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  • Hachette Books

Race of Aces: WWII's Elite Airmen and the Epic Battle to Become the Masters of the Sky

John R. Bruning

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TOP GUN meets BAND OF BROTHERS in this stunning untold story of the race among America's elite airmen to become the greatest fighter pilot of WWII.

In 1942, an outspoken Army Air Force general, overlooked for prestigious combat commands in Europe, was given a chance at redemption: General George Kenney was to go to the Pacific theatre and forge Douglas MacArthur's defeated air force into a brawny offensive unit that could pave the way for victory over Japan. When Kenney took the job, he was told not to expect reinforcements, supplies, or even spare parts. He spent his first days in command cowering in a mud-filled slit trench as Japanese planes rained bombs down on his New Guinea base, getting to know his pilots and tending to their shattered spirits. With the Nazis sweeping across Europe and the nation reeling from the carnage of Pearl Harbor, these fighters represented the fading hope of America's future and Kenney was stunned by their state. Race of Aces is the incredible story of how he and a handful of elite American pilots inspired the country to believe that we could defeat the most formidable enemy America had ever faced - and the inconceivable price they paid to do it. The race began with a bet. No one, wagered the deadliest fighter pilot - or "ace" -of WWI, could beat his score of twenty-six enemy planes destroyed and if someone did the WWI ace would give him a bottle of bourbon. Seizing on the challenge to motivate his despondent troops, Kenney unleashed what became a wild three-year sprint for fame, glory and the chance to be called America's greatest fighter pilot.

Five men rose from the pack to compete for the crown, and as their scores mounted, they captured the national spotlight. These young warriors hailed from vastly different backgrounds. Though few had given any initial indication that they would be contenders in the race, they transformed themselves in combat from farm boys and would-be dentists into devastating artists of the modern dogfight. As the press coverage riveted the nation, some of the men grew obsessed, others manipulated the race in their favor, and others resented the growing perception that General Kenney had his own favored ace who was given special treatment. The war with Japan seethed into one of daily skirmishes and, with the casualties mounting, the aces wondered who would survive to take home the prize and who would be outlived by their glory.

Spanning the vast seas and blistering skies of the Pacific theater, Race of Aces is not just a gripping story teeming with white-knuckled action but also a fascinating, unvarnished look at the masterminds and gladiators that led America to triumph in its most dire hour and how they blurred the boundaries between honorable duty, selfless devotion, and the quest for personal glory.

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