October 6, 1944. Twenty-year-old Army Air Corps Second Lieutenant David “Mac” Warren MacArthur was on a strafing mission over Greece when a round of 88-mm German anti-aircraft flak turned his P-38 Lightning into a comet of fire and smoke. Dave parachuted to safety as the Lightning lived up to her name and struck the Adriatic Sea like a bolt of flames. In minutes, he was plucked from the water—only to find himself on the wrong end of a German rifle pointing straight at his head.
Dave’s father, Lieutenant Colonel Vaughn MacArthur, was a chaplain with the 8th Armored Division of Patton’s Third Army when he learned of his son’s capture. He made it his personal mission to find him. For the duration of the war, as Dave was shuttled from camp to camp—including Dachau—his father never stopped searching. Then in May 1945, Vaughn’s last hope was Stalag VII-A in Moosburg, Germany. Through the barbed wire fence, he cried out his son’s name. Incredibly, out of tens of thousands of POWs, one of them, squinting into the sunlight, turned and smiled.
Father and son spent the next two weeks together celebrating, a forever cherished memory. Over the next twenty-five years, Dave would go on to honor his father on rescue missions of his own, becoming a highly decorated and genuine American war hero. In both Korea and Vietnam, Dave would carry with him the legacy of a great man who gave everything to save his son.
An inspiring, harrowing, and unforgettable chronicle of love of family and love of country, Lightning Sky is a timeless testament to extraordinary lives in extraordinary times.
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Five years after the end of WWII The night of April 21, 1951, near Hwach'on Reservoir, Fifty miles northeast of Seoul, South Korea
For the first time in his military career, Dave slept with his boots tightly laced.
It was approaching 11:00 P.M., and throngs of Chinese soldiers stirred in the hills. The full moon painted the Korean landscape with a ghostly glow — ideal conditions for a surprise enemy attack.
The small village of Wontong-ni veined between two towering hills. Dave would be an easy target for snipers. Rumor was the Communists were gearing up for a full-scale counteroffensive in their quest to besiege Seoul.
Ten months earlier, on June 25, 1950, the North Koreans had invaded their southern neighbors, instigating a war that would endure for three years. The United States and their United Nations allies entered the conflict to push back the enemy and rescue the non-Communist Far East outpost.
Most assumed the war would resolve quickly. But as the Cold War grew hotter, and the winter of 1951 thawed into spring, that dream dematerialized. President Truman had promised his troops that they'd be home by Christmas, but more than four months later the conflict still raged.
If the twentieth century had known a Third World War, the conflict would have come closest to igniting in April 1951 when China, backed by the nuclear-capable Soviet Union, launched the single greatest Communist assault in the Korean War. Three years earlier, the Soviets had successfully detonated their first atomic bomb, code-named "First Lightning." As a quarter of a million Chinese soldiers spilled into the Korean peninsula, which jutted out of China like an appendix ready to rupture, and as Soviet-built MiGs threatened U.N. air superiority, talk filtered positively up the U.S. chain of command about dropping thirty to fifty atomic warheads already being stockpiled at the Kadena Air Base in Okinawa. A yes from President Truman, who had already threatened their use, would launch the War Emergency Plan. Then, dozens of atom-splitters like Little Boy and Fat Man would transform the neck of Manchuria into a horizon of mushroom clouds.
Standing in the Communists' way was a long line of allied forces spackled thinly across the 190-mile-wide Korean Peninsula. The goal now was to drive the enemy back above the 38th Parallel.
Years later, the Korean conflict would be called the "Forgotten War," but to those fighting for a free-world democracy, the stench of corpses and the loss of brothers in arms would linger forever. By the end of April, a beleaguered but determined Western Force inched its fingers through the rugged ridges.
First Lieutenant David W. MacArthur was on the front lines of this coalition.
Standing six feet tall, and weighing 160 pounds, Dave sheathed a mop of flaming-red hair inside his helmet. He had ice-blue eyes and a mouth quicker than a trigger. The ruddy New Englander had earned his pilot's wings as a teenager seven years earlier in Texas. He was now assigned to a position no pilot wanted: to serve on the ground as a Forward Air Controller with the Fifth Republic of Korea (ROK) Regiment, Seventh ROK Division.
After flying thirty-eight close air support missions with the Eighteenth Fighter-Bomber Group, the twenty-six-year-old relinquished his F-51 Mustang to march afoot with the 6164th Tactical Control Squadron, a ground-to-air communication branch of the 502nd Tactical Control Group. His equipment amounted to little more than a jeep, an interpreter, and a few enlisted men who knew how to operate the complicated cache of radio equipment.
The transfer was "the most dangerous job of the Korean War," according to one report, and could steal the wind from any pilot's wings. To be attached to an American division was perilous enough, but when tagged to a South Korean division, as Dave was, the appointment was tantamount to a suicide mission.
