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Introducing . . . . The Sky Blazers: The Adventures of a Special Band of Troops That Entertained the

Discussion in 'Biographies and Everything Else' started by dgmitchell, Aug 22, 2009.

  1. dgmitchell

    dgmitchell Ace

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    Jack “Jake” Jacobson was an 18 year old comic working the Manhattan club scene in 1939. Along with his best friend, jazz trumpeter Murray “Duke” Davison, Jake was looking for success as an entertainer, not to serve his country in uniform. All that changed, however, on December 7, 1941. Recognizing that military service would find them if they did not find military service first, and knowing that they should do their duty to their country, Jake and Duke enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps.

    Deployed to the North African theater with the Ninth Air Force in 1943, Jake and Duke persuaded General Lewis Brereton to allow them to assemble a group of entertainers to perform for the men who were being transported on their over-crowded troop transport. Their show was a rousing success and caused General Brereton to use them as the nucleus for the first Combat Special Services Unit. The unit, which eventually grew to include fifteen comics, singers and musicians came to be known as the “Sky Blazers.”

    During their two and half years in North Africa, the Middle East, England and France, the Sky Blazers brought a bit of humor and song to the front line troops, and suffered many dangerous encounters with the enemy. In Introducing . . . . The Sky Blazers: The Adventures of a Special Band of Troops That Entertained the Allied Forces During World War II (Potomac Books, August 2009; 224 pages), Jake Jacobson recalls the tumultuous years of the Second World War and how he, Duke and a small group of comrades at arms found a way to pursue the lives of entertainers even in the front lines and brought a small bit of happiness to soldiers they knew might not live even another day.

    Introducing . . . The Sky Blazers is perhaps unique amongst the literature of the Second World War. Jake Jacobson observed the suffering of the troops on both sides. He lost friends to the violence of war. He endured enemy planes as they strafed his traveling band of performers. He lost his way in mine fields. He did all these things but still he emerged from the war with his sense of humor intact and with a lot of good memories of the hardest thing he would ever do. Jake’s infectious enthusiasm fills Introducing . . . The Sky Blazers and makes it almost impossible for the reader not to share his enthusiasm and the happiness that he found even though the world was falling apart all around him.

    Most of the members of the Sky Blazers are not household names today but in their day, they played for royalty and at some of the most prestigious venues in Europe. While they were in Africa, they performed for Egypt’s king at his royal palace (and made an enormously funny gaff when they agreed to play the Egyptian national anthem only to realize after the fact that they really had not known how to play it!) and for Prince Peter of Greece who was in exile in Alexandria. In England, they performed at the Royal Albert Hall, the only American military group to perform there during the war. They encountered Monty on the highway in North Africa and sprayed seltzer water on Ike in Europe. They got drunk more than most and one of their number was a drug addict before most people knew what drug addiction meant.

    In Introducing . . . The Sky Blazers, Jake Jacobson gives readers one of the most enjoyable, light-hearted memoirs of life during World War II that can be imagined. There are very few books about war that can make the reader feel true happiness and Introducing . . .The Sky Blazers does just that.

    As enjoyable as it is to read Jake Jacobson’s memoirs, one does have to wonder, however, whether he took excessive license in recreating the dialog that fills his book. Jacobson wrote his memoirs in recent years and died earlier this year while the book was being prepared for publication. At no time does he ever mention keeping a diary about his experiences and, even though at 89 years of age he was still clear headed to the end, he was writing about events that took place more than fifty years earlier. So it is with some incredulity that readers will encounter very specific conversations related throughout Introducing . . . The Sky Blazers. Indeed, one often forgets that Jacobson is sharing a history because the level of detail almost suggests that the stories are playing out as he tells them.

    It is also unfortunate that Introducing . . . The Sky Blazers ends with Jake and his beloved new bride Doris leaving for Texas in the summer of 1945. Jake had agreed with another member of the Sky Blazers that they would buy a radio station together. The notes on the book jacket indicate that Jake enjoyed a fifty-four year career in broadcasting but they do not tell us anything else about his life after the war. Doris is a central figure throughout the book and it is clear that Jake loved her just as dearly in 2009 as he did in 1943, but the reader never learns anything about Jake’s marriage, whether he and Doris had children, or even whether Doris is still alive. To read Introducing . . .The Sky Blazers is to quickly love Jake Jacobson. A post-script to let readers know what happened to Jake after the war would be wonderful closure and readers can only hope that such material will be added to a future edition of the work.

    These minor criticisms aside, Introducing . . . The Sky Blazers is a truly wonderful book that will make readers feel good about themselves and it will remind them that even in the horror of war, people can find ways to bring joy to the front lines and not just bullets. The Sky Blazers performed a heroic and much needed service during the war and it is truly a blessing that Jake Jacobson was able to share his story, and their story, and that he took the time to do so. Not every military hero carries a gun. Sometimes they carry seltzer bottle and trumpets.
     

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