From the authors of the New York Times bestselling The Heart of Everything That Is and Halsey’s Typhoon comes the dramatic, untold story of a daredevil bomber pilot and his misfit crew who fly their lone B-17 into the teeth of the Japanese Empire in 1943, engage in the longest dogfight in history, and change the momentum of the War in the Pacific—but not without making the ultimate sacrifice.
It is 1942, the Japanese war machine has rolled up nearly all of the Pacific Theater, and American forces are clinging to what little unconquered territory remains. While US Marines claw their way across Guadalcanal, small contingents of US Army Airmen make their way to the lonely, embattled Allied airbase on Papua New Guinea. Their mission: to defend Australia from invasion, harass Japanese supply lines, fly perilous bombing missions over enemy-held strongholds, and make reconnaissance runs to provide intelligence for America’s nascent island-hopping campaign.
Among these men are the pilot Captain Jay Zeamer and the bombardier Sergeant Joseph Raymond Sarnoski, whose swashbuckling reputations precede them. Zeamer, who cannot convince his superiors to give him his own plane, teams up with Sarnoski to recruit a crew of fellow misfits to rebuild a dilapidated B-17 bomber from spare parts in the base’s junkyard. They christen the plane Old 666, naming it from its tail identification numbers. In June 1943, Zeamer and Sarnoski and their crew volunteer for a 1200-mile suicide mission into the heart of the Japanese Empire that may well change the course of the war—but which only one of the two friends will survive.
In Lucky 666, Drury and Clavin bring to vivid life one of the last great untold stories of World War II. Featuring personal letters, diaries, US Army Air Force after-action reports, even the translated Japanese Imperial Air Force’s official account of the longest dogfight in history, Lucky 666 is a tale of friendship, heroism, and sacrifice set against the horrific backdrop of vicious aerial warfare, wounded crewmates, and a white-knuckle emergency landing in the jungles of New Guinea—a must-read for anyone who loves pulse-pounding narrative nonfiction.
“A fast-paced, well-researched account of a B-17 bomber—known as Old 666—its crew, and a courageous flight . . . Drury and Clavin skillfully blend Old 666’s flight into the larger picture of Pacific Theater warfare and give gripping accounts of combat flights. The result is a story that history aficionados will find irresistible.” —USA Today
“The authors deliver a great war story.” —Kirkus Reviews
“In June 1943, Zeamer and Sarnoski volunteered for the heartbreaking ‘impossible mission’ that forms the core of this remarkable account of friendship and bravery. Authors Bob Drury and Tom Clavin not only tell the inspiring story of these two young airmen, they also provide a cogent, absorbing analysis of the air war in the Pacific. Lucky 666 is highly recommended for WWII and aviation history buffs alike.” —BookPage
“A vivid slice of war history that WWII buffs and anyone who admires true acts of heroism will find riveting.” —Booklist
“An entertaining popular history that will appeal to fans of adventure-style World War II stories.” —Library Journal
“We think of World War II aviation as a supremely bureaucratized, controlled effort of men and planes. But here is a tale of bomber pilots—maybe the last untold story of that great war—that instead involved individual initiative and extraordinary courage. Lucky 666 is a thrilling narrative about the ingenuity that it took to win the war, about a ‘Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight’ of aviators who built their own B-17 out of junkyard parts, and then went on to fly one of the most memorable, effective missions of the Pacific campaign. The result is a book that reads like The Dirty Dozen meets Unbroken. I particularly admire the gritty details here about WWII aviation. Superb!” —Rinker Buck, author of The Oregon Trail and Flight of Passage
Praise for The Heart of Everything That Is
#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
A SALON BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR
TRUE WEST MAGAZINE’S BEST BIOGRAPHY OF THE YEAR
“A ripping yarn . . . A quintessentially Western tale of bold exploits, tough characters, brutal conditions and a lost way of life, this sounds like the sort of story that practically tells itself. Yet you only realize how little justice most popular histories do to their source material when you come across a book, like this one, that does everything right. It’s customary to say of certain nonfiction books — gussied up with plenty of 'color' and psychological speculation — that they 'read like a novel,' but truth be told, most of the time we’d have to be talking about a pretty mediocre novel. The Heart of Everything That Is, on the other hand, resembles the good ones. There were times, turning its pages, when I could almost smell the pines of the Black Hills, feel the icy wind tearing down from Canada across the prairie and hear the hooves of the buffalo pounding the earth.”
—Laura Miller, Salon
“Exquisitely told . . . Remarkably detailed . . . The story of Red Cloud's unusual guile and strategic genius makes the better-known Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse pale in comparison. . . . This is no knee-jerk history about how the West was won, or how the West was lost. This historical chronicle is unabashed, unbiased and disturbingly honest, leaving no razor-sharp arrowhead unturned, no rifle trigger unpulled. . . . A compelling and fiery narrative.”
“Vivid . . . Lively . . . A tale of lies, trickery, and brutal slaughter . . . In telling the story of Red Cloud, Messrs. Drury and Clavin appropriately bring a number of the larger-than-life figures from that time onstage . . . [and] chronicle in considerable detail the shameful treatment of the Indians across the plains and the destruction of their ancient way of life.”
—Christopher Corbett, The Wall Street Journal
“A page turner . . . Drawing on archives, letters, and a long-lost autobiography written toward the end of Red Cloud’s life, the narrative has a remarkable immediacy . . . [and] the narrative sweep of a great Western.”
—Kate Tuttle, The Boston Globe
“Valuable . . . Meticulous . . . [A] remarkable story . . . The writers don’t shy away from the atrocities on both sides of the gruesome, long-running conflict between the Indians and the U.S. forces. But when, for the umpteenth time, U.S. officials break a contract as soon as the glint of gold is spotted in the hills, one cannot help but feel that there’s all the more reason to celebrate one of the Sioux’s most impressive fighters.”
“The authors paint a full and vivid picture of the Oglala Sioux leader . . . The story of Red Cloud is presented here with all the tension and excitement of a good Western novel. . . . The narrative is gripping but not sentimental, and it is well-sourced, drawing, for example, on Red Cloud’s autobiography, lost for nearly a century, and the papers of many others who knew Red Cloud’s War.”
—Minneapolis Star Tribune
Bob Drury is the author/coauthor/editor of nine books. He has written for numerous publications, including The New York Times, Vanity Fair, Men’s Journal, and GQ. He is currently a contributing editor and foreign correspondent for Men’s Health. He lives in Manasquan, New Jersey.
Tom Clavin is the author or coauthor of sixteen books. For fifteen years he wrote for The New York Times and has contributed to such magazines as Golf, Men's Journal, Parade, Reader’s Digest, and Smithsonian. He is currently the investigative features correspondent for Manhattan Magazine. He lives in Sag Harbor, New York.