The United States established the Korean Military Advisory Group (KMAG) to offer allied leadership to the battle-green Koreans. In April 1951, 923 military advisors were sprinkled among the Korean ranks. Dave soon realized a better acronym, one unofficially coined by U.S. troops: Kiss My Ass Good-bye.
Most of the Koreans had worked as agrarians before the war, and didn't speak a word of English. Interpreters accompanied the KMAGs, but the Korean language itself lacked military jargon. Words like "machine gun" or "headlight," which had no Korean counterparts, had to be painstakingly described by interpreters as "the gun-that-shoots-very-fast" or "the candle-in-the-shiny-bowl." When interpreters were killed in combat, as they often were, KMAGs found themselves facing the enemy alone while the frightened ROKs fled for their lives.
Unable to fly, Forward Air Controllers faced a daunting task: to spot enemy movements on the front lines and help direct T-6 Mosquito air strikes against their targets. Dave had no infantry experience. Even the .45 pistol on his hip had been issued by the Air Force, not by the Army. It was the sort of mission that turned mild-mannered men into tigers and trigger-happy heroes into cowards. The risk of capture was high and the risk of friendly fire from the sky even higher.
Overnight, Dave was summoned out of the clouds. Even though most of his wingmen had been shot down, including his best friend, whom he had recently buried, trudging through unfamiliar mud with infantries would be no picnic. Flyboys thrived on speed, and pilots are never at home in the hills. At this stage of the war, however, the Fifth Air Force needed a few experienced aviators to delay their rotation schedule and even jeopardize their Air Force careers entirely. Without logging combat hours in the air, promotion wasn't possible. Nevertheless, Dave did his damnedest to make the best out of a bad situation. He accepted the transfer, trusting that nothing would be more deadly than an airman unafraid to put his boots on the ground.
One hour before midnight, a burst of gunfire jolted Dave from his sleep. He tumbled out of his sack and planted his boots on the floor. They were already laced, which had bought him a few precious lifesaving seconds. He snatched his belt, cocked his .45, and rushed out into the moonlight.
On any other night, he might have relished the pleasant ambiance. But as he filled his lungs with warm Korean air, his ears were bruised by the sound of bugles, whistles, drums, and shrieks. It was the sound of the enemy, and they were advancing. The cacophony spilled into the village of Wontong-ni. It was a nightmarish noise — a war technique trademarked by Chinese soldiers to psychologically disarm the enemy before an attack.
It worked. The Fifth ROK Regiment began to disintegrate as hordes of Chinese rushed madly in their direction. The allies were under heavy attack. And there were so many of them, hundreds, maybe even thousands — a sea of helmets flowing over the ridge.
So far in his stint as a Forward Air Controller, Dave had spent the first few weeks of April wiping out isolated Chinese units on a northern march. After a brief respite at Hyon-ri, he pressed north of Line Kansas, which lay beyond the 38th Parallel, southeast of the Iron Triangle. To Dave's southwest was the Hwach'on Reservoir. The villages surrounding the large body of water and its 256-foot-tall dam had been taken by allied forces, but some doubted that the thinly spread Sixth ROK Division could ward off an attack.
On the day before, April 20, he had noticed increased enemy activity in the northern hills along the Soyang River, when the sound of occasional rifle fire was eclipsed by the thunder of heavy artillery. Even so, Dave had coordinated eleven successful air strikes. Under his guidance, some fifty planes deposited their bombs and missiles in concentrated areas of opposition, shocking and demoralizing the enemy.
As day turned to dusk, Dave contacted a nearby relay plane to request air reconnaissance of the area. The news was sobering. Three Chinese divisions were moving toward his position, and they were carrying a mountain of artillery. How many soldiers? The pilot could only guess.
On the night of April 21, as the human tsunami crashed over the area, Dave found himself in the path of the greatest enemy assault in the Korean War. Approximately seven hundred thousand Communist soldiers, spread out among seventy divisions, rushed south to reclaim the capital.
The first thrust of the Chinese Fifth Phase Offensive had begun.
For the allies, the silver lining came always from the clouds. First came the whir of the wings, then the snarl of the engine, and suddenly an outfit of Reds discovered the horror of one thousand degrees Fahrenheit, nearly five times the boiling point of water. When dropped into valleys or spilled over ridges, the dreaded napalm, a jelly gasoline cocktail invented in a secret Harvard laboratory in 1942, could lick the bones of a hundred bodies and leave a cemetery of corpses frozen in white-hot hell.
