Author: Ray Parker
ISBN: 978-0964092433
Publisher: Mill City Publishing

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Ray Parker's memoirs, Down In Flames depicts with great sensitivity the story of a young nineteen-year old American navigator who was shot down behind enemy lines on his twelfth flying mission. Captured by the Germans, Parker passed the next few years as a guest of Stalag Luft 1, a prisoner of war camp for airmen.

In 1941, just after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Parker decided that he was going to volunteer for the Army Air Force Corps. When he applied, he was informed that they were looking for candidates who had two years of college, however, they were willing to consider others if they were successful in passing a very tough exam. Parker did so well on the exams that he was accused of cheating. However, after convincing the officer in charge that he was not a cheater, he was accepted and sent to the Santa Ana Army Base to begin his training and his dream of becoming a fighter pilot.

After a few months in Santa Ana, Parker is next sent to the Thunderbird Field in Arizona in 1942 where he undergoes exhaustive training and where, unfortunately, he flunks out of pilot training. He also experiences the loss of his close friend, a tragedy that unfortunately will repeat itself throughout his war years where he witnesses some horrific accidents.

Not deterred, Parker continues flight training as a navigator and is dispatched to New Mexico. It is here where he learns about one of the top secrets that involves learning to drop bombs using the Norden bombsight. This made it possible for the strategic high altitude bombing campaign against Nazi Germany. In fact, it was eventually used by a new B-29 Superfortress bomber to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and haste the ending of World War ll.

After several months, Parker's crew is ready to join the newly formed 445th Heavy Bombardment Group for its final training. He was quite surprised to learn that his commanding officer is none other than the movie celebrity Jimmy Stewart. Although Parker tells us a little about the heroics of Stewart, he doesn't say too much concerning Stewart's leadership in relation to himself or his squadron.

In November of 1943, Parker's squadron was pronounced battle ready and was sent to aid the badly mauled 8th Air Force in England. As we fly with Parker in the cockpit, we experience what it feels like to witness the horrors of air combat with Nazi enemy. Flying bombing raids on Germany is no picnic and it is considered to be one of the most dangerous and physically draining task.

As Parker states: “Life as an Eighth Air Force flyer feels strangely schizophrenic, with peaceful relaxation and a reasonably normal life on the base one day and the terror of facing death in the sky the next.”

Unfortunately, the ultimate terror occurred when Parker's aircraft was shot down over France and he is pushed out by the bombardier who believe he was dead. What was next in store for Parker was his capture by the Germans and internment in a prison camp in northern Germany, which was not exactly a first class hotel. Parker recounts his stay in this POW camp and his participation in the editing and distribution of a secret newspaper that used secret information from the BBC broadcasts via a hidden radio. It was this newspaper that proved invaluable in maintaining camp morale with accurate reports of what was really happening, including the D-Day invasion and the Allies destruction of Germany. We also get a glimpse of prison life, although, here again I would have liked to have read more of the inter-actions between prisoners, what they thought, how they reacted, as well as their relationship with their German captors.

As Parker states in the Epilogue, while in prison he adapted to what had to be, to live what life was all about within the reality of prison run by the Nazis. However, it was his will to survive that probably kept him alive and to eventually share his story with the world.

Parker has given us a small piece of his war time experiences, but this morsel is quite gripping, although at times tragic, when we read about the thousands of Allied soldiers who lost their lives fighting the Nazis. Parker's prose may be described as uncomplicated and simple, nonetheless, it is very powerful as it re-creates accurately time and place. Sprinkled through the book are several black and white photographs that attest to the gravity of his experiences and a reminder to all of us that, as Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman stated during the Civil War, “War is hell.”

After the war, Parker worked as a newspaperman for the LA Examiner and the LA Times. He also handled public relations for the CBS west coast office and eventually became the head writer for Art Linkletter between 1955-1968 (the entire length of Linkletter's House Party). He also wrote two books for Linkletter and two more for Dick Van Dyke. When he retired, he wrote a humor book about retiring about Rving. In addition, he wrote for Dinah Shore's daytime show as well as game shows for Goodson-Todman and served as senior writer for animation shows at Hanna Barbera Productions. He even did a radio show for “Dear Abby” and spent three years as a staff writer for Bob Hope.

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