assigned to evacuate General Douglas MacArthur from the Philippines in the early months of the war, Pease was diverted to another flight, and MacArthur was evacuated by PT Boat. But Pease’s later combat missions earned him the Medal of Honor. Pease International Airport in Portsmouth, Maine is named after him.
And so fly boy goes. Short biographies and high-level recaps of combat missions do justice to these Medal of Honor recipients. It is worthy reading.
The first counter-spy
For me, The first counter-spy was the more interesting of the two books. fly boy is a collection of stories. counter spy is a tale from beginning to end. It is co-written by the main protagonist’s daughter, Larry Haas, who was a half-man who worked his way into high profile, classified jobs at Bell Aircraft and later Westinghouse. Frank Abagnale, the prolific and successful check forger of the 1960s (immortalized by Leonardo Di Caprio in the film Catch Me If You Can) comes to mind when reading about Larry Haas.
He joined Bell at the start of World War II as an engineer and designer. The Soviet Union was an American ally and assigned one of its aerospace engineers to Bell, who sold them the USSR’s P-39 and P-40 fighters. The liaison, as you might expect, was more than just a middleman between the two countries. He was also a spy.
The book tells the story of the Russian’s “long seduction” of not only Haas, but also his wife, another couple and Bell’s librarian in order to obtain classified information, blueprints and plans of Bell’s plane. Reading the efforts one wonders, how could the targets of seduction have been so naive? But the long process, as tedious as it was (which sometimes spilled over into the reading) exposes everything.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation, however, had been watching and quickly contacted Haas. Sometimes lacking in finesse, the FBI maneuvered Haas into becoming America’s top counter-spy.
Follow Haas around
Haas then moved from Bell to Westinghouse, which was working with GE on America’s first jet engine, intended for military use. The Soviet agent followed Haas in his “friend” role, continuing his efforts to obtain top secret data, this time on jet engines. The effort continued after the war ended.
Just as the Soviet agent tracked Haas, the FBI tracked Haas and the agent.
The story is not limited to espionage. Attacks on the lives of the Haas children, including the co-author. In one instance, FBI agents tracking young Kay Haas were too far away to prevent her abduction. But as they closed in on the chase, Haas was thrown out of the car and survived. If the Soviets intended to scare Larry into submission, they failed. His rage set the stage for finally busting the spy ring. Events went all the way to President Harry Truman, who briefed Larry on some of the geopolitical concerns over the ring’s slow destruction.
counter spy is a bit tedious. But given the current high tensions between Russia, the United States and other countries, the reading becomes even more interesting.