by Robert L. Willett
Lincoln: Potomac Books, University of Nebraska Press, 2020. Pp. xvi, 210+.
Illus., maps, notes, biblio., index. $29.95. ISBN: 1640120254
The Life and Death of an American Airman in Wartime China
Retired banker Willett, who has written several histories, including one on the pre-war and wartime Chinese national airline, has produced an account of the life, war, and fate of his cousin James Salles Browne (c. 1922-1942).
Jimmie Browne’s early life growing up in Illinois was hardly unusual, until he attended a military school and took some flight training. In 1941, well before formal U. S. entry into WW II, Browne headed for Canada, thence to Britain, to become a civilian air transport pilot. He then volunteered to fly for China’s national airline, thereby becoming part of that country’s ongoing resistance to Japan’s efforts at conquest. This was dangerous work, quite aside from Japan’s relentless efforts to conquer China, as pilots had to cope with primitive air fields and maintenance facilities, shortages of supplies, including fuel, and dangerous weather and terrain, notably so during missions “Over the Hump” to India, maintaining contact with the Allies.
Jimmie Browne and his plane disappeared on a flight to India in late 1942. For 40 years his family knew little more than that. Then Willett took up the search for the wreck and Browne’s remains. To say more would be a spoiler.
The Hunt for Jimmie Browne is an engaging story, set in mountains, isolated villages, war memorials, bureaucrats’ offices, and more, with a rather bitter-sweet outcome. Highly recommended.
Note: The Hunt for Jimmie Browne is also available in several e-editions.
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