Black and White Airmen: Their True History

Overview

Here is the true history of a friendship that almost wasn’t.

John Leahr and Herb Heilbrun grew up in the same neighborhood and were in the same third grade class together. They were classmates—not friends—because Herb was white and John was black.

John and Herb were twenty-one when the United States entered WWII. Herb became an Army Air Forces B-17 bomber pilot. John flew P-51 fighters. Both were thrown into the brutal high-altitude bomber war ...

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Overview

Here is the true history of a friendship that almost wasn’t.

John Leahr and Herb Heilbrun grew up in the same neighborhood and were in the same third grade class together. They were classmates—not friends—because Herb was white and John was black.

John and Herb were twenty-one when the United States entered WWII. Herb became an Army Air Forces B-17 bomber pilot. John flew P-51 fighters. Both were thrown into the brutal high-altitude bomber war against Nazi Germany, though they never met because the army was rigidly segregated—only in the air were black and white American fliers allowed to mix.

Both came safely home but it took Herb and John another fifty years to meet again and discover that their lives had run almost side by side through war and peace. Old friends at last, Herb and John launched a mission to tell young people why race once made all the difference and why it shouldn’t anymore.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Compellingly written war reminiscences, a stinging indictment of the U.S. Army Air Force's discrimination against blacks, and a sometimes-surprising picture of segregation's local realities before World War II. . . . Often thrilling and consistently absorbing.
Booklist, ALA

Definitely worth remembering. . . . The story of these two friends is enough to keep all readers interested.
VOYA (Voice of Youth Advocates)

"[The] power of...alternating stories, illustrated with personal photographs and period documents...[t]eens will find reason to ponder just how much difference two decades can make." The Bulletin 9/2007 Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

VOYA - Anita Beaman
The last members of "The Greatest Generation" will someday be gone, but their stories will not be forgotten. With this book, Fleischman records another World War II story that is definitely worth remembering. The world of fighter pilots was clearly segregated during the war, as was much of civilian life. The paths of white pilot Herb Heilbrun and Tuskegee Airman John Leahr crossed many times throughout their lives: They were in the same third grade class, they worked at the same factory before the war, and they flew together on two missions during the war. But when they met in 1997, neither remembered having ever met before. The story is of a friendship that "began in 1928 and took a while to get going." Fleischman shares the tales of each man's life before, during, and after the war and talks about the close friendship that developed seventy-six years after they first met. Their story is also of the war in Europe and the war at home-the struggle that John and other African Americans fought against racism. Through John's story, readers learn of the battle that African Americans waged to be allowed to fight for their country in World War II, and how the Tuskegee Airmen dispelled the belief that African Americans were not intelligent enough to be pilots. Fleischman's descriptions of flying WWII planes will fascinate some and be a bit too much for others, but the story of these two friends is enough to keep all readers interested.
Kirkus Reviews
In spite of World War II, racism and the vagaries of time, John Lear and Herb Heilbrun became friends. Herb is white; John is black. They grew up in the same neighborhood in Cincinnati and were in the same third-grade class. A class picture from 1928 shows John standing right in front of Herb, yet because of the color line in American society and the military, it took a journey from home to war, and back home again, and several years after that, before they became friends. Photographs, maps and a variety of other illustrations offer visual appeal to an otherwise uninspiring text. Though Fleischman dismisses source notes as too scholarly and doesn't include many resources for young readers, he does recommend several websites. The lackluster title and busy text may limit the appeal to WWII buffs. (Nonfiction. 10+)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780618562978
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 6/18/2007
  • Pages: 160
  • Sales rank: 525,483
  • Age range: 10 - 11 Years
  • Lexile: 1050L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 7.50 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.44 (d)

Meet the Author

John Fleischman uses his brain as a science writer with the American Society for Cell Biology and as a freelance writer for various magazines, including Discover, Muse, and Air & Space Smithsonian. He has been a science writer at the Harvard Medical School and a senior editor with Yankee and Ohio magazines. He lives in Ohio with his wife and a greyhound named Psyche.

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 24, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Ready, Willing, & Able.

    Black and White Airmen: Their True History, by John Fleischman and The Tuskegee Airmen: Black Heroes of World War II, by Jacqueline Harris: These two books were remarkable reading, and will probably inspire you "to be all you can be." The historical information was presented in an easy-to-read and understand format along with photos, maps, illustrations, diagrams, some diary entries, and other memorabilia from war time officers. Both books offer plenty of material that would allow middle and junior high school students an opportunity to write a well-developed book report or present an oral report. Also, the reader will learn how the Army Air Forces were during World War II as well as get a "feel" for the culture and mentality of the Defense Department of the United States of America during Franklin D. Roosevelt's administration. Readers will learn of the type of training provided to pilots before they went off to war, and where the training took place and the types of conditions the training was offered under. These books were very educational, insightful, and thought-provoking. They would be a worthwhile addition to a person's personal library.

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