James Michener's Korean War novel is about Navy fighter pilot Harry Brubaker, the finest flier aboard the carrier USS Savo. He is unhappy to be in this unpublicized and unwanted war as a civilian pilot. His superior officer is Admiral Tarrant, who although a gruff tyrant to many has taken to treating Brubaker like a surrogate son; his own two boys were killed in WWII. After ditching his plane in the ocean Mike Forney, a diminutive Irishman from Chicago and a simple minded Kentuckian named Nestor Gamidge go to rescue him. They are a part of the Navy's heroic helicopter search and rescue patrol. Gamidge flies while Forney jumps in to save the drowning pilots. Everyone is concerned for Brubaker's return as his wife and daughters are awaiting him in Japan. He is reunited but the shore leave is brief and bittersweet. Forney is involved in a melee over his Japanese girlfriend leaving him for another sailor and Brubaker comes to his aid.
All the men are in awe of Beer Barrel, an immense 250 lb Texan who routinely smuggles cases of beer aboard inside two massive golf bags. He is the one who lands the planes onto the flight deck. Brubaker is chosen for an important mission to bomb the heavily guarded bridges of Toko-ri, but worries that he won't return and temporarily loses his nerve. He is relieved to find the mission scrubbed and instead they fire upon Communist ground forces in a support role. His landing on the carrier is dicey but Beer Barrel brings him in. Next morning they bomb Toko-ri successfully but his joy is short lived when his jet is shot down in North Korea. Forney and Gamidge are summoned to retrieve him. The helicopter is blown up; Gamidge is shot and killed. Forney crawls into the sewage pile Brubaker is shielding himself behind as the two fight off the advancing North Korean troops. As Forney is killed by a grenade Brubaker is alone to fight for his life. The bitter realities of war are driven home in one of Michener's most poignant and concise works of fiction.
This report prepared by David Fletcher