I ordered Vanished: The Sixty-Year Search for the Missing Men of World War II without expecting to read it myself. I mostly got it for my wife -- her father, Howard Sires, like some of the book’s subjects, vanished piloting a Liberator bomber over the Pacific near the end of World War II. I figured I really knew everything I needed to know about missing pilots and planes in the Pacific – with the obvious exception of the elusive Earhart – and my experiences with people who seek lost war planes didn’t lead me to expect Vanished to be either good history or good literature.
Then I pulled it up on my Kindle on a long plane trip, and boy, was I surprised!
The author of Vanished, Wil Hylton (http://www.wilshylton.com/), is an honest-to-god writer, who works for the New York Times Magazine and contributes to rags like Rolling Stone, Esquire, and Harper’s. He knows how to tell a story, and in Vanished he tells several, all neatly interwoven:
· The story of the aircrews who piloted B-24 Liberators into action over Yap and Palau in 1944, and in many cases went down with them;
· The story of their families, and the multi-generational anguish they’ve suffered by their men being missing in action, unaccounted for;
· The stories of some of the Palauans who lived through the war (and some who didn’t), who witnessed some of what happened to the Liberators and their crews, and who have helped solve the mysteries surrounding them (giving, I should note, quite appropriate credit to the Palau Historic Preservation Office);
· The story of the dedicated volunteers who’ve come to comprise the BentProp organization (http://www.bentprop.org/), a somewhat TIGHAR-like group that’s devoted to finding those MIA flyers and their aircraft, and bringing closure to their families;
· The story of the U.S. Department of Defense’s Joint MIA-POW Accounting Command (http://www.jpac.pacom.mil/), whose military and civilian (archaeologists, physical anthropologists) pursue a similar mission of broader scope with a lot more professional and bureaucratic constraints;
· The story of Japanese and Allied strategies in the Pacific war, and how they led to the events that befell those Liberator aircrews;
· And lots more, all skillfully recounted and interrelated, and grounded in excellent, well-referenced historical research. I learned a lot from Vanished, and was both entertained and inspired. It’s hard to ask for more.
And yes, Earhart puts in a cameo appearance, but Hylton, thank goodness, doesn’t pursue what happened to her.
Vanished: The Sixty-Year Search for the Missing Men of World War II. By Wil S. Hylton. Riverhead, 2013 (http://smile.amazon.com/gp/product/1594487278/ref=pe_397970_119294060_em_1p_0_ti).