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He Wore a Pair of Silver Wings

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He Wore a Pair of Silver Wings: The World War II Memoir of a Lightning Recon Pilot
  • by Thomas K. Follis
    • A Merriam Press World War II Memoir
      • Sixth Edition 2021
      • 220 6x9-inch pages
      • 38 photos
      • 1 map
This is not a typical "War Story" that begins… "There I was at 25,000 feet with two Me 262 German jets on my tail…," even though that actually did happen. Many of those stories have been vividly related in some fine books written by real war heroes.
Instead, this book begins with an immature 18-year-old boy being inducted into the Army Air Corps in 1942 and follows his day-by-day activities from Private to Aviation Cadet through the various flying schools - Primary, Basic and Advanced. He finally earns the coveted "Silver Wings" of a pilot as an officer.
Later, after surviving combat missions in an unarmed F-5 (Lockheed P-38 Lightning) photo reconnaissance aircraft in the bloody skies over the Mediterranean Theater of Operations where more than 15,000 brave young airmen of the Fifteenth Air Force perished, he is swiftly rotated back to the United States in preparation for redeployment for the invasion of Japan. This invasion was mercifully obviated by the atomic bomb. In World War II air superiority made the invasion of Europe possible. Air superiority made the invasion of Japan unnecessary.
He details many colorful experiences, covering his induction, pre-flight and various other flying schools. Tom's accounts about his assignments at San Severo, Italy, with the 32nd Photo Recon Squadron, 5th Photo Group, Fifteenth Army Air Force, are accurate and explicit with numerous photographs and illustrations added to the book. 
  • Dedication
  • Introduction
  • Foreword
  • Preface
  • Prelude
  • The Big Day Arrives and I'm Off to War - Sort Of
  • College Boy Again
  • An Aviation Cadet - at Last!
  • Into the Air
  • Flying the Vultee "Vibrator" and the "Bamboo Bomber"
  • The B-25 - A Real Warbird
  • The Role of the Lockheed P-38 Lightning in Winning World War II and the Contribution of Aerial Photo Reconnaissance
  • Across the Atlantic in a Wartime Convoy
  • Going in Harm's Way
  • I'll Be Home for Christmas
  • Conclusion
  • Where Are They Now?
  • What Has Happened to the Various Military Bases?
  • Bibliography
Review by Julianne Starr: I was so excited to find this book. My father was in the 28th Photo Recon flying the P-38. Of course we believe he singled handedly won the war! He and my mother have been married 66 years and are still active and sweeties. My dad is a docent at the March Air Field Museum in Riverside, California, at the P-38 hanger. I would love to get any and all information regarding his outfit. If you have resources, please let me know. We will be attending a P-38 convention in Las Vegas, Nevada, in November 2007.

Review by Ross Dalbey: Received and read He Wore a Pair of Silver Wings. Was wondering if you can help me get in touch with the author. He and I had very eerily similar experiences during World War II. We were in the same class at Santa Ana, Lemore, LaJunta and Oklahoma City. My brother died in the crash he described at LaJunta. We were on the same Liberty ship to Oran and the French City of Oran to Naples, to the same replacement depot at the same time. I flew 22 F-5 missions out of Bari, Italy, before catching a ride via Natal, Brazil, on a B-24 back to Tampa after V-E Day. While he and my brother were flying Ryans in primary flying school I was in Stearman's at Santa Maria, California. My CTD was six months at Michigan State College in Lansing, Michigan. I was pleased to find this great book and remember well some of Tom's experiences. I've never attended or was aware of any of the P-38 reunions he describes so I've been out of touch. My daughter has been after me to jot down some memories so this will give me a head start.

Review by Ken Solheim: My favorite uncle flew P-38/F-5s with the 154th Weather Reconnaissance Squadron from mid-November 1944 to war's end. Afterwards, he returned to a quiet hard-working life, and like most, rarely talked of World War II. He’s now been gone some 20-odd years. Recently I’ve found myself tremendously curious of his wartime experience. With the help of the Internet, I’ve been able to locate many fine books giving me a great idea of what his day-to-day life would have been like during this period. One of these is He Wore a Pair of Silver Wings, written by Thomas K. Follis. The book provides a first-hand account of how our military, in less than two years, turned inexperienced 18-year olds, fresh out of high school, into highly trained officers flying one of the most complex performance aircraft of World War II. About a third of the book is devoted to basic pilot training, a third to advanced P-38 and reconnaissance pilot training, and the final third to the author’s combat experience. I found the book a great read. Its writing is excellent and coverage of the subject outstanding. The book's descriptions of the solitude and danger of the reconnaissance pilots' missions left little to one's imagination. This book answered many of the questions I had of my uncle’s training and World War II experience.

Review by By W. Montgomery: OFFERS FRESH PERSPECTIVE ON THE LOT OF A PHOTO-RECONNAISSANCE PILOT IN WWII EUROPE. I'm grateful to Mr. Follis (the author) for making me aware of an aspect of the Second World War that has been so little remarked upon or fully appreciated: the contribution made by photo-reconnaisance pilots in the Allied war effort. This is a wonderful and well-written book. The author describes his experiences from the time he enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF) as an Aviation Cadet, through the various phases of training, to his assignment (after earning his coveted silver wings) as a photo-reconnaisance pilot in the latter part of 1944, flying P-38 Lightnings out of Italy. The details of some of the harrowing missions that the author flew deep in enemy territory (at times as far as Munich, Germany, where the Luftwaffe kept some of its ME 262 jet fighters on hand to counter such incursions into its airspace) were fascinating to read. As a reader, I felt I was in the plane with Mr. Follis as he carefully went about his job of photographing enemy installations, while being ever vigilant (even with a small fighter escort) for enemy fighters and flak. The P-38 Lightning was a remarkable airplane and the author's love for it shines through on every page. (I've been a fan of the P-38 myself since reading Martin Caidin's book about this beautiful airplane 20 years ago.) The photographs in the book (several of them from the author's personal collection) provide an extra nice touch. This book is a wonderful tribute to Mr. Follis' comrades of the 32nd Photo Recon Squadron, 5th Photo Group, 15th Air Force (USAAF). HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

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