For This Marvelous Country – Book Review
For This Marvelous Country: Counting on Me to Get Them Back Home. By Carol Rose Offutt. Self Published, 2009. 155 pages, softcover. $16.00.
Carol Rose Offutt provided a great service by sharing her father’s letters found tucked away in a shoebox
This book recounts the World War Two story of US Army Air Force B-17 pilot Bill Rose through a combination of memoir excerpts and contemporary "letters home." It provides a fascinating first-hand glimpse into the life of an USAAF bomber pilot during the war.
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Just prior to the outbreak of World War Two, Bill Rose was working as a mining engineer in Nicaragua. On his way back to the states, he learned of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Once home, Rose decided to enlist in the Navy after a recruiter promised he’d be promoted to Chief Petty Officer based on his prior Naval Reserve service. However, when he showed up for his oath, his papers indicated he was being sworn in as a 3rd Class Petty Officer. Not satisfied, Rose refused to take the oath. He tried volunteering with Naval Air, but was rejected due to not having the correct college experience. Finally, he volunteered for the Air Corps and was accepted into the Air Cadet Program.
Graduating from pilot training, Rose trained as a B-17 aircraft commander. He and his crew were assigned to the 92nd Bomb Group of the 8th Air Force and sent to England in 1943. He completed 25 missions, including the deadly Schweinfurt raid in October 1943. Returning to the states, Rose served as a B-17 pilot instructor. Volunteering for a second tour, he returned overseas in 1945, where he completed an additional 24 missions.
During his first tour, Bill struck up a correspondence with his radio operator’s sister, Mary Margaret "Marg" Cline. His letters to her, intermixed with his apparently unpublished memoirs, describe his daily life as a B-17 combat pilot and as a bombing pilot instructor. His memoirs include details of his harrowing mission during the Schweinfurt raid. His letters to Marg after he returned to the US and was serving as a flight instructor show that those duties often proved as dangerous as combat flying. He describes some of his in-flight emergencies, including having to shut down problematic engines in flight, and he speaks of another crew perishing on a training mission in bad weather. The letters also hint at Rose and Cline’s developing relationship throughout the war. Although Rose was briefly engaged to a girl in Ohio, towards the end of the war he and Marg got engaged, and they married when Rose returned from Europe following his second tour.
This book’s author, Carol Rose Offutt, is the daughter of Bill and Marg Rose. This work is clearly a labor of love for her. It’s a tribute to her parents and all the combat veterans of World War Two. The book is self-published and is available through the author’s Website.
As with most "personal story" works, I suspect readers will either thoroughly enjoy this book or find they do not like it. I don’t suspect there will be much middle ground. If you’re looking for a fact-based history lesson of the strategic air campaign in Europe or technical information about the B-17 and its combat role, this is not the book for you. However, if you enjoy getting a rare glimpse into the daily life of a combat pilot and instructor during World War Two, as well as a feel for life during the war, you will likely thoroughly enjoy this book. As a former USAF tanker pilot with combat operational experience, I fell into the second group and completely enjoyed learning about an operational pilot’s life during World War Two.
That being said, this book does have its rough spots. It lacks any sort of introduction to set the stage. Instead, it jumps right in with what appears to be an excerpt from Rose’s memoir. Lacking any "stage-setting," the story was a little difficult to follow at times. The book also lacks an afterword to let us know the "rest of the story." It left me wondering what happened with Bill and Marg following the war. How did their lives turn out? Did they share other interesting adventures?
In any sort of work based on a journal or contemporary correspondence, I believe a good introduction and good follow-up are very important parts of the overall work. While the person compiling the work might know all the background, the reader does not. Providing background makes the work even more enjoyable.
Lacking an introduction and an afterword, we’re left with only bits of what are apparently excerpts from a memoir written by Bill Rose following the war, as well as his letters home to Marg. Unfortunately, Rose kept very few of the letters from her (only two of her letters to him appear in the book), leaving us with only Rose’s side of the correspondence. The back and forth correspondence would have made the story even more interesting. Also, the author mentions both Bill and Marg wrote memoirs, but it’s not clear if they’re edited in as part of the work, or only excerpted in pieces. I would have enjoyed seeing the entire memoirs included.
Overall, while it might be a little rough around the edges, For This Marvelous Country presents a rare opportunity to gain first-hand insight into the life of a combat pilot during World War Two. Carol Rose Offutt provided a great service by sharing her father’s letters found tucked away in a shoebox, which likely would have been lost to history. In the end, she achieves her objective of providing posterity a tribute to her parents and the veterans of World War Two.
About the author:
Steve Schultz is a former active duty Air Force pilot. He is in the final stages of completing a master’s degree in military history. He currently lives in central Florida and writes on a variety of topics, with a focus on military history.