Tell about yourself and how you got interested
My father trained as a Marine Corps aviator in WWII
so I was naturally interested in the subject. As a child on the family
ranch in Oregon I was always aware of aircraft: crop sprayers, private
planes, and especially B-36s on low-level routes out of Fairchild AFB
at Spokane, Washington. My dad even talked to the pilot who reported
the first UFOs on the day of the sightings! We also maintained a private
airstrip for "crop dusters." I spent a lot of time there.
My early reading included Samuel Eliot Morison and Edward P. Stafford
("The Big "); those were important influences.
about your focus on WWII USN aircraft
Because of my father's background, I gravitated toward
naval aviation. When I finished college in 1971 (about the time we were
restoring the world's only flyable Dauntless) I realized that there
was a serious shortage of authoritative books on tail hook airplanes.
Consequently, I was able to focus on that market.
Mention about your research processes for
I don't attend many reunions anymore--mainly
Tailhook--but previously I did a lot of traveling. I got to know a pretty
wide selection of naval aviators from WWII onward, and it became a small
community of sorts. Naturally, I worked in the archives as well, mainly
at the Naval History Center in Washington, DC. Dr. Dean Allard who ran
the operational archives in the 1970s was especially helpful. The most
fun research, of course, is flying. Besides the Dauntless (A-24) we
flew an N3N trainer for about 20 years. It's very helpful to have some
flight time in the birds I write about, and I've been fortunate to get
rides in several helicopters (I can almost hover a Huey), A-6s, and
an F-15. I have one "trap" on the Independence, riding a C-2
Thus far I've had 31 titles published, including a
couple of monographs and 6 works of fiction. Undoubtedly the most important
Yankee Station with my friend John Nichols, a high-time
Crusader pilot and MiG killer. It was a critical appraisal of naval
aviation over Vietnam, and it was adopted by the Air Force and Marine
Corps for professional reading but not the navy--go figure! After Desert
Storm we learned that at least one air wing took some copies to the
"sandbox" as a reality check on tactics. That was very gratifying.
Have you ever traveled to the Pacific, Guadalcanal, etc?
I'd love to visit the Solomons but have only been to
the Philippines for a ship reunion in 1977. It was interesting to transit
San Bernardino Strait at night, as Kurita did.
Tell a little about your new book
& Beyond" was a challenging, rewarding project. It would've
been easy to rewrite the 100-odd citations and fill in some background
but I knew going in that much of the official record contains errors.
In fact, some MoH citations are as much wrong as right. John Nichols
was the only US witness to LCDR Mike Estocin's action, and it took decades
to correct the record--Estocin died; he did not "exit the area!".
The Pacific provided more than a dozen air MoHs, including of course BGEN Walker. His son Doug
was very helpful, as were some other relatives including kin of Luke,
Pease, Vance, and Knight. Squadronmates of others were likewise supportive,
so I feel that the book contains a solid balance. Some of the errors
and political aspects that I describe may upset a few readers, but I
feel that it's important to set the record straight while it's still
What are your feelings on the preservations of relics?
The US military is badly in need of a uniform policy on wreck recovery.
Currently, the Air Force is extremely supportive, witness recovery of
the Greenland P-38s and B-17. The US Navy, however, claims that it still
owns everything it ever owned even if the plane or ship has been stricken,
burned, bulldozed, and dropped in the ocean. It's absurd. Many, many
historic aircraft are rotting because the navy bureaucracy will not
allow civilians to recover those items without specific permission--even
if the navy has no such intention and if salvor wants to trade the item
to the Naval Aviation Museum!
What is your hope for the next years of WWII
I've learned that we cannot assume anything. If you
know a veteran of any era, and he's willing to talk, Do It Now! Most
won't take time themselves to write or record anything but many will
do so if you make it easy for them and provide the means. You just need
to be objective -- I've known a lot of vets (including a few famous
ones) whose memories are faulty after so long, or because they've "improved"
their stories over the years. But let 'em talk, then sort out what they
say in context of the record and--this is important--what other vets
say as well. Eventually you can
sort things out.
Any future projects are on the horizon for
My current book is one in a series, "The Alpha
Male's Guide to the US Air Force." It's from the folks who publish
History For Dummies, and I'm enjoying the change of pace. Already I
hear from readers who say, "Oh no! TILLMAN writing about the blue
suiters? Man bites dog!"
Whirlwind starts with a Doolittle Raid prologue and continues through VJ Day--limited ops over Japan itself. There's a short segment on the Aleutians to Kuriles ops 1943-45. I've tried finding somebody to do some research in the National Archives about JCS targeting and tasking (division between AAF and USN) but haven't turned up anyone yet. Any suggestions welcomed! To be published by Simon & Schuster in 2009-10.
Thank you Mr. Tillman for the interview!
Read reviews of Barret Tillman's
books, and link to link to ordering information.
Also, visit his personal webpage at: btillman.com