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Lightning Down: A World War II Story of Survival

Review

Lightning Down: A World War II Story of Survival

Bestselling author Tom Clavin has brought the dark past back to life and light in LIGHTNING DOWN, a stirring account of the perils faced and ordeals suffered by American airman Joe Moser, who was captured by the Nazis near the end of the war in Europe.

Moser was one of many American farm boys who had dreams of becoming a pilot. It seemed like an impossible goal until war broke out on December 7, 1941. He was expediently trained and deployed to Europe to fly a P-38 Lightning, one of the military’s finest crafts, manufactured in answer to the call to defeat Hitler’s Luftwaffe.

"Reading this war and captivity history as seen through the eyes of a strong, resilient survivor is a true education, surely far more disturbing than any fictional 'horror story' --- because it really happened."

When the P-38 crashed in occupied France in August 1944, Moser and his cohorts from America, Canada and New Zealand were put in cattle cars and shipped to Buchenwald, among the worst of the Nazis’ notorious concentration camps. The pilots, given the designation Terrorfliegers, were to be treated as prisoners of war, a step or two above those who had entered the camp as Jews or traitors to the Reich, whose torments and extermination they would soon witness.

Clavin makes starkly clear the minute-by-minute horrors observed and experienced by Moser and his companions. The men were placed in vastly overcrowded quarters, put to work in the camp’s quarry, and given worm-filled soup and bread made of sawdust for sustenance. They would watch as those around them were systematically tortured, hanged or simply shot at the slightest sign of disobedience, or merely for the sport of such evil, sadistic captors as Karl-Otto Koch and his demonic wife, given the nickname “the Bitch of Buchenwald.”

Moser’s extreme deprivations ended when the camp where he was housed was liberated by American forces the following April. All cheered to the sight of the raising of the stars and stripes where a swastika once had flown.

Clavin has constructed an account filled with harrowing images that will linger in readers’ minds as they doubtless lingered in Moser’s memory. In fact, his own family didn’t know the full range of those experiences until Moser, in his 80s, collaborated with Gerald Baron on his memoir, A FIGHTER PILOT IN BUCHENWALD, from which, among many other sources, Clavin has mined much material.

Reading this war and captivity history as seen through the eyes of a strong, resilient survivor is a true education, surely far more disturbing than any fictional “horror story” --- because it really happened. The comfort comes as we learn that some fortunate few survived and, like Moser, came home to lives of quiet prosperity and enduring patriotism.

Reviewed by Barbara Bamberger Scott on November 12, 2021

Lightning Down: A World War II Story of Survival
by Tom Clavin

  • Publication Date: November 2, 2021
  • Genres: History, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • ISBN-10: 1250151260
  • ISBN-13: 9781250151261