“I began to drift off to sleep, and a saying of General MacArthur’s crossed my mind. There are no atheists in foxholes. Truer words were never spoken, but the thought of that truth in relation to the Air Force Boys came into my mind. I wanted to add to that statement, pilots also pray. I knew that firsthand.”—Lt. Tom Harmon, author of “Pilots Also Pray”
Over the past few months, I’ve had the opportunity to make a new friend in actor Mark Harmon (Lt. Tom Harmon’s son). A week ago, Mark handed me this rare book, “Pilots Also Pray,” written by his father. As an aviator and a World War II military enthusiast, I was immediately consumed in Lt. Harmon’s story, and finished it in two sittings. It’s a great read, and I highly recommend the book to anyone who can get their hands on a copy. Sorry, I’m keeping mine!
There was so much that remained unanswered for me while reading about Tom’s football years (I wanted more); the book only hinted at the brilliant coaching and life lessons learned being part of the Harmon clan, and later playing ball at Michigan. These same experiences would later serve him well as a young aviator at war.
Tom Harmon was nominated All-American while playing halfback at Michigan in 1939 and in 1940—the year he won the Heisman Trophy. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1954. Even though he was selected as the number-one pick for the 1941 NFL draft, he declined professional sports to pursue a more stable, long-term career in broadcast radio in order to take care of his family—something he cared deeply about.
Then, America was at war with Germany and Japan, and like many young, brave men of that great generation, Tom left a promising career and his family to sign up for the Army Air Corps; he was going to to be a pilot.
This is where the book goes from good to great. Flight training and more flight training. Like any hazardous duty, good men inevitably die in training for the hard fight, and Lt. Harmon would see plenty of this, even before finding himself ditching his B-25 bomber over South America (he was the only survivor). Later, after recovering from the crash and walking out of the South American jungle, shortly after recovering from his injuries he returned to full flight status.
This time Lt. Harmon would be piloting the mighty P-38 Lightning in Africa, and later soaring over the majestic Himalayas bound for a remote Chinese outpost. There, he and the infamous Flying Tigers gave the Japs hell in the Army’s new P-38s.
Sorry, any more information and I would be spoiling a good read.
The stick-and-rudder flying, seat-of-the-pants navigation, and combat engagements with Japanese Zeros are all incredible, and the stuff of legend. Even more so when you imagine that most of these young men were barely of legal drinking age when they shipped off for war half a world away.
Even though we served in different wars, the story of brotherhood, and how warfare creates an unbreakable bond among certain men of caliber, rang true to me and my own experiences. Below is a photo excerpt of an amazing speech Tom gave before leaving his squadron in China.
Lt. Tom Harmon is an example of the kind of character we need today in America more than ever. You can read his full bio here.
Get the book and give it a read; it’s still available in print. Special thanks to Mark Harmon for sharing this incredible book with me.