Nightfighter: Radar Intercept Killer

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"Nightfighter: Radar Intercept Killer"

Reviewed by Don DeNevi (03-13-12)

     Consider the incalculable courage young Marine pilots in nine night fighter squadrons deployed to the Pacific in World War II must have had as they climbed into their Hellcat cockpits to fly and fight blindly in pitch black, unfathomable skies. Night after night, and with no beacons to guide them, they raced to the darkest of challenges: triumphant where there is no light. Countless lives depended on the work they had to do, each man understanding with no tears or sentiment that the ultimate in human resolution is to die so that others may live.
     Rarely acknowledged today, their collective valor is unquestionably worthy of the nation's highest honor, let alone our personal respect and recognition.

Now, thanks to the determination and perseverance of Mark A. Magruder, one of five "devil pups" sons fathered by Col. Marion Milton "Black Mac" Magruder, USMC, we are not only privy to the genesis of U.S. Naval Radar Intercept Night Fighting, but also the daily grind preparing for night fighting engaged in by the highly decorated "Black Mac's Killers" squadron, VMF (N) 533, credited with an amazing 36 kills. "Black Mac" was the moniker Captain H. Hutchinson, Jr., tagged "Skipper" Magruder with in 1943 when the then-major was designated CO of a newly formed radar intercept squadron after studying night fighting techniques and strategies with RAF veterans in England. The Skipper, who also happened to have black hair, loved it.
     In a recent interview, Mark commented, "I'm very proud to have preserved and now present my father's legacy in "Nightfighter -- Radar Intercept Killer" (Pelican Publishing Company, 2012,  $25). Like so many others, he gave his all for America.  I've tried to detail all the intricacies of night fighting, including how vertigo or a simple misjudgment or an electrical or engine failure can lead to instant death. By placing the reader in dad's mind and aviator's suit in facing zero visual perspective, you will know every item in the self-contained cockpit; the buttons, the levers, the handles, reading the panel gauges as well as any of his pilots, hearing the sounds and roar of the propellers and motor, and even smelling all the natural smells of the brand new F6F-3 Hellcat with its AIA Radar."
     And, indeed, not since Col. R. Bruce Porter's "ACE! A Marine Night Fighter Pilot in World War II" (1985) and Thomas Doll's "Night Wings, USMC Night Fighters, 1942-1953" (2000) has biography in the framework of reportorial realism been so riveting -- especially when viewed over the Okinawa Campaign with the ever-changing  tides of the Pacific war as backdrop. Fortunately for us, Mark, Jr., includes never-before-published information on World War II night fighting methods from his father's private files, to say nothing of fascinating accounts from VMF (N) 533 Squadron war diaries, after-action reports and select secret communiqués. The photos are priceless while the reference sources add to the wealth of the technical, yet easy-to-absorb, detail.
     Surprisingly, Pelican Publishing Company of Gretna, Louisiana, known primarily for producing regional histories, children's books, and southern style cooking manuals, scooped the publishing world by presenting serious military readers and armchair war buffs with a text certain to be one of the best World War II biographies in 2012. "Pelican got the book," says Mark, Jr., "because no other publisher would even allow me to send it in for consideration. In fact, most say they are no longer interested in 'patriotic military stories'. Time and again my manuscript was summarily dismissed. And, furthermore, no literary agent was interested in representing a first-time author focusing upon a war most have already forgotten."
     There are times a reviewer wishes he could come up with new words that express something more than "powerful", "balanced", "meticulously researched", "engaging", and the like which are so over worked. Yet, neither my Thesaurus nor my inadequate word-mill mind can come up with better praise. Any and all those adjectives apply to this fine effort by a loving son who indeed succeeded in placing us directly into the heart and spirit of his Marine hero father.


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