Monday, December 30, 2013

Lost Black Sheep: The Search for WWII Ace Chris Magee

Review by Jim Bates

When most people think about VMF-214, aka "The Black Sheep," they remember either Pappy Boyington or the fictional characters from the 1970s TV show. Few know that a member of VMF-214 was not only an ace, but his life was probably more interesting than the fiction they remember with nostalgia. His name was Chris Magee.

Robert T. Reed's book, Lost Black Sheep: The Search of WWII Ace Chris Magee, is written in two parts; the first, a biography of Mr. Magee, the second, a search for Mr. Reed's roots, and the two turn out to have significant crossover.  Chris Magee grew up in Chicago and, as a young man, tried to get to Europe to become a fighter pilot in World War II. He failed at first, but did end up training in Canada with the RCAF. After graduating with his wings from the RCAF he joined the United States Marine Corps and became the second highest scoring ace with the Black Sheep. Mr. Magee was not the typical fighter pilot as portrayed on screen. He was a deeply intellectual man, who was a voracious reader and a great writer.  Several of his letters are included in the book and they are well written, observant, and quite amusing at times. Post-war, Mr. Magee continued flying as a mercenary with Israel, later became a bank robber and then spent some time as a guest of the Federal Government. After paying his debt to society, he dropped off the face of the earth.

The second section of the book is more personal for Mr. Reed. He discovered that the man he grew up calling "Dad" was not his biological father; it was actually Mr. Magee.  Robert tracked down Mr. Magee and set out to establish a relationship. What does an ace, robber, and mercenary do in old age? Apparently, settle down to a life in a small apartment outside of Chicago to continue his intellectual quests, spending most of his time with his nose in a book. The story continues as Mr. Reed becomes acquainted with his father and reintroduces Chris to both his fellow Black Sheep and Mr. Magee's remaining estranged family members.

Lost Black Sheep is quite interesting and enjoyable. After finishing it, I longed for more insight into what made Mr. Magee tick.  Clearly he was far from the stereotypical fighter pilot and certainly no two dimensional underscripted TV character.