Fighting the Night; Dive Bomber Down

Being there . . . . to vicariously relive the autobiographical combat experiences of TWO, not one,
TWO, combat pilots who survived the Pacific War, especially after early 1944 when the scales of
bloodshed and victories tipped fully against Japan. Watch and live through the air battles over
the Pacific Ocean seas, even if you hadn’t acted or performed on behalf the USAAF in any
fighting part of America’s response to the severe blow to her naval power at 7:45am on the
morning of 7 December 1941. When entering each of the two aviators’ active duty lives, one
flying either a SBD Dauntless dive-bomber, F6F Hellcat, and F4U Corsair pilot, the other a night
fighter piloting the newly arrived, almost-mythic, P-61 Black Widow, note the somber, no
nonsense smiles on their faces. They, too, along with countless other Allied troops edging
toward the outskirts of the increasingly frantic Japanese Empire stampeding to defend the five
principal Home Islands against the inevitable American invasion, are unaware of the terrible
atomic weapon yet to be used against them, a weapon that surely will end the war for the
United States. Sadly, after the first months of 1944, and some spectacular wins, we thought the
taking of Tokyo would be easy and simple. However, the island to island hopping with all its
hard killing resulted in our own inordinately high American dead and wounded casualties
proving everyone wrong. Two and a half million Japanese troops were killed between the
Spring of 1942 and 2 September 1945 when the Allies and Japan signed the surrender
agreement aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay. Sure, America won the Pacific War, but lost
300,000 dead in the process.
WHEN ORDINARY G.I. JOES, AVIATORS, SAILORS, OR OTHER ENLISTED PERSONNEL WERE
NEEDED TO STAND UP AND BE COUNTED AS FUTURE WAR HEROES AFTER 11:00AM ON 7
DECEMBER 1941 WHILE THE LAST GRINNING JAPANESE “KATE” TORPEDO BOMBER AIRCREWS
DEPARTED PEARL HARBOR, NOW THAT THE CHIPS WERE DOWN, TO ASSIST IN THE FUTURE AIR
BATTLES OVER DEATH-DEMANDING INFERNOS CAUSED BY INTENSE FIERY ISLAND BY ISLAND
FIGHTING – – i. e., PILOTS NEEDED TO TURN THE TIDE, TO FLY LOW STRAFING, PUNISHING,
SHELLING, OR BOMBING PROTECTING OUR USMC MARINES AS THEY CRAWLED FORWARD
UNDER INTENSE HEAVY MACHINEGUN FIRE OR DODGING THROWN GRENADES. OUR NAVY
HAD HEROES GALORE, i.e, THE “GOBS” ABOARD THE “BIG E”, THE USS ENTERPRISE, THE WAR’S
MOST DECORATED SHIP; THE MARINES, AFTER SIX MONTHS OF SAVAGE JUNGLE WARFARE,
LOSING 1,500 MEN, NOW OWNED GUADALCANAL; THE AIR CORPS HAD MAJOR RICHARD IRA
BONG WHO FOUND MORE SERIOUS TARGETS IN THE SOUTH PACIFIC AFTER CAUSING A
SENSATION, AND HUGE MILITARY EMBARRASSMENT, BY FLYING LOOP-THE-LOOPS AROUND
THE GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE; JOE FOSS WHO SHOT DOWN 26 JAPANESE PLANES OVER
GUADALCANAL (1943), FIVE IN ONE MORNING; JIMMY DOOLITTLE (1942); AND PAPPY
BOYINGTON (1943). THERE WERE SO, SO MANY OTHERS, AMERICANS WHO HAPPIDLY STIRRED
THE WORLD WITH THEIR EXPLOITS OF COURAGE – – THEIR COMMON THREAD BEING AN
APPARENT DISDAIN FOR DANGER AND A TASTE FOR DEADLY ACTION. NOW, TWO NEW BOOKS,
LESS THAN 70 DAYS OLD, HAVE ARRIVED OF TWO ADDITIONAL YOUNG, BRAVE AMERICAN
BOYS, NEITHER AS INSPIRING OR FAMOUS, BUT CERTAINLY EQUALLY BRAVE AND
COURAGEROUS, NAVAL AVIATOR JAMES A. NIST AND NIGHT FIGHTER PILOT, JOE PAUL
HENDRICKSON . . .

