Military Book Reviews

A Gathering of Men

A Gathering of Men by Rona Simmons (Koehler Books, February 14, 2022, 262 pages)

Based on actual events, A Gathering of Men is a moving story of three childhood friends from small-town Candor, North Carolina. Their desire to become pilots eventually leads them to the US Army Air Force 100th Bomb Group stationed at Thorpe Abbotts, England, in 1944. The unit flies dangerous bombing missions over Europe, often facing staggering losses from enemy fighters and anti-aircraft guns. 

Overview

The story follows Lake Roth, whose eyesight prevents him from becoming a pilot. His mechanical skills, though, grant him responsible for maintenance of one of the many B-17 Flying Fortress heavy bombers used by the 100th Bomb Group as a crew chief. The story unfolds as Lake and the maintenance crews send the B-17s on their missions, then anxiously wait to see which aircraft return, so they can frantically repair them before the next mission. 

There is a tendency to view WWII as a “good” war, in which Americans from small towns across the country, like Candor, enlisted in the military, won the war, then returned home to resume their lives as if nothing happened. A Gathering of Men is a sobering reminder that war is traumatic and can have lasting affects. The author shows that what we now call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) refers to battle fatigue or combat fatigue during WWII, or a pilot may have been called “flak happy,” which could have resulted in a dreaded “Removed From Flying Status” designation. 

Takeaways

Though set during WWII, mental health struggles and other related topics, such as dealing with loss, survivor’s guilt, and transitioning from the military back to the civilian world, will speak to many service members and their loved ones. In various stages of his life, the man from Candor will face challenges about how open and truthful he will be. 

In an intriguing afterword, author Rona Simmons explains her personal link to the true story behind the novel and provides brief biographies of many of the actual airmen whose names she borrowed for characters in her story. Many of whom were “Removed From Flying Status”. 

Although the book deals with serious issues, the story is very engaging, and the pages fly by. A must-read for anyone that enjoys books about WWII or seeing the bombing campaign from an interesting perspective. This book would also be a great way to engage with new service members in discussions about important topics, such as being open and honest about their physical and mental health.  


Stephen Lepper served 21 years on Active Duty with the U.S. Navy’s Civil Engineer Corps. A licensed Professional Engineer, he currently works for CACI International Inc as an advisor on Military Construction for an international shipbuilding program. He lives with his family in central Massachusetts and is always on the lookout for what to read next. You can connect with him on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/stephen-lepper. 

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