By Leonard Herman with Rob Morris
Rarely does a living legend tell such a candid and fascinating tale. In his memoirs, ´Combat Bombardier: A Jewish Airman’s Two Tours of Duty in the Skies Over Europe in World War Two´ , 90-year-old Eighth and Ninth Air Force bombardier Leonard Herman tells the story of his experiences as one of the few surviving airmen of the first desperate months of the American bomber war.
Less than twenty percent of his fellows from the original 95th Bomb Group (H) survived their tours without death or imprisonment. Mr. Herman survived his initial twenty-five mission tour in 1943, flying many of the air war’s greatest missions, including Schweinfurt and Kiel. His pilot was killed and he himself wounded on a mission during his this tour. He is credited with shooting down two German fighters, and also with twice saving the lives of his crew, which earned him a nomination for the Medal of Honor.
After his return to a hero’s welcome in the States, Mr. Herman completed a War Bond Tour, trained fliers preparing to go overseas, and then returned to Europe himself, where he flew missions in B-26s and A-26s in support of Allied ground forces with the Bridge Busters. In addition to this second flight tour, Mr. Herman also found himself on the ground with the infantry in Germany near the end of the war, where he liberated a castle and guarded 3,000 German prisoners. At the war’s end, he was instrumental in changing U.S. policy towards liberated concentration camp survivors. He ended the war as one of the Air Corps’ most highly decorated airmen.
Historical figures grace its pages. Mr. Herman knew many of the key figures in the early air war, such as Curtis LeMay and Nathan Bedford Forrest. His tail gunner, William Crossley, was the top gunner ace in Europe in World War Two. He served as the unofficial collector of stories for the 95th Bomb Group and the stories eventually became B-17s Over Berlin, edited by Ian Hawkins and considered one of the finest oral histories of the air war.
Mr. Herman’s friend, historian Rob Morris, has written an introduction which sets the tone and serves as a biographical sketch of Mr. Herman. The remainder of the book is in Mr. Herman’s words, with Morris’s comments interspersed only to explicate passages. A fluid and interesting story-teller, Mr. Herman’s narrative is honest, unflinching, at times profane, but always enlightening and entertaining, and more than occasionally hilarious. Mr. Herman also carried a camera on missions and has some excellent and terrifying shots of air combat.
The book’s fast-paced, easy-to-read style is the result of countless interviews and taped recollections that will appeal to experts and casual readers. It is a very human story that will add to the existing scholarship on the WWII air war and increase understanding of the men who fought in it.
Mr. Herman´s book contains graphic language, some adult situations, and, as it is a war memoir, violence. It is not suitable for children.