07 June 2017

Book Review: 'The Warbird' by Tara Copp

Book Review: "The Warbird: Three Heroes, Two Wars, One Story" by Tara Copp

In a fast-reading 240-page book, journalist Tara Copp weaves together her own war narratives with those of her World War II fly-boy grandfather, who flew B-24 "Liberator" bombers out of England and Italy, and her Band of Brothers paratrooper great-uncle, who was among the first to parachute into France on D-day.

Along the way, readers are introduced to the U.S. Air Force security team with whom she shared as a newspaper reporter her first battlefield experiences in Iraq, and to the behind-the-scenes reality of the Rose Will Monroe, a civilian industrial worker who was one of the inspirations for the iconographic Rosie the Riveter.

Conceptually, the whole thing seems so heavily laden with editorial ordnance, you might wonder at it's ability to take flight. In Copp's sure hands, however, the book quickly achieves both speed and altitude, and cruises on to deliver bombshell after bombshell. It's an entertaining, insightful read. There are punchy anecdotes about student-pilots falling out of planes, for example, and bombing missions gone wrong. ("We Bombed Switzerland"?!) There's even a little infidelity tossed around. Nothing salacious. Just the facts. And more true to the military experience than other war stories currently on bookstore shelves.

Copp is a memoirist's memoirist. While still sentimental enough to address her grandfather's ghost directly in her ongoing internal monologue, she also casts an unblinking, realistic eye toward both familial faults and her own actions. The tone is conversational—at times, confessional. There's sex and bombs and divorce and death, but it's straightforwardly reported, rather than sensationalized.

During the initial U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, Copp was a Washington, D.C.-based reporter for Scripps Howard News Service newspapers in Texas. In 2011, she returned to Iraq as a Government Accountability Office employee. (She's now returned to journalism, a Pentagon correspondent for Stars and Stripes.) From these bookend experiences, she derives both a personal and philosophical response to war:
The allure of war took an early, fast grip upon me in 2003. It was though wiser eyes that I watched that same spell be cast […] eight years later at U.S. Embassy-Baghdad. The embassy was fortress America, a pressurized pit of high policy stakes with thoughts of men and women, so far from home. The excitement of war enveloped them too. The trysts that launched that fall, as they had every year before, became the tight-lipped fodder of friendships to last forever, because the people who went through this assumed no one back home would understand.

I finally understood it, and I didn't want to begrudge them the experience. But I still didn't want to go to dinner on those nights of steak and lobster, under festive bunting and enormous American flags. I wanted to honor war and the men and women who fought it for what it was, not how we wanted it to look. I knew that 2011 was no different than 2003 was not different than 1944. There was still cheating and drama, deaths and injury, greed and heroism. […]
On the ground, the B-24 Liberator is an ungainly, swollen-looking craft. In the air, however, and in the right hands, it delivers its payload, right on target. Tara Copp's "Warbird" is a great potential summer read, a fine Father's Day gift, or a unique find for the World War II aviation enthusiast who thinks they've already read it all.

Available in trade paperback, hardcover, Kindle, iBooks, and other formats.

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