The Chinese Red Army, though vastly more numerous, could not initially square up with the Far East Air Force, which sired a stable of jet-powered thoroughbreds. The Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star with its trailing mane of thin, black smoke. The mach-capable Republic F-84 Thunderjet. The elegant North American F-86 Sabre. Then there was the Boeing B-29, the mother of all bombers. When pregnant with a 12,000-pound Tarzon bomb, the Superfortress could birth catastrophe on bridges, supply dumps, and hydroelectricity facilities. The veteran B-29 had ended a war once, and given the green light, she could do it again.
In the meantime, the bulk of the attack against the Chinese came from an unlikely aircraft — the North American T-6 Mosquito. She was a single-engine trainer who, like Dave, acquired her wings in Texas. Neither of them, the man nor the machine, had any business leading a frontal assault in Korea.
With a maximum speed of only 210 miles per hour, the Mosquito was much slower than her fuel-thirsty colleagues. She lacked the innovative fuselages of the dual-piloted F-82 Twin Mustang. Her wings couldn't fold conveniently like those of the Vought F4U Corsair. Inverted flying was better suited for midwing fighters. If the Mosquito remained upside down too long, her belly would naturally topple back over like a toddler with a head too big for its body.
The Mosquito descended from a long line of training aircraft, beginning in 1935 with the NA-16 prototype. In World War II, she had graduated to the status of an "advanced" trainer, but most pilots moved quickly through her to mount loftier cockpits. To face off with a Soviet supersonic would spell trouble for the Mosquito. To take on an enemy MiG was a joke.
MiG Alley, that great sanctuary in the sky between the Yalu River and the Yellow Sea, belonged to better, faster warbirds with swept-back wings and thousands of pounds of thrust. With her meager six-hundred-horsepower engine, the "seeing-eye dog" struggled to find her howl beneath the jetted stratosphere.
But she did possess one advantage — the Mosquito could take a punch.
Behind her stubborn chin was a hardy fuselage capable of enduring substantial punishment from flak-heavy ground forces. Whereas jets were blinded by their speed, the Mosquito cruised at a comfortable 145 miles per hour, slow enough and low enough to look the enemy in the eyes. She could loiter at her leisure, turn on a dime, and had no problem threading a loose weave through the corrugated Korean hills.
Having trained in the Mosquito at Eagle Pass, Texas, Dave knew the plane's potential to summon death. Five months into the conflict, the Mosquito had earned the respect of every advancing U.N. troop. By April, the unlikely hero scored 90 percent of air-to-ground attacks and became the darling of Forward Air Controllers. By the end of the war, she would fly some forty thousand sorties. To the allies, her wings belonged to angels. To the Chinese, though, they buttressed fire-breathing dragons.
"Hold your positions!" Dave shouted at the panicked soldiers, but it was no use. The orchestra of bugles had reached a violent crescendo. The heavy artillery of the Fifth ROK Regiment soon answered back, but the enemy was close. The rigid slopes echoed with the sound of rifles and machine guns. The regiment was in disarray.
Some of the ROK soldiers scrambled for cover. Others instinctually threw up their hands to surrender as barrages of bullets peppered their bodies. Dave made a desperate beeline for his jeep. If he could reach his radio, a Mosquito might come to the rescue. He dodged rounds of incoming mortar, pausing only to return enough fire for his squad to secure the vehicle.
The entire area was now under assault. The Chinese reached the hut that Dave had abandoned only minutes earlier, and in the distance he could hear screams silenced by gunfire. To the east, a column of Chinese soldiers raced through the hills and the river valley to encircle the allies.
Dave assessed the situation. If the enemy gained a 360-degree advantage, they would choke off the only escape route leading to the southern city of Inje. Not even a low-flying strafe could offer much assistance if the Reds slipped their noose around the village and then tightened it. Five months earlier, the Chinese had employed a similar tactic at the Chosin Reservoir, when 120,000 Communists encircled 30,000 U.N. troops. The resulting seventeen-day battle claimed 10,495 lives. Dave couldn't let that happen. In the darkness he reached the jeep, cranked up the radio transmitter, and listened.
He tried again but was met with more static. Higher headquarters must be informed of the attack so they could dispatch immediate reinforcements, but the radio continued to bleed only the sound of static.
After two hours of unanswered calls, and with incoming fire drawing closer, Dave was running out of options. To save these men, he would need to somehow marshal his own air support. Overhead, a friendly Douglas C-47 Skytrain, affectionately called the "Gooneybird," ignited the night sky with bursts of orange.
"What the hell are you dropping flares on us for?" Dave screamed into the transmitter.
"You?" a pilot crackled back. "Hell, you're ten miles north of the lines."
Dave froze. Ten miles? Piece by piece, the battle scene materialized in his mind. To Dave's immediate west, the U.S. First Marine Division stood their ground, dishing out artillery as fast as the Chinese could absorb it. But the Sixth ROK Division had bolted to the rear of the fight. Their retreat created a two-mile gap in the allied line, a hole through which the Chinese quickly spilled.
