By Richard Landreth, Director
Lincoln County Library System
“Inferno: The True Story of a B-17 Gunner’s Heroism and the Bloodiest Military Campaign in Aviation History” by Joe Pappalardo.
During World War II, 472 people received the most prestigious military decoration, the Medal of Honor. Of these, only Maynard Harrison Smith was demoted immediately afterward. “Inferno: The True Story of a B-17 Gunner’s Heroism and the Bloodiest Military Campaign in Aviation History” by Joe Pappalardo is the story of a very unlikely hero during this campaign.
Serving on B-17’s during the bombing of France and Germany from England and winning the Medal of Honor you would think that Maynard Smith was the picture of a true soldier; this was anything but the truth.
“Inferno…” looks at Smith’s life starting with his teenage wild days, through the war and continues to the end of his life. Known from an early age for his charm and orneriness, Smith carries that into the military where it doesn’t serve him very well. He was a walking discipline problem from the very beginning. The reputation he created was for doing as he wanted versus what he was instructed to do, leading to issues. It was so bad that those he served alongside called him Snuffy, which is a derogatory reference to an airman who can’t do anything right.
However, there was never any doubt of his bravery. In the early days of WWII, the German aviators dominated the skies. It was not uncommon for losses on Allied bombing crews to be 50 percent or more. On May 1, 1943, during the mission aircrews called the “May Day Massacre,” Smith ended up as the only member of a downed flight able to fight. This man single-handedly saved his fellow crewmen, fighting off attackers and treating the wounded.
I recommend this book to anyone who likes war stories, and to those who enjoy stories of unlikely heroes. Maynard Smith is an altogether likeable character, with real human flaws and weaknesses, who showed the world that even the most unlikely can stand up and be remembered for amazing feats of bravery.
“Inferno: The True Story of a B-17 Gunner’s Heroism and the Bloodiest Military Campaign in Aviation History” by Joe Pappalardo is available through the Lincoln County Library System.