By Christopher Miskimon

On September 20, 1944, 1st Lt. Joe Paul Hendrickson said goodbye to his wife and two small children. He was leaving to join the war as a pilot flying the P-61 Black Widow fighter, the first operational American fighter designed to operate as a night fighter. His unit, the 549th Night Fighter Squadron, soon to be attached to the VII Fighter command of the Seventh Air Force, had no orders yet, but it would soon be headed for the Pacific. After a brief stay in Hawaii for outfitting and training, the unit went to Saipan, flying relatively safe missions designed to blood the unit for combat operations. At the end of March 1945, not long after the Marines conquered the island, Hendrickson landed at Iwo Jima. Over the next five and a half months he flew seventy-five missions. One of the unit’s targets was nearby Chichi Jima, a well-defended island where future President George H. W. Bush was shot down on a different occasion. Hendrickson went through a harrowing night attack on the island on April 11, 1945, with heavy flak directed by accurate searchlights. It was just one of his missions.

This book, completed after Hendrickson’s death by his son, is a tribute to the man and the service he gave in the Pacific. He never told his son very much about his wartime experiences, common for veterans. The author used what little he knew to begin extensive research, resulting in this well written volume about his father, the squadron he fought in, and the price he paid for doing his duty.

Fighting the Night: Iwo Jima, World War II, and a Flyer’s Life (Paul Hendrickson, Alfred A. Knopf Books, New York, 2024, 320 pp., photographs, bibliography, index, $32, HC)