An unforgettable and thrilling tale of two WWII American bomber pilots who forged an unexpected friendship in the flak-filled skies over Nazi Germany.
The air battle over Nazi Germany in WWII was hell above earth. It lasted three years and cost 125,000 Allied aircrew men, including 26,000 Americans from the US Army's Eighth Air Force in England, their lives. For bomber crews, every day they flew was like D-Day, exacting tremendous amounts of emotional uncertainty and trauma. Some men, like twenty-year-old U.S. Captain Werner Goering, accepted this, even thrived on and welcomed the adrenaline rush. They knew that death could come in a variety of ways: an unlucky flak burst, Luftwaffe fighters that could appear anywhere at any time, or pilot error while flying less than twenty feet apart. Werner Goering was an exceptional pilot. He was also the nephew of Herman Goering, leading member of the Nazi party and Commander in Chief of the Luftwaffe.
When Werner qualified to become a bomber commander in 1942, J. Edgar Hoover issued a top secret order to ensure that if his plane was downed for any reason over Nazi-occupied Europe, someone would be there in the cockpit to shoot Captain Werner Goering dead. The FBI and the American military would not prevent Werner from serving his American homeland in war, but neither would they risk the propaganda coup that his desertion, or even his live capture, would represent for Nazi Germany. So in early 1943, FBI agents fanned out across the United States to find a man capable of and willing to shoot Werner dead in the cockpit, and one who could then get the plane back home. They found Jack Rencher, a tough, insular, B-17 instructor in Yuma, Arizona, who also happened to be one of the Army's best pistol shots. That Jack and Werner became unlikely friends is just one more twist in Hell Above Earth, one of the most incredible untold tales to come out of WWII.
Stephen Frater was a staff writer and columnist for the New York Times subsidiary The Sarasota Herald-Tribune. His articles, biographical features and military themed nonfiction book reviews have been published nationwide. He is currently an adjunct Assistant Professor at the University of Rhode Island's Harrington School of Communication and Media. He lives in Rhode Island and Florida.