TERRE HAUTE —
Vigo County Public Library’s first Brown Bag of 2011 will bring back author Ray Boomhower to discuss his latest book, “Fighter Pilot: The World War II Career of Alex Vraciu.”
The program will take place at the Main Library, at Seventh and Poplar streets, beginning at 12:10 p.m. Thursday. A book-signing will follow the presentation. Participants may bring their own “brown bag” lunch.
On the morning of June 19, 1944, as U.S. troops were battling Japanese forces on Saipan in the Mariana Islands in the Pacific, American pilots based on aircraft carriers offshore rushed to their planes to protect their fleet from an enemy attack from the air.
Calling the mission a “once-in-a-lifetime fighter pilot’s dream” when he spotted a large mass of enemy planes bearing down on the U.S. ships, one Navy pilot from Indiana, Alex Vraciu, flying a Hellcat fighter from the USS Lexington, pounced on the Japanese and shot down six dive bombers in just eight minutes. “I looked ahead,” Vraciu later told a Chicago Tribune reporter. “There was nothing but Hellcats in the sky. I looked back. Up above were curving vapor trails. And down on the sea, in a pattern 35 miles long, was a series of flaming dots where oil slicks were burning.”
Written by award-winning biographer Boomhower, “Fighter Pilot: The World War II Career of Alex Vraciu,” the sixth volume in the Indiana Historical Society Press’ youth biography series, examines the daring exploits of the Hoosier flier during his wartime service. A graduate of DePauw University, Vraciu learned to fly during his college years through a government program and joined the Navy before America was thrust into the war following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.
Possessing keen eyesight, quick reflexes, excellent shooting instincts and a knack for finding his opponent’s weak spot, Vraciu became skilled in the deadly game of destroying the enemy in the skies over the Pacific Ocean.
For a period of four months in 1944, Vraciu stood as the leading ace in the U.S. Navy. He shot down 19 enemy airplanes in the air, destroyed an additional 21 on the ground and sank a large Japanese merchant ship with a well-placed bomb hit.
Get to know the author
• Ray Boomhower is senior editor with the Indiana Historical Society Press, where he edits the quarterly popular history magazine Traces of Indiana and Midwestern History. He received a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Indiana University, Bloomington, in 1982, and a master’s degree in U.S. history from IU, Indianapolis, in 1995. His previous books have included biographies of author and Civil War general Lew Wallace, famed Hoosier war correspondent Ernie Pyle, suffragette and peace activist May Wright Sewall, World War II photographer John A. Bushemi, and astronaut Gus Grissom. In 1998, Boomhower received the IHS’s Hoosier Historian honor.