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The Millionaires' Unit: The Aristocratic Flyboys Who Fought the Great War and Invented America's Air Power [Unabridged] [Hardcover]

Marc Wortman

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Book Description

2 Jun 2006
The gripping and romantic story of the boys from Yale who became America's World War I flying aces

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Book Description

In 1916, just thirteen years after the Wright brothers’ first flight, a group of twenty-eight college students, nearly all of them from Yale, decided to try the new sport of motorized flight and formed a campus flying club. The boys had more than fun in mind. Believing that America would soon enter the war raging in Europe, they wanted to help their woefully unprepared nation (which at the time had an air force smaller than Bulgaria’s) ready itself for what was sure to be a hard fight. Most were just teenagers, but they were also the sons of America’s early 20th century aristocracy - one a Rockefeller, one whose father headed the Union Pacific railroad empire, others who traced their roots to the Mayflower, several who counted friends and relatives among Presidents and statesmen - and all fabulously wealthy. These sons of the elite were schooled in heroism even before their nation called upon them. America was going to go to war: they would lead the way; they knew that it could cost many lives; and that just made it all the more right that they be the first to fly into battle. This is their story.

About the Author

Marc Wortman is an award-winning freelance writer whose work has appeared in numerous magazines and he is former senior editor of the Yale Alumni Magazine in which the story of the Yale unit first appeared. He lives in New Haven, Connecticut, with his wife and daughter.

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First Sentence
AS FREDERICK TRUBEE DAVISON'S SOPHOMORE YEAR DREW TO A CLOSE, he had begun to bask in the sunshine of Yale. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.8 out of 5 stars  24 reviews
22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A lost spirit 16 Sep 2006
By Michael Gruenbaum - Published on
This is a very unusual book about a group of students at Yale in 1916 who all came from very privileged backgrounds, but felt it their duty to do something worthwhile with their lives. Considering the world situation at that time, they decided to form the Yale flying club and its members would become well trained pilots and eventually ended up flying many and extremely dangerous missions in Europe on behalf of America and its Allies during World War I. Unfortunately, several of them did not return, having paid the ultimate sacrifice. This is a book about Yale students who had it all, but whose strong belief in a cause made them turn into a life full of life threatening experiences, but convinced that it was their duty to do so. Such wonderful spirits, unfortunately, do not seem to be much in evidence in today's times. This extremely well researched book is certainly of great interest to those of us who were not aware of such remarkable spirits, but also to those who want to learn more about the beginnings of military aviation and the World War I period in general.
22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Inquiry into the Culture of Leadership 17 Aug 2006
By LB Eisner - Published on
First off, this is a great book and I agree with the other reviewers that it is a great read. Yes, it does follow the Yale flyers from crew races in Connecticut to the skies over the English Channel and Belgium in World War I. And yes, there are great descriptions of courage, heroism and loss. But to me there are two things that set this book apart. One, Wortman is a great writer. It is the mark of any really good book of history when the author can put you there, in a wholly different time and place, and make you feel that you know it, know the people and know the mores of the period. Wortman does this well, even down to getting the slang of the young Yalies. One cannot soon forget the importance of having "sand" or the feeling of flying over the trenches in Flanders on a cold dawn patrol. With due deference to Charles Schulz and Snoopy, there was a bit more to it than climbing onto the roof of your doghouse. And two, by opening up to us the world of the early nineteen hundreds, Wortman illuminates how these privileged young men, and the entire society of which they were a part, understood the responsibilities of leadership. For better or worse than the culture of our own time, and without any romanticism a la Snoopy and the Red Baron, many of these very rich young men felt the personal responsibility to take part and to lead -- and to do it from the forward and dangerous position. One cannot read this book without clearly contrasting the Yale flyers' attitudes and actions from those of many of today's most important political leaders in their formative years. Again, without having to surrender to any of the Band of Brothers romanticism, "The Millionaire's Unit" reminds us that our present day's attitudes towards leadership are not the only ones that Americans have always held.
21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Very Good Read Indeed! 17 May 2006
By Paul Aaron - Published on
This story as told by the author Marc Wortman is a very good read indeed! It is a narrative history that is a well-documented true tale about real people. The story is cinematic in the quality of it's telling. This book satisfied my curiousity about the history of early 20th Century American aviation, the US role in World War l/the Great War, and the role played by many Yale University graduates in the rise of American power in the 20th Century (as it still continues to in the 21st Century).

I have noticed that "The Millionaires' Unit" was in the news recently. In the process of researching this book Marc Wortman found a letter written to one of The Millionaires' Unit members that documents grave robbing the great Apache chief Geronimo's skull by members of the secretive Yale fraternity, Skull and Bones, back in the early 1900's. Geronimo's skull and other artifacts were placed on display inside the Skull and Bones frat house, the Tomb, in New Haven, CT. This is interesting since some of the contemporary members of the fraternity include George Bush Jr, George Bush Sr, and John Kerry, etc.

Anyway, that is a very minor side story - the major story is that The Millionaires' Unit is an excellent book and I recommend buying and reading it.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of those 'must read' books! 17 Aug 2006
By Joyce - Published on
A remarkable story! In 1916 a group of extraordinary Yale class leaders, who happened also to be millionaire athletes, organized an aviation unit. These were heroic, very patriotic young men. Wortman makes you feel as if you're in the air flying with them. It's a great read. Don't miss it.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pleasant Surprise 5 Jan 2007
By M. Fillon - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I'm seldom attracted to books about war, especially if they're not written by someone who participated in the conflict. From my reading experience, the tendency by many authors is to regurgitate bland facts and anecdotes and the main theme is clouded by second-hand minutia. Not this book.

Somehow, Mr. Wortman brought these young men to life allowing me to become interested in their successes, failures and fates. He did a terrific job weaving the narrative from historical documents and bringing the characters to life. I didn't expect to react emotionally but I did. Without giving too much of the story away, there are a few instances when I closed the book, filled with sadness.

Making research material come to life is a skill few master. Mr. Wortman has, and I don't think it's by talent alone. He obviously went the extra mile to learn as much as possible about the principal characters, to literally "Flesh them out."

Wortman also did a great job describing the era; a time when the wealthy recognized their obligation to serve and not use their power and influence to shirk responsibilities. I can't believe the risks they took against such lousy odds.
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