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The Airmen and the Headhunters: A True Story…
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The Airmen and the Headhunters: A True Story of Lost Soldiers, Heroic… (edition 2007)

by Judith M. Heimann (Author)

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Member:MilitaryAviationML
Title:The Airmen and the Headhunters: A True Story of Lost Soldiers, Heroic Tribesmen and the Unlikeliest Rescue of World War II
Authors:Judith M. Heimann (Author)
Info:Harcourt (2007), Edition: 1, 304 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:
Tags:aviation history, military aviation, military history, WW II, Pacific, USAAF, B-24

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The Airmen and the Headhunters: A True Story of Lost Soldiers, Heroic Tribesmen and the Unlikeliest Rescue of World War II by Judith M. Heimann

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Audio book narrated by Susan Ericksen
3.5***

The book is subtitled: A True Story of Lost Soldiers, Heroic Tribesmen and the Unlikeliest Rescue of World War II.

In November 1944 a B-24 bomber went down in the jungles of Borneo. When the surviving airmen cut themselves loose from their parachutes they were scattered over miles of the island’s mountainous interior. They were not alone for long, however. Soon loincloth-wearing natives found them and communicated by gesture that they were willing to help these strange men who fell from the sky. The airmen had little choice but to trust that what they had heard about the “headhunters and wild men of Borneo” was false.

The story is a great adventure tale, and would make a wonderful novel. But it is completely true. The airmen were fed, clothed and housed by the natives; more importantly, they were hidden from the Japanese patrols despite threats of harm to the natives who defied the occupying Japanese troops.

I was attracted to the book because in this month of Veteran’s Day I wanted to read something that would reflect on my father’s service in WW2. He spent 33 months in the Pacific, and frequently talked about the various indigenous tribes people who helped them on various islands. The only “souvenir” he brought back was a spear from New Guinea.

Susan Ericksen does an adequate job narrating this tale of war, but I found her vocal quality just “not quite right” for this kind of tale. I’m sure that was because I so loved Edward Herrmann’s reading of Unbroken. Neither is Heimann so skilled at crafting a suspenseful tale of survival as is Hillenbrand. Maybe that is an unfair comparison, but there you have it.
( )
  BookConcierge | Jan 13, 2016 |
A true story of lost soldiers, heroic tribesmen and the unlikeliest rescue of WWII.
November 1944: Army airmen set out in a B-24 bomber on what should have been an easy mission off the Borneo coast. Instead they found themselves facing a Japanese fleet--and were shot down. When they cut themselves loose from their parachutes, they were scattered across the island's mountainous interior. Then a group of loincloth-wearing natives silently materialized... ( )
This review has been flagged by multiple users as abuse of the terms of service and is no longer displayed (show).
  Tutter | Feb 22, 2015 |
So maybe I'm a little weird but my all-time favorite novels are stories about castaways on tropical islands, and when I read those books it almost sounds like an adventure. Okay, maybe "adventure" is a bit much, since the castaways faced plenty of hardship, but there's something weirdly alluring about the idea – for me at least. But what if your island wasn't deserted? What if your island was inhabited by cannibals or headhunters or worse?

Well, it turns out some headhunters are actually very nice and generous people. In The Airmen and the Headhunters: A True Story of Lost Soldiers, Heroic Tribesmen and the Unlikeliest Rescue of World War II by Judith M. Heimann, we learn of the crew of a B-24 which went down in the jungles of Borneo in November 1944 and spent eight months living with the natives. The Dayaks were headhunters who had converted to Christianity and were chaffing under the harsh treatment of the Japanese occupiers. At great personal risk to himself and his family and village, William Makahanap (the District Officer), first hid the airmen and then later organized a rebellion against the Japanese, and for a brief time headhunting was again practiced – Japanese heads only, though.

If you liked Unbroken and Lost in Shangri-La you'll probably enjoy this one, too. It's not quite as well-told as those books but it's a great story nonetheless – although I do have a few quibbles. Hopefully Mrs. Heimann's research into the most pertinent aspects of the story is sound, but some of the peripheral information is wanting. She didn't explain clearly what headhunters did with a head, which I think would have been terribly fascinating. And on page 26 she says the downed airmen didn't know "to look for water in the cups of the many pitcher plant blossoms," except it's the leaves that hold liquid, not the tiny flowers. I don't know if natives really drink from them (and she doesn't give us these details) but since the plant is carnivorous I expect you might get a mouthful of dead bugs if you tried (which might not bother you if you're that thirsty). Also, on page 10, she says "The men of the Bomber Barons, like army airmen elsewhere, loved the B-24." But I think it was Retribution by Max Hastings that tells of very different emotions fliers had for the B-24 and explained the extensive problems the plane was known for in the Pacific war. The B-24 "Liberator" was much more difficult to fly than the B-17 "Flying Fortress" and with less armor was more vulnerable to damage during battle. Wikipedia says it was "notorious among American aircrews for its tendency to catch fire" and was dangerous in crash landing situations where the fuselage tended to break apart. Anyway, just a few quibbles on my part but it does call some of her research into question.