If true, this was absolutely the worst-case scenario. "Tell the Joint Operations Center we have been cut off," Dave said. "Set up an airdrop of ammo and send in help as soon as possible."
A mob of confused ROK soldiers rushed to Dave's jeep. The horrified look on their faces suggested they were verging on collapse. They needed a leader, someone to guide them into battle or into exodus. For some reason, and despite his rank and lack of infantry experience, they identified Dave as that leader.
Fight or flee? It was a difficult decision to make, but the beleaguered men demanded an answer. Surprised by his own courage, Dave decided to stay and fight the enemy, at least until his ammunition ran out.
In that instant, and against the backdrop of an orange-striped sky, a man turned into a tiger. According to the official Air Force report, the F-51 pilot "suddenly became an infantry officer."
Seventy miles to Dave's west, the famed British Gloucestershire Regiment faced a similar situation. They were protecting a twelve-mile front north of Seoul when the Chinese descended on the regiment "like a swollen wave," as one young Gloster remembered. Unwilling to abandon their weapons, the British defended Hill 235 for three days, but when the ammunition ran dry the soldiers were surrounded and eventually overtaken. History would immortalize the "Glorious Glosters" for their heroic sacrifice at the three-day Battle of the Imjin River, when an army of 650 men staved off a legion of 10,000 Chinese soldiers.
Dave was made of the same stuff. He jumped into action, corralled the ROK soldiers into organized units, and then encouraged a handful of American military advisors to command the Koreans back to their posts. The artillery guns had to be re-manned. The Chinese onslaught had to be checked.
A spray of small arms returned fire. Dave deployed more of the Korean troops, assigning them to strategic vantage points and ordering them to hold their ground at all cost. Before long, the glorious sound of the big guns boomed once more. The howitzers pumped their shells, one after the next, into enemy fortifications, splintering trees and pockmarking the hills. Clusters of enemy bodies popped into the air and came down as corpses.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Lightning Sky"
Copyright © 2019 R. C. George.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
A NOTE TO READERS,
CHAPTER 1 - One-Man War,
CHAPTER 2 - Keep 'Em Flying!,
CHAPTER 3 - Hatbox Field,
CHAPTER 4 - The North Pole,
CHAPTER 5 - On Wings of Eagles,
CHAPTER 6 - The Crack-Up,
CHAPTER 7 - Blitzkrieg,
CHAPTER 8 - Thundering Herd,
CHAPTER 9 - The Fork-Tailed Devil,
CHAPTER 10 - Strafing Salonika,
CHAPTER 11 – "For You, the War Is Over",
CHAPTER 12 - No Use Playing Possum,
CHAPTER 13 - Smokey Joe,
CHAPTER 14 - Sabotage,
CHAPTER 15 – "Heil Joe Stalin!",
CHAPTER 16 - Red Tails,
CHAPTER 17 - The Flying Toolshed,
CHAPTER 18 – "Lieutenant David W. Macarthur, O-714466",
CHAPTER 19 - The Great Escape,
CHAPTER 20 - The Continent,
CHAPTER 21 - Death March,
CHAPTER 22 - Stalag VII-A,
CHAPTER 23 - The Search,
CHAPTER 24 - Stars and Stripes,
CHAPTER 25 - Meatloaf and Apple Pie,
CHAPTER 26 - Home,
CHAPTER 27 - Bugout,
AFTERWORD - Age for the Enemy,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
readaldy in sit it to late war 2
Lightning Sky is the true story McArthur family during World War 2. Author does an amazing job of being this story to life. I received a free electronic copy of this historical novel from Netgalley, R.C. George and Citadel Press.
Lightning Sky is an excellent story, based on the true events of the McArthur family during the U.S. involvement of World War II. This is a deeply moving work, following the career and capture of 20-year-old P-38 pilot Second Lieutenant David "Mac" McArthur with the Army Air Corp, captured by the Germans following a bail-out over Greece on August 6, 1044, and his Army father, Lieutenant Colonel Vaughn MacArthur, Chaplain for the 8th Armored Division with Patton's army. This is a story of faith and family that will warm your heart. David was moved many times to various Stalags as the German forces retreated in the final stages of WWII. Communication between David and his Mother in the states, and his Father traveling with Patton across Europe was impossible. Messages that actually got out of the war zone were undeliverable as the family moved in the US and the David and his father Vaughn were moving too fast for the post to catch up. Would David and Vaughn ever be in the same place, same time? I received a free electronic copy of this historical novel from Netgalley, R.C. George and Citadel Press. Thank you all for sharing your hard work with me. I have read this novel of my own volition, and this review reflects my honest opinion of this work.