Book Review

Dumb But Lucky

by Richard K. Curtis

Ballantine; $6.99

"Come with us now to the thrilling days of yesteryear and the thundering hoof beats of the great horse Silver." So began each episode of The Lone Ranger. In Richard K. Curtis' new book about another yesteryear, the thundering comes from a one thousand five hundred horsepower Rolls Royce Merlin engine and the air born steed is a silver P-51B Mustang fighter plane, because of which the staggering loss of U.S. bomber planes over World War II Europe was considerably less staggering than it might have been. The P-51 bested Hitler's Luftwaffe.

The title of this excellent volume is Dumb But Lucky, but the title is only half right - the second half. Indiana author Dick Curtis is not dumb; he writes brilliantly about heroism, his own heroism, to the tune of the Air Medal and the Distinguish Flying Cross, as a World War II P-51 fighter pilot. His beautifully vivid words cast a spell that carries a reader someplace between a realistic daydream and a very good movie.

When Charles Lindbergh became the first to fly across the Atlantic nonstop, he acquired the sobriquet, Lucky Lindy. Hardly "dumb," Dick Curtis was certainly lucky. Call him Lucky Curtis. He survived to write about fifty-one P-51 combat missions in Europe. But he didn't write about them right away. He, like William Manchester and fellow Hoosier Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., two other gifted writers who were World War II combat veterans, wrote other successful books before bringing himself to face and poetically set on paper the fearsome memories of his selfless combat service to our country in its hour, many hours, of maximum danger.

They say all's fair in love and war and they are wrong. Somewhat battered lately, the Geneva Convention on War still exists. And, in the case of Mr. Curtis, there is something very fair about love, the beautifully fair countenance of Myrt, his fellow Worcester, Massachusetts high school student, Myrt - at a rival school. He torched for her as the 1943 flames of war engulfed America. At the time, Myrt showed little interest in him. Dream on, Dick.

By Kennedy-esque coincidence, Curtis's older and just married brother was killed aboard an American bomber plane in Europe. Still in his teens, Curtis volunteered for U.S. Army Air Corps pilot training in hope of going to Europe and helping to even the score for his beloved big brother Bob. Another brother, Dana survived World War II as a bomber plane crewman, only to perish in the Korean "police action conflict."

Curtis flew his missions from a base in Italy. Fifty missions meant going home to the States and, most of all, to Myrt. Bush pilots in Alaska describe their exploits as "shooting craps with the devil." In Dick Curtis's case the devil was shooting back and in this time-machine book, Curtis takes us up and into his combat missions with terrifying details. During Dick Curtis's year of living dangerously through fifty-one combat missions, his P-51B stayed aloft as fate fell his way.

He and Myrt long ago settled in Indianapolis and taught school. Speech Communication in Dick's case at IUPUI. Myrt, who as a Hoosier began using her middle name of Beth, taught history at North Central High School.

Having acquired two sons, a daughter and four grandchildren, in the summer of 2005 this wonderfully blessed Curtis couple celebrated their sixtieth yearly mission of marriage - flying high.

There is one imperfection in the Curtis odyssey. Back when money was money, his Italian barber charged fifteen cents for a shave and a haircut and Curtis tipped a nickel, egregiously screwing-up the time-honored comedic lyric, "Shave and a haircut, two bits." May Roget Rabbit forgive him. That aside, it's a smart and lucky reader who experiences Dick Curtis's Dumb But Lucky.

Andy Jacobs Jr. will be a guest on Larry King Live on Thursday, Aug. 12 at 8 p.m. on the subject of "Social Security and Iraq." Co-panelists include Jessie Jackson and Newt Gingrich.

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