BOOK NOOK: Remembering the 80th anniversary of D-Day

WWII veterans gathered together in France to remember the 80th anniversary of D-Day were a dwindling group; their average age was 100 years old. In not too many years they will be gone. Paul Hendrickson’s father served in the Pacific. His book, Fighting the Night - Iwo Jima, World War II, and a Flyer’s Life” pays tribute to his dad.

The author has had a long, distinguished career as a journalist and has published a number of books over the last forty years. He has written biographies of famous people like the architect Frank Lloyd Wright and the novelist Ernest Hemingway. This new book was the passion project he always hoped to complete, the biography of a complete unknown, his father.

His dad Joe Paul Hendrickson grew up on a Kentucky farm. By the time the war was underway he was already in uniform. Once while he was stationed at Patterson Field he was at a roller rink in Xenia when he met a winsome damsel who had grown up in Greene County, his future wife, Rita.

In those days romances could become whirlwind affairs, they were soon married and Rita began having babies. Paul Hendrickson was the second child born to the couple. He traces the frequent moves that took place as his dad trained for what became his eventual duty, piloting a new plane design, the P-61 Black Widow.

In 1945 he was stationed on Iwo Jima as a flyer with the 549th Night Fighter Squadron of the Army Air Corps flying night-time sorties off the island in search of Japanese activity. His plane, the “Rita B,” was a state of the art killing machine with a bullet resistant glass bubble where he perched inside what they called “the greenhouse.”

Behind him his gunner sat snugly inside a similar glass bubble. There were only three guys on each crew, the radar man rode in the tail of the plane. Black Widows had multiple machine guns, cannons, 500 pound bombs. Some even carried rockets. They were fearsome.

The author’s father rarely mentioned the war. Afterwards he embarked on a long career as a commercial pilot for Eastern Airlines. After his father died his son regretted not talking more to his father about it. As he began putting this book together he caught lucky breaks doing research.

He mined archives. A fire in St. Louis destroyed many service records from the war. Miraculously his dad’s records survived that conflagration. He stumbled upon an employee at an archive who sent him thousands of pages of military records. Most incredibly he located the last surviving Black Widow pilot and interviewed him.

The Battle of Iwo Jima was epic and fierce. Joe Paul Hendrickson arrived after it was declared secure. Less than a week later a large group of Japanese soldiers invaded their encampment, slashing open tents and hurling grenades inside them. Miraculously the author’s father was not harmed. This thoroughly engrossing story is a miracle in oh so many ways.

Vick Mickunas of Yellow Springs interviews authors every Saturday at 7 a.m. and on Sundays at 10:30 a.m. on WYSO-FM (91.3). For more information, visit www.wyso.org/programs/book-nook. Contact him at vick@vickmickunas.com.

Credit: Contributed

Credit: Contributed

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