We've all experienced chance encounters. They're mostly uneventful, but sometimes they lead to greater things: opportunity, adventure, romance, higher callings--and gripping story-telling.
It was a chance encounter that crossed history writer Adam Makos' path with that of Tom Hudner, the co-subject of Makos' new book "Devotion." It was even a more random act of fate nearly 70 years ago that brought Hudner together with Jesse Brown, two men from vastly different worlds who had little in common.
Regardless if by destiny or serendipity, the Makos-Hudner encounter helped produce a compelling narrative chock full of pride, honor, race relations, bigotry, heroism and sacrifice, making what Makos defines as "an American story."
Hudner is the son of a wealthy white New England family and has reveled in his privilege. Brown is the African-American son of a dirt-poor sharecropper who watches planes circle the fields he toils over and dreams of a better life.
Through hard work, bold choices and--you guessed it--chance encounters, these polar opposites set off on disparate courses that land them in the same Navy fighter squadron on the carrier USS Leyte in the late 1940s. As they experience Navy life and learn the tricks of flying the prickly Corsair fighter aircraft, the protective screens both men use to regulate their personal encounters with people of a different skin color come down and a deep admiration builds.
This friendship meets its greatest test when the two pilots find themselves flying sorties during the Korean War. What looks like a United Nations cakewalk in the late 1950 is turned upside-down by the intervention of Chinese forces, forcing an Allied retreat and leading to the near entrapment of a Marine Division at the Chosin Reservoir.
Hudner and Brown are among the brave Corsair pilots who help spur the Marines' breakout, but an accurate Chinese bullet puts one pilot in mortal danger, prompting the other to make a difficult decision.
Makos glances at the periphery of Hudner's and Brown's worlds but doesn't burden the reader with too much context on the issues of the times. He sticks to the Hudner/Brown storyline, and that of other key pilots and Marines. One gets the sense that Makos sanitized the story, particularly on the race relations, but that's a minor complaint. The chapters are short, the dialogue remarkably detailed and the descriptions of impeding combat keep the reader's hands glued to the cover.
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