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Gene Eric Salecker
Author Interview

Tell a little about yourself
Gene Eric SaleckerI was born in Chicago and spend the first 18 years of my life there. I eventually moved to rural Mendota, Illinois and spent the next five years working as a draftsman and going to school. When I finally graduated from the community college, I moved back up to the Chicago area to further my education and eventually got my Bachelors Degree from Northeastern Illinois
University. I worked at the university library for two and a half years before becoming a university police officer at Northeastern. I have been a police officer for the last nineteen years. I married my wife, Susan, in August of 1999 and we have no children.


What got you interested in WWII history?
I got interested in WWII Pacific as a kid. I grew up in a German neighborhood in Chicago and instead of re-fighting the "Germans" in WWII, we always fought the "Japanese." As I grew older, I began to read more and more about the Pacific campaigns and realized that there was a lot more to it than what I was hearing in school. I had a couple of good friends whose fathers were in the Army in the Pacific. Unfortunately, everybody thinks of the Pacific as being a war fought by the Navy and the Marines. Everybody forgets about the huge and vital contributions of the Army and Air Force.

Did veteran relatives play a part in your interest?
No. My father was born in 1930 and was too young to fight in WW II. His older brother was diabetic so he did not fight either. The only WW II connection that I got is through a great-uncle. He was a genius and was recruited to work with the War Department deciphering German codes.

Why did you write Fortress Against the Sun?
Read ReviewI have always been interested in the B-17 Flying Fortress. I think it is one of the prettiest planes ever built, if not THE prettiest. And, of course, it is one of the toughest birds! I am a big reader and have always collected and read books on the B-17. Unfortunately, I noticed that there was never any in depth coverage of the role of the B-17 in the Pacific. It was mentioned here or there and then right away the book went on to cover the 8th Air Force in England. (You also never find much on the Mediterranean B-17s.) I knew that the B-17 was used extensively in the Pacific, from the first day at Pearl Harbor to the surrender of Japan, yet it was very hard for me to find much on the subject. So, since I had a number of books with a bit of information here and a bit of information there, and since I had a number of magazine articles about Pacific B-17s, I decided to to some heavy research and contact a few veterans and write a book myself!

My first approach was to try and contact the Pacific B-17 veterans. I ran small advertisements in the numerous Pacific Bomb Group and Bomb Squadron newsletters. A number of veterans saw my ad and wrote me right away. In turn, they contacted some of their friends and told them to write to me also. Believe me, Fortress Against the Sun could not have been written without the overwhelming help of the veterans. They all gave me such great stories, and some wonderful never-before-published photographs. I really owe them a lot. My main research took place at the Air Force Historical Research Agency at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama. I took two trips down there and spent one week each time. I must have spent $50.00 on a five cent photocopy machine each time I went! I wanted to collect and cover everything, from day-to-day combat reports, to reports on the highly-corrosive Dutch East Indies fuel that the planes were forced to use in early 1942! It was cheaper to copy everything and sort it out at home than to take another trip to Maxwell just because I passed something over!

Share a little bit about your research process for the book
I did speak to a number of veterans on the telephone and record their stories. I did not attend any of the Fifth Air Force reunions since most of the men are B-24 and B-25 veterans. As some of the Pacific B-17 vets say, "There are very few of us left anymore." You have to remember that the Pacific B-17s were mostly used during the first two years of the war before they were phased out in favor of the longer range B-24s and later, the B-29s. Most of the Pacific B-17 vets were already in their early or mid-twenties when the war broke out. Most of them had been in the service for a couple of years already. By the time the war ended, the Pacific B-17 vets were "the old guys." And, unfortunately, very few of them are around today.

What attracts you to the B-17 in particular, how Pacific B-17 stories are largely forgotten in the shadow of ETO?
However, I must admit that as my writing progressed, I became more and more fascinated with the B-17C and D models. I had always liked the B-17E and F (I hate the ugly chin turret of the B-17G!) but my admiration seemed to grow when I saw what the early B-17Cs and Ds did in the Philippines and Java. They had no tail guns and the rough little belly bathtub gun, and yet, very few of the planes were actually shot down during aerial combat. The Japanese quickly learned that the best way to destroy a B-17 is to catch it on the ground, before it ever has a chance to take off!

It has always disturbed me that the Pacific B-17s got such little publicity. If you read through my book you will see numerous instances of heroism. Yet, only three B-17 crewmen from the Pacific won the Medal of Honor. Those men faced an enemy that was arguably more tenacious and ruthless than their brethren in the 8th Air Force, yet the Pacific B-17 men got very little press and only a handful of noticable awards.

People fail to realize what a bad situation we were in immediately after Pearl Harbor and the Japanese attack on the Philippines. With the loss most of our battleships at Pearl Harbor, we had only two major offensive weapons to try and stem the Japanese tide in the Pacific: the submarine and the B-17 bomber. And, although, in reality, it must be pointed out that the B-17 failed miserably in high altitude bombing against the Japanese, the planes and her crews kept pecking at the Japanese and making life uncomfortable for them as they slowly expanded their territorial gains.

