Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Sky Rained Heroes by Frederick E. LaCroix

Frederick E. LaCroix is the son of Captain Robert LaCroix, a World War II fighter pilot who served in the Pacific.  The Sky Rained Heroes: A Journey From War to Remembrance is supposed to be the story of a bloodied Japanese flag his father took home as a memento of victory -- a victory that involved the death of the flag's owner, Sergeant Yasuyuki Ishizuka.  Frederick inherits the flag, and he decides to return it to the Japanese officer's family, which involves a 6-year journey through Asia.  This is what the book jacket promises -- a memoir about the journey to return the flag.  However, I was disappointed to learn that the flag is only mentioned in detail at the very beginning and very end of the book.

What fills the remaining pages is a history lesson.  LaCroix goes into great detail about the history of Japan, its military, and the reasons behind the Japanese invasion of China and other nearby nations.  I found a lot of interesting because I know a lot about the European aspect of World War II and next to nothing about the war in the Pacific.  However, some of the writing is dry and reads like a textbook, which made it difficult for me to stay focused.  Other times, LaCroix inserts his own opinions in flowery language that seems out of place in a non-fiction book.  He also includes stories about his business in the Philippines, which come out of nowhere and have nothing to do with the story of the flag.
We Americans perceive ourselves as liberators.  We are troubled by much of the world's refusal to see us as we are convinced we are -- rational, altruistic, and egalitarian.  Yet standing on the ledge from which the young Japanese woman unflinchingly launched herself and her most precious possession, one senses the guiding, commanding power of collective memory, its prism refracting, altering perception.  The child's mother, in death, as in life, submitted with ancestral fidelity to an ethos she neither questioned nor understood.  (page 245)
The inclusion of wartime letters written by his father to his parents and siblings that detail his fighter pilot training and combat experiences were the highlight of the book.  This is where you get a real insider's view of the war.  An excerpt from a letter dated Feb. 3, 1945, from Luzon, Philippines:
Had a freak accident the other day.  A tribute, incidentally, to American planes.  A light bomber caught a frag bomb in the fuselage, almost severing the tail.  The pilot flew it back.  Just as he landed, the shock of the landing broke the tail section completely off.  In spite of it, he kept it rolling straight and no one was killed.  It was a real miracle.  War brings out all sorts of queer accidents.  I'll tell you some others, sometime.  (page 183)
I'm glad I finished The Sky Rained Heroes because I learned many things about Japan and its role in World War II.  However, the book lacked the emotion I was expecting, especially concerning the return of the flag, which isn't surprising given that this part of the book was wrapped up in just a few pages.  I only wish the book jacket had been more accurate in its description of the contents.  My feelings toward the book might have been more favorable if I'd known what to expect -- that it would be heavy on history and light on personal and family experiences.

I read The Sky Rained Heroes for the WWII reading challenge at War Through the Generations.

Disclosure:  I received a free copy of The Sky Rained Heroes from Phenix & Phenix Literary Publicists for review purposes.


bermudaonion said...

I would have thought that would be an emotional book too, with a title like that. Too bad.

Serena said...

I'm glad that I haven't read this book. I never would have finished it. I had enough boring textbooks in school. I think sometimes publishers need to think about what they put on those book jackets.

wisteria said...

It seems like the letters that were included in the book were the best part for you. It's a shame the reading was weighted down with textbook style writing.
I admire your tenacity in completing it. :)