Reviewed and highly recommended by Don DeNevi
“DIVE BOMBER DOWN – – James A. Nist, Naval Aviator in the Pacific War”, by Bryan J. Dickerson.
McFarland & Company, Inc. Publishers: 2024, 248 pages, 7” x 10”, fully photo illustrated,
$39.95. Visit, www.mcfarlandpub.com;
“FIGHTING THE NIGHT – – Iwo Jima, World War II, and A Flyer’s Life”, by Paul Hendrickson (JOE
PAUL’S SON). Alfred A. Knopf, Publisher,A Borzoi Book: 2024, 305 pagers, 6 ¾”x 9 ½”, with 30
photographs, $32.

Such a sad story of an All-American Boy, the type everyone admired and liked. Wholesome, a
scholar and athlete, a resolute patriot of the highest order, like his parents and grandparents,
he was a perfect model for all the younger boys in America. He lived only 24 years, giving his life
in his final mission as a naval aviator while conducting a dive-bombing attack on an airfield on
the Japanese island of Kikai in the Amami Shunto group of islands off southeast Japan in the
Okinawa area. Near perfect antiaircraft fire, some of which hit him in the face, brought Jimmy
down. What follows in this gem of a combined biography-autobiography of his years of
extraordinary life begins with his elementary and secondary school years before entering
Rutgers University, enrolling in the Civilian Pilot Training Program during his junior year. Being
successful in his classroom training was a breeze for such an exemplary student, allowing him to
begin flight training in early March of 1941 at Hadley Field in New Brunswick. World War II was
less than 10 months away. Unknowingly, he was preparing to join the Navy as an aviation
cadet, earning his wings and an officer’s commission in the Naval Reserve.
James became proficient in three of the Navy’s high performance combat aircraft: the SBD
Dauntless dive-bomber, the F6F Hellcat fighter and the F4U Corsair fighter. In 1945, he
deployed to the Pacific aboard the carrier USS Bunker Hill and flew combat over Japan, Iwo Jima
and Okinawa. Nist’s letters and personal papers as well as official Navy documents allowed
historian Bryan J. Dickerson to tell the story of his great-uncle’s life and service during WWII.
In Paul Hendrickson’s “Fighting the Night”, a son tells the story of his father’s experiences as
a combat pilot AFTER our Marines took the Iwo Jima Island. In short, Paul narrates with unusual
intimacy about why and how dad arrived on Iwo and what he did there. For the final five and a
half months of World War II, Joe Paul flew some 75 missions, almost all in midnight conditions.
Dad, Joe Paul, the son of a dirt-poor sharecropper, had just graduated from high school in 1937
when he enlisted in mechanic school in the peace-time Army Air Corps. He was certainly able to
qualify for flight school. When World War II broke out, he and his newly married bride
crisscrossed America, driving from airfield to airfield, base to base, ranging from Orlando and
Kissimmee to Fresno and Bakersfield. HE ALWAYS VOLUNTEERED FOR NIGHT FIGHTERS AND TO
PILOT THE NEWLY ARRIVED BLABK WIDOW. This last point is critical to the biographical-
autobiography since so little literature had ever appeared in print, until lately, on the P-61 and
P-61B Black Widow.

Son, Paul Hendrickson, carefully allows us to follow his parents journey, together and apart,
stateside and overseas. He creates a sharp, vivid portrait of both dad and mom, wonderful
Americans, and, especially father, who he now realizes how much of a heroic figure he really
was, not only in the war against the Japanese, but also as a dad. The book jacket calls it right:
“Fighting the Night” is an intense and powerful, NAY, energetic, story of raw, unadulterated
patriotism, aerial combat deaths, and love of family, loss, and forgiveness. Above all, it is a
tribute to those who were unexpectedly plunged into service in the best years of their lives, and
the sacrifices they and their loved ones made – then and after.”
“I wasn’t afraid”, said Gregory “Pappy” Boyington, leader of the notorious Black Sheep
Squadron, who personally shot down 28 Japanese planes until he himself was shot down and
taken captive, then survived to come home. “When you’re scared to death and you go ahead
and do what you’re supposed to do anyway – – now, that’s an act of bravery.”
Dexter Filkins, author of “The Forever War”, writes, “‘Fighting the Night’ is a heroic act in itself
of reporting, which doubles as a son’s fitting tribute to his dad.”

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