I received Wil S. Hylton’s new book, Vanished: the sixty-year search for the missing men of World War II, from LibraryThing.com’s Early Reviewer program. I was a little apprehensive about requesting it, I spent most of the 1980s reading World War II history, and I was a little worried about falling back into that obsession. But this is not your everyday book of war history. I don’t believe this book could have been written thirty years ago, maybe not even ten years ago. Hylton writes about the true face of war, not Hollywood glory but death and suffering and loss. Loss that can carry forward over generations.
I need to say that the title is a little misleading. The book’s focus is on the efforts to find the crew of B-24 #453. That crew, and more importantly the families that survived them, are proxies for every MIA, and MIA’s family, in every war. Perhaps the book should be called Vanished: the search for war’s missing.
Hylton is obviously a first-rate writer and researcher. His book is laid out like a well plotted mystery, which it is, and is documented like a scholarly work of history, which it could have been if Hylton were not such a good writer. This book pulled me in and was difficult to put down, except for when my eyes filled with tears as Hylton exposes the heart wrenching loss that MIA families endure even decades later. The dead sometimes appear in wars history, the missing are noted, but their families are never mentioned. This book reveals that they are also casualties of war, as deeply scarred as any battlefield casualty.
Hylton’s first book is as good as any first non-fiction I have read since David McCullough’s “The Johnstown Flood”. His style is somewhere between McCullough and Cornelius Ryan, an admirable mix of intimate first person interviews and an ability to bring archival documents to life. I think that you will like this book.