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Book Review 255: Lost Black Sheep

October 4, 2012 - Harry Eagar
LOST BLACK SHEEP: The Search for WWII Ace Chris Magee, by Robert T. Reed. 246 pages, illustrated. Hellgate, $24.95

“Lost Black Sheep” is a most unusual example of “greatest generation” memoir. The subject, Chris Magee, scored nine victories in the South Pacific with the Black Sheep, second only to squadron commander Pappy Boyington. Then he joined the Israeli air force in 1948, one of the few goyim to help defend the Jews from attacks by Egyptian bombers.

The not-so-great part of his life included smuggling, some mysterious flying for unspecified troublemakers in Latin America and eight years in Leavenworth for bank robbery.

It is sometimes suggested that young adventurers have a hard time coming down from the early high of combat, but the other Black Sheep, with the exception of Boyington, came back to civil life and uniformly did well. (I did not notice until starting this review that my second-hand copy of “Lost Black Sheep” has a label indicating that it was formerly owned by Ned Corman, a Black Sheep fighter pilot who later was a captain for PanAm and did well enough to retire to Wailea before his death in 2008.)

Robert Reed does not suggest that it was a thirst for action that got Magee into trouble, although he was a restless man with little regard for rules even as a youngster.

Later, though, he settled down and led a quiet life. Besides quick reflexes,he had a powerful mind, but lacked direction. He spent decades studying crackpot theories like anthroposophy.

He also had an unformed talent for writing. His letters are consistently interesting but as undisciplined as the early part of his life.

After entering prison, Magee was lost to family and friends for decades. The second half of the book describes how Reed tracked him down and how the Black Sheep veterans reintegrated Magee into their fraternity.

There is a startling revelation in this part of the story, which I am not going to give away.


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