“They are the knighthood of this war, without fear and without reproach; and they recall the legendary days of chivalry, not merely by their daring exploits but by the
nobility of their spirit.” — David Lloyd-George, Speech in House of Commons, October 29, 1917
My WWII historical novel Close to the Sun follows the lives of two Americans and a German from childhood through the end of WWII. As boys, they idealize the exploits of WWI fighter aces known as chivalrous Knights of the Skies. Hank Milroy from Wyoming learns his first flying lessons from observing falcons. Karl, Fürst von Pfalz-Teuffelreich, aspires to surpass his father’s 49 Luftsiegen accumulated during WWI. Seth Braham falls in love with flying during an air show at San Francisco’s Chrissy Field. The young men meet exceptional women. Texas tomboy Catherine “Winty” McCabe believes she is as good a flyer as any man. Princess Maria-Xenia, a stateless White Russian, works for the Abwehr, German intelligence. Elfriede “Elfi” Wohlmann is a frontline nurse. Mimi Kay sings with a big band.
Flying fighters over Europe, Hank, Karl, and Seth experience the exhilaration of aerial combat victories and acedom during the unromantic reality of combat losses, tedious bomber escort, strafing runs, and firebombing of entire cities. Callous political decisions and military mistakes add to their disillusion, especially one horrific tragedy at the end of the war.
Historically a Camaraderie developed within the fighter squadrons, and friendly rivalry also was common during competition to be the top ace. After the war, more friendships developed between Allied and Axis flyers who met at fighter pilot conventions and entertained each other in their homes.
One interesting bond was that between the Jewish RAF hero of the Battle of Britain, Robert Roland Stanford “Lucky” Tuck, credited with 27.66 to 31 victories, and Luftwaffe General of All Fighters Adolf Galland who had 104 Luftsiegen. Galland entertained Tuck after the RAF ace had to bail out over German held territory in 1942. During Tuck’s interrogation by Galland, each was surprised to learn they had shot down the other’s wingman during the Battle of Britain, and a friendship began. Tuck later became godfather for Galland’s son born in 1966.
Hannes Scharff, a German living in South Africa and married to a daughter of a WWI Royal Flying Corps squadron leader, returned to Germany when the war began and became the interrogator of captured 8th and 9th Air Forces pilots. Charming and non-threatening, he learned more information than any harsh methods might have accomplished. Near the end of the war, imprisoned fighter pilots whom he had interrogated, broke out of their Stalg Luft prison as the Soviets came closer. They rescued Scharff to save him from execution by the Red army.
I saw the fighter ace camaraderie often first hand while researching for Close to the Sun. I was among the following guests at fighter ace Historian USAF Colonel ret. Raymond F. Toliver’s home one typical evening in the 1970s: Adolf Galland and Robert Roland Sanford Tuck; General Frank Kurz who flew the legendary B-17 Swoose Goose during WWII; Jim Brooks who had 13 victories against the Japanese and his wife “Liltin” Martha Tilton; Bud Mahuren who scored 20.75 ETO victories against the Luftwaffe plus 3.5 in Korea; and the above mentioned master interrogator Hannes Scharff, then living in the USA as a gifted artist in mosaics.
Elapsed time seems to have restored the romanticized fighter ace ideal as chivalrous Knights of the Skies, which began in the Great War, and was memorialized in books and later films such as The Grand Illusion.
About the Author
Author of four other novels, ROCAMORA, HOUSE OF ROCAMORA, A GATHERING OF VULTURES, and CLOSE TO THE SUN, Donald Michael Platt was born and raised in San Francisco. Donald graduated from Lowell High School and received his B.A. in History from the University of California at Berkeley. After two years in the Army, Donald attended graduate school at San Jose State where he won a batch of literary awards in the annual SENATOR PHELAN LITERARY CONTEST.
Donald moved to southern California to begin his professional writing career. He sold to the TV series, MR. NOVAK, ghosted for health food guru, Dan Dale Alexander, and wrote for and with diverse producers, among them as Harry Joe Brown, Sig Schlager, Albert J. Cohen, Al Ruddy plus Paul Stader Sr, Hollywood stuntman and stunt/2nd unit director. While in Hollywood, Donald taught Creative Writing and Advanced Placement European History at Fairfax High School where he was Social Studies Department Chairman.
After living in Florianópolis, Brazil, setting of his horror novel A GATHERING OF VULTURES, pub. 2007 & 2011, he moved to Florida where he wrote as a with: VITAMIN ENRICHED, pub.1999, for Carl DeSantis, founder of Rexall Sundown Vitamins; and THE COUPLE’S DISEASE, Finding a Cure for Your Lost “Love” Life, pub. 2002, for Lawrence S. Hakim, MD, FACS, Head of Sexual Dysfunction Unit at the Cleveland Clinic.
Currently, Donald resides in Winter Haven, Florida where he is polishing a dark novel and preparing to write a sequel to CLOSE TO THE SUN.
About the Book
Close to the Sun follows the lives of fighter pilots during the Second World War. As a boy, Hank Milroy from Wyoming idealized the gallant exploits of WWI fighter aces. Karl, Fürst von Pfalz-Teuffelreich, aspires to surpass his father’s 49 Luftsiegen. Seth Braham falls in love with flying during an air show at San Francisco’s Chrissy Field.
The young men encounter friends, rivals, and exceptional women. Braxton Mobley, the hotshot, wants to outscore every man in the air force. Texas tomboy Catherine “Winty” McCabe is as good a flyer as any man. Princess Maria-Xenia, a stateless White Russian, works for the Abwehr, German Intelligence. Elfriede Wohlman is a frontline nurse with a dangerous secret. Miriam Keramopoulos is the girl from Brooklyn with a voice that will take her places.
Once the United States enter the war, Hank, Brax, and Seth experience the exhilaration of aerial combat and acedom during the unromantic reality of combat losses, tedious bomber escort, strafing runs, and the firebombing of entire cities. As one of the hated aristocrats, Karl is in as much danger from Nazis as he is from enemy fighter pilots, as he and his colleagues desperately try to stem the overwhelming tide as the war turns against Germany. Callous political decisions, disastrous mistakes, and horrific atrocities they witness at the end of WWII put a dark spin on all their dreams of glory.
Publication Date: June 15, 2014