Monday, February 27, 2017

Book Review - Without Precedent: Commando, Fighter Pilot, and the True Story of Australia's First Purple Heart

Due to my book backlog, it took me far longer to get to Owen Zupp’s most recent release than it should have. Zupp’s previous two aviation collections, Fifty Tales of Flight and Fifty More Tales of Flight were excellent, and I’d been looking forward to reading Without Precedent: Commando, Fighter Pilot, and the True Story of Australia's First Purple Heart since he’d announced it.

A departure from his previous books, Without Precedent is part biography, part war story, shaded in the memories, love, and respect of a man for his father.

We meet Phillip Zupp as a young boy, and follow his upbringing in the hardscrabble farm life he was born into, and share his wonder at his first airplane sighting in the 1920s. As World War II engulfs the whole of the globe, we see Phillip make one of the most fateful decisions of his life, joining the RAAF to train as a navigator before transferring to the army and ending up in Papua New Guinea as a commando before war’s end.
Post-war, Owen chronicles Phillip’s life through serving as part of the Australian Army contingent in Japan near Hiroshima,  his return home, and ultimately, the process that found him back in the Australian Air Force, receiving flight training and being deployed to Korea flying the Gloster Meteor Mk.8 during the Korean war.
It’s the Korean war segment that truly elevates this book. Owen’s look at his father’s activities is unflinching, while taking pains to show the mindset and viewpoint behind the actions. The combat descriptions here are vivid and action packed, putting the reader right into the cockpit with Phillip, close enough to nearly smell the cordite, kerosene, and spent rocket fuel from missions.

If there is a flaw to the book, it’s that I honestly wanted it to be longer. Owen’s chronicles of his father’s post war flying career, which involved additional military flying, airline jobs, and flight instruction before ultimately having a twenty year career flying for the NSW Air Ambulance service gets far less page time than I would have wished for. A couple of memorable recollected life flights in particular left me wanting to read more about this portion of Phillip’s career.

Much more than just an excellent aviation story (though it certainly is that), this is the kind of book that parents should hope their sons or daughters are inspired to write about them one day. We may not live lives with the variety and excitement that Phillip Zupp did, but we should all be inspired to live our lives with courage, making the most of our abilities, and seeking to set examples that will inspire and encourage our own children.

Disclosure note: I bought this book on my own, and all opinions are my own. Amazon links are affiliate links.

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