People should remember that it was the Pacific B-17s that rescued MacArthur and President Quezon from the Philippines. It was the Pacific B-17s that flew the first successful skip-bombing missions for the United States. And, it was the Pacific B-17s that helped stop the Japanese at Midway, Coral Sea, Bismarck Sea, and dozens of other places when America had almost nothing else to throw into the fight. While the role of the Pacific B-17s in these naval battles was not highly effective or significant, they none-the-less were there and the veterans who flew those planes should never be forgotten!

Any reader who reads my book will undoubtedly be surprised to find out just how much of a role the B-17 had in the Pacific. When I started my research I knew that the B-17 was used quite extensively between 1941 and mid-1943. However, once I really began to gather information and look into everything, even I was amazed at how extensive the use of the B-17 had been! From 1941 through mid-1943 the B-17 was used in every major conflict between the Japanese and the United States. The B-17 was instrumental in wrecking Japanese attempts to reinforce New Guinea and to capture Port Moresby, and sank dozens and dozens of ships in Rabaul Harbor.

At the same time, the crews of the Pacific B-17s were discovering the strengths and the weaknesses of their planes, which were then incorporated in the thousands of B-17s that eventually flew over Europe. The Pacific B-17s were the "trial and error" planes for the Mighty Eighth! And, through the numerous letters, interviews, and reminiscences provided by the Pacific B-17 veterans, I hope that Fortress Aginst the Sun gives a reader a more fuller understanding of the important role of the B-17 Flying Fortress in the Pacific in World War

Share about your next book project
I am currently working on a book about Army tank battalions in the Pacific. Again, here is a little known subject of the Pacific War. While most everyone has herd about the massive use of armor by Generals Rommel and Patton in Europe and North Africa, very few people have ever heard about the use of Army tanks in the Pacific. When you mention Pacific tanks, most people look at you as though you are crazy. "Weren't most of the battles fought in the jungle?

How can you get a tank into the jugle?" Well, you'd be surprised. Again, the Army tank battalions were there from the beginning: from Clark Field in the Philippines to the last battle at Okinawa, and almost every land battle in between. Wherever the Army infantry went, the Army tank battalions were right beside them. (And in some case out in front of them!)

I am about half way done with my book but I would still be interested in hearing from any veteran of a Pacific tank battalion. Like my B-17 book, I want to tell the story of the Army tanks from the view of the tank crews. I can gather all kinds of information from the National Archives, but that is
only the skeleton. It is the words of the veterans that puts the muscle and the skin on top of that!

Is there anything PWD can help you with locating veterans?
I would be hoping that a number of veterans and/or their loved ones are tuned in to PWD. If so, I would appreciate it if any Pacific Army tankers would contact me. And, while I am at it, I have plans in the future to write a book about Pacific parachute drops (both US and Japanese), and about the West Loch Explosion at Pearl Harbor in May 1944, and even about Typhoon Louise that hit Okinawa in October 1945.

What has captivated you about army tanks in the Pacific?
I think the thing that captivates me about the Pacifc Army tanks is the fact that they were everywhere and yet very few people now about them. Like the Marine Corps tankers, the Army tankers had to fight in extreme conditions (buttoned up inside a tank in 100-degree temperatures) and go up against a tenacious enemy that was willing to become a suicide bomber to try and disable one of these fighting vehicles. As for highlights, I am simply captivated by the actions of the 192nd and 194th Tank Battalions in the Philippines in 1941-42. Those men went into the war with very little training (being National Guardsmen) and with brand new tanks. They literally had to go through "on the job training." Yet, while the Philippine army was falling apart, (except for the excellent Philippine Scouts) the tankers from the 192nd and 194th TBs were called on more and more to plug a hole or hold a line until a new defensive position could be formed. I suppose the fact that I grew up in northwest Chicago, not far from the suburb of Maywood, Illinois, where Company B, 192nd TB, came from plays a little bit in my bias for these two battalions. As a kid I remember climbing on the Stuart M-3 tank parked in the memorial park. Now, of course, it is a
more reverent place for me.

Any other forthcoming or future projects in the works?
I guess I answered this question above. If I ever find the time, I would like to turn out a book on Pacific parachute jumps, on the explosion of the ammunition ships in the West Loch at Pearl Harbor in May 1944, and on Typhoon Louise that his Okinawa in October 1945. All of these events have been passed over in the history books and I feel that the world has a right to know about each one. And, if we don't talk to the veterans now, and get their words down on paper or on a recorder, they will soon be lost forever. Our World War II veterans are not getting any younger! I would just like to add that Fortress Against the Sun is actually my second book. My first book was entitled Disaster on the Mississippi :The Sultana Explosion, April 27, 1865 Again, this book dealt with a little known incident in history that I felt deserves a better fate than to be lost forever.

Thank you for the interview Mr. Salecker
Read review of Fortress Against The Sun

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