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IN BRIEF

Nonfiction

October 16, 1994|DICK RORABACK

WARRIORS WHO RIDE THE WIND by William F.X. Band (Castle Books, Box 17262, Memphis, Tenn. 38187: $19.95; 267 pp.) Just outside Chunyan, China, at an intersection with the fabled Burma Road, stands a 20-foot monument to one Bob Mooney. Years ago, the Red Guards, in a typical fit of xenophobia, hammered the memorial to bits. The people of Chunyan saved the bits. When the storm passed, they painstakingly reassembled the monument, complete with the inscription: "As prophesied by the Ancients, battles will be fought in the air by warriors who ride the wind." Today, Chunyan school-kids put on an annual play about Mooney, with the older boys vying for the right to play the pilot. Some people never forget.

Most of us do, though, and this rankled Bill Band. Grazing through the World War II chapter of his granddaughter's high school history book, Band was nettled to note that the Flying Tigers came up empty. Claire Chennault's old outfit--the audacious young acrobats who tied up a million Japanese troops and a thousand aircraft in China, an entire war machine that otherwise would have been thrown into the battle for the Pacific--had been stiffed again by the historians. Band's book closes the gap. The man has a prodigious memory. He recalls with wry affection the semi-primitive, pre-radar P-40 fighters with bombs and fuel tanks slung precariously from unarmored bellies, with leaky oxygen tanks and canopies that wouldn't open for bail-out, with tires flattened from rickety runways "smoothed" by as many as 900 coolies pulling a huge concrete roller. He remembers blowing bridges and railroads and strafing whole armies, and the men--boys, really--who came back, succored for hundreds of miles by gallant Chinese guerrillas in loincloths, and those who didn't like his buddy Mooney. Bond is a storyteller, not an author, but it's the "unauthorliness" of his memoir that lends the book the grit of authenticity.

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