Last month I became aware of a novel in the carrier aviation genre I’m ashamed to say I had not heard of. My friend and fellow aviator-turned-blogger Ed Beakley over at Remembered Sky sent an email to his network recommending books that capture carrier aviation through the major conflicts of the past 100 years. Richard Newhafer’s The Last Tallyho represents World War II in the Pacific.
“Dick” Newhafer was an F6F Hellcat pilot in that war, seeing extensive action with Fighting SIX aboard USS Hancock (downing three or nine enemy aircraft depending on the website account and helping to sink the battleship Ise), receiving the Navy Cross and three DFCs. He went on to serve in Korea and did a stint as what we would know today as a Blue Angel events coordinator before separating from the service in 1960 when he was in Hollywood as technical advisor to a show about the Blue Angels. Quite a résumé.
It gets better. Blessed with a gift for words, he became a screenplay writer and advisor for 1960’s shows like Twelve O’Clock High and Combat. He wrote five novels and moved into the detective genre, writing for the detective series Cannon when he passed away too early in 1974 at only 53.
The Last Tallyho was his first novel, published in 1964. Long out of print, it is a story about the ship and air wing team aboard the fictional Essex class carrier Concord in 1943-1944. It delves into historical fiction with references to Nimitz and ends with harrowing combat during “The Great Marianas Turkey Shoot,” to include Newhafer’s character Admiral Delacrois making the famous decision to “turn on the lights” as VADM Marc Mitscher did. Don’t worry, there is plenty of gripping drama I did not spoil. When I received my old and worn paperback copy the first 19 pages were missing, but after jumping in I loved the story of newbie aviators reporting for duty, the excitement of Waikiki, flying out of Barbers Point, dancing with the nurses at Fort Shafter, and the forboding of leaving port and heading west into the unknown, possibly to meet a young man their age over a nameless atoll in a duel to the death.
Newhafer captures to camaraderie, the fear, the gallows humor, the burning passion for female companionship and love on the eve of battle, the resignation that today may be the day but hoping to God it is not. He lived it, and Ed Beakley, who also lived it a generation later over North Vietnam, is right to cite Newhafer as having captured better than anyone his time in Pacific War combat that will stand through the ages…in the form of a novel. As a novelist, I recognized my Saint and Cajun in Newhafer’s story, reminding me that there is nothing new under the sun, and that characters like them, good and bad, populate today’s ready rooms too.
If you haven’t yet, check out Richard Newhafer’s The Last Tallyho.