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Book Review: Down In Flames

By Bill Gius, WOA 3397

Down in Flames

Colonel Larry Guarino (U.S. Air Force ret.) took his personal experiences and turned them into what I feel is the start of a great series of novels. I can’t confirm his plans for more books about his WWII Spitfire flying ace, but he sure sets up the reader for future volumes. The author honors his real-life friends and reveals how close the book mirrors his early career in his dedication: “From the air battles in North Africa to the Anzio campaign in Italy, 1943 to 1944, there were at least fifty to sixty pilots who served in the U.S. 308th Fighter Squadron. My personal research tells me that of that number, only four of us are still among the living.” 

I don’t want to give away too much here, so you’ll need to make the reasonable investment of about $15 with Blue Note Publishing for the whole story. I can also recommend Larry’s first book, his autobiography A P.O.W.’s Story: 2801 Days In Hanoi. When you read both, become familiar with the author; you’ll pick up insight generated by hindsight into the story behind Down in Flames. Read that to appreciate the cover art to Flames.

The central character to “Flames” is an all-American, airplane-loving boy many Warbirds readers will be able to easily identify with. Nick Forte’s love of flying started, like many, in his admiration of the Lone Eagle. Global conflict drew him to military service and his tour of training in airplanes with two wings, high wings, low wings, single and multiple engines, along with the stress, fears, and anxieties of possibly not being allowed to realize his dreams. Friends wash out, are killed, transfer, and wind up with the “pickle” in their hands rather than the control stick. Nick’s flying skills, personality, and perseverance overcame all obstacles to eventually deliver him to his dream and the crosshairs of Nazi fighters.

Down In Flames 2
Larry With Mk. V Spitfire

Larry blends the lives of Nick’s military buddies, family, and civilian friends with realism, passion, lust, and learning to turn out this page-turner novel, paralleling historically accurate events of the time. Friends are gained and lost; love is – well, I can’t tell you because that’s some of the best twists in the story.

Nick’s first combat tour brings him to the Italian theater and his introduction to his favorite steed, the Supermarine Spitfire. It’s love at first sight and first flight. He’s good to his aerial mate and she’s good to him. The U.S. units flying the Spits weren’t like the earlier Americans flying for the Royal Air Force. Our pilots were flying “reverse lend-lease” Spits in Italy and North Africa. Author: “There were two American fighter groups composed of three squadrons each that flew the Spitfire from the landings in North Africa in December or 1942 until April 1944 while the battle at Anzio, Italy, was still underway. At that time the Spitfires of both groups were replaced with the American-built P-51 aircraft, which turned out to be arguably the best fighter plane in all of WWII.”

Nick’s Spit was too frequently the center of attention for Me-109s and FW-190s. Brief glimpses of the enemy’s view of their quarry enrich the novel and remind us of the humanity and inhumanity behind the trigger of each aircraft’s weapons.

Even the finest aircraft of the period needed, as Nick finds out, fuel to keep flying. Nick survives his harrowing dead-stick landing and fortunately falls into the hands of Italian partisans. Some of the partisans turn out to be a bit more attractive than others. Avoiding capture leads Nick through the peaceful Italian mountains and war-ravaged towns with his newfound comrades helping him to explore his family lineage and face the earthborn side of war’s hand-to-hand combat which he has flown over so many times.

Down In Flames 3
Larry on Memorial Day 2010

I’m fortunate to be able to call Larry’s son Tom a good friend. So, my view of the novel may be a bit biased. Also, I can’t help but look at the too few many Spits flying today and reflect back on the nonchalant “comments” from the characters about the wrecked Spit here, or after a German strafing run the odd burning Spit with the Packard-built Merlin from the hulk of a destroyed Mk. 9 in a pile where a beautiful aircraft once stood. Then again, that’s what makes us support and fly Warbirds.

This book will be a good edition to your collection.

About the Author
Colonel Larry Guarino joined the Army Air Corps soon after Pearl Harbor. He flew the Spitfire in the Mediterranean Theater. Later in China he flew the P-51. He fought in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam, where in his F-105 on June 14, 1965, he was shot down on his 50th mission. Larry and other POWs were repatriated in 1973. He retired from the U.S. Air Force two years later with over 50 decorations including the Air Force Cross, Distinguished Service Medal, Silver Stars, Purple Hearts, and others. Larry lives in Florida with his wife, Evelyn.

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