Pacific Wrecks
Pacific Wrecks    
  Missing In Action (MIA) Prisoners Of War (POW) Unexploded Ordnance (UXO)  
Chronology Locations Aircraft Ships Submit Info How You Can Help Donate
John Stanaway
Author, 5th Air Force Fighter Group

Tell a little about yourself and your background
I was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota at almost the exact midpoint of WWII, so my interest comes from just about the safest place and time in that somber period. My dad was one of those folks who had to get into the action, so he volunteered for a stint in the Aleutians on airfield construction in 1944-45. I guess my interest in WWII aviation begins with that and with the stories my other relatives brought back from their wartime service. They all had stories about the P-38, and my dad actually brought back pieces of aluminum from a P-38 as well as a crashed Achi "Jake" floatplane.

What got you interested in WWII history?
Most of my intellectual growth stems from World War II (history, geography, philosophy, literature, politics, etc.). I remember with a grimace those days as an undergraduate at the University of Minnesota when I spent valuable study time in Walter Library going through the histories of the RAF or USAAF rather than my course work. No matter; I got the bug in a bad way until I spent a hitch in the USAF and was discouraged by all the apathy about aviation in that outfit.

Did veteran relatives play a part in your interest?
Some of my first memories revolve around the return of my male relatives from overseas. One of my uncles was a U.S. Marine who saw much service in the Solomons, and brought home a number of souvenirs which were exciting to a young boy. I learned from him both the intensity and the horror of the war. He never recovered fully from the grimness of his experience, and hesitated to talk about the war unless he happened to be drunk enough to expand on the loss of his friends in the merciless combat of Guadalcanal. Another uncle was the archetypal Army sergeant in North Africa. Both of these guys as well as my dad who was in the Aleutians told me tales of the P-38 and started my awe for the machine.

Speak about your work with the veterans of these aircraft
I started to get in touch with veterans at about that time and began an interest in aces. Through some of the better aviation periodicals of the time I got in touch with the Air Force Museum, the National Archives and the Air Force Research Agency at Maxwell AFB. By the time I published my first work I made some good friends like Jeff Ethell and Larry Hickey, and they led to many other good contacts.

I developed a mad affection for anything made by pre-scandal Lockheed. The WWII types - P-38, Ventura, Hudson and Constellation - remain my favorite aircraft of all time, and arguments with folks who denigrated those types led to fanatical research and finally to enough material for the books that I wrote.

Speak about the research process behind each book
Basically, my research methods go from general to specific. I read everything I can get my hands on, then contact government or manufacturer sources for documents, and then go to historians, veterans or other interested folks with specific information. My usual research path is to go to the archives, and perhaps collect microfilm that would give me a solid factual basis. The veterans groups are invaluable and much of my deep understanding comes from attending reunions and simply chatting with the guys. It is surprising how even a mediocre interviewer like me can get lots of useful information just by talking to the veterans. There are many foreign sources that will cheerfully help someone like me. The Imperial War Museum in London, The RAF Museum as well as the Canadian National Archives and the RAAF Museum were all quite helpful. I have always had a special fondness for the Lockheed Ventura, and was pleased to get help from USMC as well as USN veterans through the help of Leatherneck and Wings of Gold publications.

Let me just mention a few with whom I have worked successfully. Steve Ferguson is one name that comes easily to mind. We had the terrible habit of spending lots of time on the phone just exchanging views on Pacific air war history. Steve is perhaps underrated as a researcher, but his depth of knowledge is formidable. In the same camp is Bill Hess, who has written the most trenchant stuff on the Mustang, and especially the 354th FG. (Steve Blake is doing the history of the 354th, and I expect a crackerjack work with lots of incidental anecdotes.) Bill is perhaps the dean of researchers into the history of fighter aces, and has influenced everybody including Frank Olynyk and me. Of course, my late pal Jeff Ethell was a class act. We lost a lot of good thinking in the field of aviation history when he was killed, and I increased my sour taste for W. Bodie when he said some unkind and unfair things about his partnership with Jeff. I only met Jay Robbins once when he and his wife attended a convention that I happened to also attend. He seemed quite the gentleman, and was the soft-spoken ex fighter pilot that every account seemed to suggest.

Speak about your work with the P-38 Foundation
Steve Blake actually got me onto the P-38 Association. I am not a good American who likes to join clubs or such organizations, but the P-38 Association is such a member friendly group that I got along well with it. Only the P-51 Association is like it in encouraging membership.

What are your upcoming projects - books, collaborations
The aviation history business is in the dumps right now, with little encouragement for folks to do their work. I have a preliminary manuscript for a history of airline colors, but nobody wants it. Also, I have a manuscript for a novel about P-38s in New Guinea that registered some interest for a moment before it fizzled. I am like Jerry Lewis in that France is more interested in my work than my own land happens to be. I am currently doing some articles on American aces for Aero Journal.

Thank you for the interview Mr. Stanaway

  Discussion Forum Daily Updates Reviews Museums Interviews & Oral Histories  
Pacific Wrecks Inc. All rights reserved.
Donate Now Facebook Twitter YouTube Instagram