Tags: Bridges at Toko-Ri, David Sears, Hemingway, James Michener, Korean War, Old Man and the Sea, Such Men As These
The aviation exploits of pilots in World War II and Vietnam have been well documented and glorified in books, documentaries and movies. But the daring missions performed by pilots in the Korean War have been largely overshadowed by the ground pounders who toiled in the brutal peninsula of South Korea for the three years of the war.
This war was never declared – it was simply deemed a U.N. police action,” a deadly conflict that claimed more than one million military casualties and three million civilian casualties. U.S. military deaths totaled 170,000, a staggering amount when you compare it to the Vietnam conflict and today’s dual wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And yet, far fewer books and films have been created about it. At best, the war created a stalemate between the South Koreans and the communist North Koreans. Continued provocative behavior by the despotic North Korean regime only antagonizes this stalemate and reminds the rest of the world that a resolution of the 38th parallel was never achieved.
This year marks the 60th anniversary of the start of this deadly war and author David Sears has written a book, Such Men as These, to shine a spotlight on the brave naval aviators who were sent on aerial missions over the icy waters and the unforgiving mountainous terrain of Korea. In addition to detailing the heroic actions of these pilots – many of whom had also distinguished themselves in aerial combat in World War II a little more than five years prior, Sears makes a point of recognizing the social progress that had been made in these five short years. Featured in this book are the groundbreaking careers of Jess LeRoy Brown, the first African-American naval pilot, and Joe Akagi, the first Japanese-American naval pilot. Both of these men would never have been given the opportunity to fly as Navy pilots for their country in World War II.
Such Men As These was inspired by James Michener’s historic novel The Bridges at Toko-Ri, a bestselling book about these men (which also inspired an Academy Award-winning Hollywood film of the same name). It was based on his real-life research on assignment for Readers’ Digest. He was “embedded” aboard an aircraft carrier in the region during the war. Sears obtained Michener’s notes from the Library of Congress and was able to ascertain on whom Michener based his fictional characters. He tracked them down and interviewed 20 of them for this book.
The Bridges at Toko-Ri was written just after Michener was asked to author a promotional article for Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea in Life magazine. (At the time, Michener was a more well-known author than Hemingway.) Sears alleges that Michener was significantly influenced by the themes of this book while writing The Bridges at Toko-Ri. Indeed, he identifies compelling similarities between the two books, highlighting the fact that the protagonists in both books were strong individuals facing seemingly “implacable enemies and the unforgiving elements to achieve personal (although virtually anonymous) vindication.” They were, in Michener’s and Sears’ minds, the epitome of manhood.
Sears, a Navy Vietnam veteran, is the author of many books about the military. He says that he enjoys writing about ordinary Americans and their contributions to historic events. Such Men as These is an important and necessary complement to the library of works about the Korean War. It is the actions of these men that Michener and Sears chronicle in these two works detailing a rarely told aspect of a rarely told war.
For more information about this book and author David Sears, go to Sears’ web site.