by Max Ferguson
Self Published 1991
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|Bats Outa Hell Over Biak
Every so often in the Military Book market you have the pleasant surprise of stumbling across a little gem that wanders in from under the radar - a book that you won't find conveniently displayed at your local Barnes & Noble or even in your usual catalogues of major Military Book Publishers.
Such is the case with Max Ferguson's slim 151 pg self-published memoir "Bats 0uta Hell", an account that covers (perhaps a bit disappointingly) just a slice of Mr. Ferguson's colorful experiences as a Captain serving in the communications section of the 499th Bomber Squadron of the 345th Bomber Group in the SW Pacific during WWII. Perhaps that's what makes his account all the more unique - most of his story focuses on the short stint at Biak, a barren Japanese infested Island at the westernmost reaches of New Guinea that served as the Fifth Air Force’s launch pad into the Philippines in the second part of 1944.
First hand accounts of history by the people who experienced it makes, at least by my measure, for the most valuable reading. Max Ferguson's account has the added benefit of being told by a man who is a natural story-teller. While he may not be the next John Steinbeck, Ferguson tells his story in a compelling, straightforward style with an eye for detail and a flair for humor. Along with his own experiences he spices up the narrative with riveting accounts by the colorful cast of friends and acquaintances he served with (some who are killed within the course of the book, always reminding the reader that for all the rough G.I. b.s., humor and practical jokes the war continued to exact it's terrible price), letters to his wife, and the joys of hard living in the SW Pacific during WWII.
The narrative runs from the grim to the hilarious and paints a pretty clear picture of how these guys walked, talked, ate, drank, pissed and used the "deepest damn sh*thouse in the world". While many universal human truths never change the WWII generation was a different era and guys didn't sit around holding hands and chatting about their deepest inner feelings unabashedly like their touchy-feely facsimiles we see so often portrayed in movies today. Then again they weren't the granite faced blowhards we typically associate with John Wayne. They were simply young men trying to make the best of a bad situation.
I couldn't help walking away from this book thinking I'd just gotten a clear and unforgettable look into the war and an invaluable insight as to what it was really like. I’d highly recommend this book and it will make an invaluable addition to any library.
Review by Robert Stava
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May 3, 2016