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Blueink Review:

Fire From the Sky

Ron Greer and Mike Wicks
iUniverse, 272 pages, (paperback) $18.95, 9781475997132
(Reviewed: December, 2013)

A valuable contribution to the history of WWII, this in-depth memoir chronicles the air war over Japan. More than a narrative of one man’s harrowing experiences during his 28 bombing missions on a B29 Superfortress, it contains a wealth of essential information about the military operation that decimated Japan’s war arsenal and defenses.

Staff Sergeant Herbert Greer was a 23-year-old, newly married, “frightened boy” from a little town in the Pacific Northwest when he was stationed on Guam. His diary of his service as the radio operator on bombing flights is precisely detailed, also augmented and enriched by his recollections six decades later, as spoken to his son, Ron Greer. Co-author Mike Wicks shows a fine editorial hand in stitching those strands together to provide background to the wartime events that Greer witnessed.

Military buffs will be interested in the development of Boeing’s fabled aircraft, since its enhanced ability in range and bomb capacity made a crucial difference in the war’s course. Even general readers will be impressed by the levels of training the flight crew of the City of Monroe Superfortress maintained.

The crew endured 14-hour flights in excruciatingly tight quarters, often encountering severe weather fronts, before reaching their destination. Once they arrived, they were in extreme peril from flak, fighter and suicide planes, and firestorms that arose and engulfed the plane from the havoc they had created below. Greer recalls “the remarkable stench… the smell of burning flesh” that rose and permeated the plane after a bombing. Equally horrifying was the Japanese military’s practice of summarily beheading captured Allied soldiers, a fact that haunted airmen who faced the option of parachuting from a disabled aircraft.

Greer’s recollections and insights about the members of his squadron and their tight camaraderie add considerable dramatic suspense to this compelling narrative. The book will hold great appeal for WWII veterans and their descendants, as well as general readers with an interest in this fearsome war.

BlueInk Heads-Up: Those interested in military history of any epoch will also find much to intrigue them here, especially since the text includes black and white archival photos and a bibliography of 47 web sites.

Also available in hardcover and ebook.

Author’s Current Residence
Cabot, Arizona



Clarion Review:

Fire from the Sky: A Diary over Japan
Ron Greer
Mike Wicks
Four Stars (out of Five)
Combining journals and research, prewar voice and postwar voice, gives this ode to a father’s legacy a unique perspective.
Fire from the Sky: A Diary over Japan, by Ron Greer and Mike Wicks, is a multidimensional look at one man’s experiences as an aviator in the Pacific theater during World War II and its aftermath.
Greer tells the story of his father, Herb Greer, who was a staff sergeant in the US Army Air Corps. Herb was a B-29 radio operator stationed in Guam who flew on bombing missions over Japan. Greer uses letters from his father’s life, his father’s journals from 1945 (when he was twenty-three-years old), his own research, and professional writer Mike Wicks’s impartial eye to unify those elements. The result is a multifaceted look at the terrifying realities of war that Herb witnessed toward the end of World War II, bits of his life leading to up the war, and how his life was changed as a result.
The contrast between Herb’s two voices—his gung-ho voice as a young man and his clear, detailed, reflective voice as an older man—is engaging and gives the book a balanced perspective. The young voice is energetic, ready for action, and focused on the what and where
of mission details. The older voice is calm and takes a broader look at the context and consequences of each event.
The chapters discussing Herb’s early life and life after the war are appropriately short in order to keep the focus on the heart of the wartime action. The writing is clear and weaves in historical details well and sparingly—tying them to the events at hand without inserting an encyclopedic deluge of facts.
The approach to typography in the book is organized but feels a bit overcomplicated: there are individual type treatments for exposition from Ron Greer as well as Herb Greer’s journal, his letters, and his present-day thoughts. While the different fonts give the book a disjointed look, the transitions are smooth—evidence of Wicks’s keen supervision over the project.
The cover images are compelling and the layout appealing, but they transfer to the page poorly—even the type is grainy and pixelated. The interior photos give the book a warm, personal feel, but they too are often hard to read—even for old photos. The back cover includes three small photos but lacks a description of the book.
The brief references section is very helpful, especially for readers researching their own personal or family histories of the time. Fire from the Sky will appeal to anyone trying to make sense of, and give honor to, their families’ memories and legacies.

Melissa Wuske

Kirkus Review:

A personal recollection of the B-29 firebombing raids on Japanese cities at the end of World War II.

U.S. Army Air Corps. Staff Sgt. Herb Greer, a radio operator, was 23 when he flew his first bombing mission from Guam. He would fly 28 missions by the time the war ended in 1945. During the hugely long flights over the Pacific that sometimes took more than 10 hours, he scribbled notes to record his thoughts and reactions about what was happening. Wicks (The Promise Fulfilled, 2002) and Greer’s son Ron compiled these logs into this collection, and Greer adds his own recollections to amplify his terse comments of more than 60 years ago. The account provides a firsthand glimpse inside the soul and mind of a World War II soldier, and Greer’s lighthearted comments sometimes reveal his nervousness: “The briefing was important, as it allowed me to calculate just how many cigarettes I would need for the mission. This was definitely a two-pack or forty-cigarette mission!” But the book also serves as a wider social history, and he tells of his boyhood growing up in Washington state, helping his folks and working a variety of tough jobs, such as laboring on the Grand Coulee Dam, before he was called to war. As such, it’s a poignant reminder that millions of ordinary Americans went off to serve. The diary shows that Greer’s bomber outclassed even the Army’s best fighters, but he also includes plenty of hair-raising episodes of stuck bomb doors, flak damage and bouncing around in hideous weather. He chronicles Japan’s immense devastation in detail and notes that Japanese soldiers beheaded almost all the B-29 crewmen they captured. His comments provide human, moral reflections on the hundreds of thousands of civilians killed in the bombing raids and on the fates of the soldiers in the B-29 squadrons.

An eye-opening account of a little-discussed period of World War II.