But if the book sounds interesting to you please don't let my concerns dissuade you from giving it a chance, because it really is a good story.

(Originally posted on 4/28/12 on my blog: bookworm-dad.blogspot.com) ( )
  J.Green | Aug 26, 2014 |
Interesting read. At times a little difficult to follow geography
  dreskco | Apr 24, 2014 |
[a:Judith Heimann|4169894|Judith Heimann|http://www.goodreads.com/images/nophoto/nophoto-F-50x66.jpg] tells an incredible story of American airmen stranded in Borneo's headhunter country during WWII! The story of these men is also the subject of an PBS documentary series Secrets of the Deadepisode titled The Airmen and the Headhunters . You can watch the whole epsiode on pbs.org . PBS Episode Description:This spectacular long-lost story of heroism, perseverance, and ingenuity follows the tale of lost WWII soldiers, their unlikely rescue and companionship with the Dayak tribe in Borneo, and their eventual rescue conceived by an eccentric British Major — an airway built out of bamboo in the middle of the jungle.I haven't watched it yet, but you can bet I will now that I've finished the book! I for one am glad Mrs. Heimann took the time to research and tell this incredible story. Judith Heimann, historian and author -PBSA career diplomat, Judith spent seven years living Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines including two years in Borneo where she learned to speak Malay/Indonesian. She traveled to three continents and interviewed all the surviving Dayaks and airmen in her research for this book. She conducts over thirty oral histories many requiring multiple interviews, and does a ton of research both on the ground, in libraries, and with personal papers of those involved. Her thoroughness amazingly does not result in a dry or academic history. Her story is alive with the people, intersection of cultures and outsized events and accomplishments that characterize many WWII stories yet she modestly says in her preface: "We like to think of war stories from the twentieth century and earlier as straightforward accounts of derring-do, with a familiar cast of heroes and villains. There is even a subcategory of stories about how our brave soldiers managed -or died trying- to make their way home from behind enemy lines. But the circumstances of war can be more complicated. This story happened during World War II -which was truly a world war, drawing into its orbit even such normally isolated people as the headhunting Dayaks . . .. This morsel of Borneo's World War II history has never before been told in its entirety. No single person knew more than a fragment or two if it." Note to future readers: The glossary and notes on sources toward the end of the book are very well done -read that glossary first before you start and you'll be glad you did ! ( )
  nkmunn | Jun 1, 2011 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0151014345, Hardcover)

N ovember 1944: Army airmen set out in a B-24 bomber on what should have been an easy mission off the Borneo coast. Instead they found themselves unexpectedly facing a Japanese fleet—and were shot down. When they cut themselves loose from their parachutes, they were scattered across the island’s mountainous interior. Then a group of loincloth-wearing natives silently materialized out of the jungle. Would these Dayak tribesmen turn the starving airmen over to the hostile Japanese occupiers? Or would the Dayaks risk vicious reprisals to get the airmen safely home? The tribal leaders’ unprecedented decision led to a desperate game of hide-and-seek, and, ultimately, the return of a long-renounced ritual: head-hunting.

A cinematic survival story that features a bamboo airstrip built on a rice paddy, a mad British major, and a blowpipe-wielding army that helped destroy one of the last Japanese strongholds, The Airmen and the Headhunters is a gripping, you-are-there journey into the remote world and forgotten heroism of the Dayaks.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:31 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

November 1944: Army airmen set out in a B-24 bomber on what should have been an easy mission off the Borneo coast. Instead they found themselves facing a Japanese fleet--and were shot down. When they cut themselves loose from their parachutes, they were scattered across the island's mountainous interior. Then a group of loincloth-wearing natives silently materialized out of the jungle. Would these Dayak tribesmen turn the starving airmen over to the Japanese occupiers? Or would the Dayaks risk vicious reprisals to get the airmen safely home? The tribal leaders' unprecedented decision led to a desperate game of hide-and-seek, and, ultimately, the return of a long-renounced ritual: head-hunting. This survival story features a bamboo airstrip built on a rice paddy, a mad British major, and a blowpipe-wielding army that helped destroy one of the last Japanese strongholds.--From publisher description.… (more)

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