Pulitzer Prize nominee and part-time Bethany Beach resident Donald L. Miller stopped by Bethany Beach Books on Saturday to sign his popular new book “Masters of the Air,” a story of American bomber crews in World War II.
The book chronicles life as an American bomber stationed in England, captured at German prison camps and in the air, where Eighth Air Force bomber crews died in the ’40s at higher rates than Marines on the ground.
“This is one of the great untold stories of the war,” Miller said. “I wanted to do something substantial. I just think World War II is one of the great human stories of the 20th century. It was a world-turning event.”
Miller, who received the Pulitzer nomination for a previous book written about Chicago, researched his latest book in eight countries. In the five-year researching/writing process, Miller talked to more than 300 veterans of the war, as well as Germans whose families were bombed during WWII and English people — especially women — who still remember vivid accounts of the bomber crews stationed in their town, according to Miller.
Miller said the Eighth Air Force crews had much better accommodations stationed in England than did the ground forces but they were more susceptible to conditions and death while in battle.
Flying at altitudes higher than 25,000 feet, the bombers — each of whom had only a one-in-five chance of surviving his tour of 25 missions — practiced unique, never-before-tried warfare that not only had them battling the enemy but also the side effects of thin, freezing air.
The Eighth Air Force alone lost 26,000 soldiers in World War II, a ratio surpassed only by submarine crews, Miller said Saturday.
“No one had ever fought a war like that,” said Miller, who taught at Oxford University in England for a year and has appeared on History Channel and PBS specials. “No one had ever tried this before.”
Miller — himself the son of an airman — talked to the family members of bomber pilots and some bomber pilots themselves on Saturday about the veterans and his research, while personalizing each book.
Ted Neuman, who was visiting friends in Bethany, attended the book signing with his son Matt Neuman, an Air Force pilot who flew in Baghdad in the early stages of the Iraq war.
“I thought this was great,” Ted Neuman said. “It’s nice to have someone well-known come out.”
Matt Neuman, who left with a new book and plans to read, said, “It will be interesting to see the perspective,” of the book. “It’s interesting to hear other people’s perspectives.”
Peter Martucci, another Bethany Beach Books patron who had an extensive conversation about the bomber pilots with Miller on Saturday, stopped in to check out the book and left somewhat in awe.
“I never heard of him before and I’m looking at his work,” Martucci said, mentioning Miller as a Pulitzer Prize nominee and Oxford University professor. “It’s pretty astounding.”