With the upcoming release of Jay Stout’s 3rd title with Casemate, Vanished Hero: The Life, War and Mysterious Disappearance of America’s WWII Strafing King, we thought we’d let you get to know the author. Be sure to check out his other titles Unsung Eagles: True Stories of America’s Citizen Airmen in the Skies of World War II and Fortress Ploesti
The Campaign to Destroy Hitler’s Oil Supply
Where were you born? Where did you grow up?
I was born in Indianapolis, where my father and mother and sisters were also born. My dad worked for the government and we moved around a little bit, to include Okinawa, Japan, at the height of the Vietnam War from 1966-1969. We lived on Kadena Air Force Base, which was an enormous staging point for the air war in Southeast Asia.
It was at Kadena that I had my first real exposure to military aircraft and flying. It was roaring over my head every single day. There were F-105s and F-4s and B-52s and the SR-71 and…virtually everything the Air Force flew at the time. As boys, my friends and I had the run of the base and lots to do. Aside from school, there were little league sports and movies (for a quarter!) and exploring on the beach and out in the bush for relics from the war—mostly shell casings and such. It was a great few years and imbued me with a desire to become a fighter pilot that I never lost.
After that it was back to Indiana where I had a pretty typical maturation into adulthood. I played sports and chased girls and was the sort of student who did well enough, ‘but doesn’t perform to his true potential.”
What did you do before you started (or in addition to) writing? Did you have any odd jobs?
My first real job as I was growing up—after short stints bagging groceries and clearing tables—was at the town park where I mowed a lot of grass, did a lot of painting and other light maintenance, and picked up a lot of trash. Through college, I worked at the town dump, where I, again, picked up a lot of trash, operated some heavy equipment and did whatever I was told. I also spent a summer in Alaska, cutting oil well core samples for the United States Geological Survey.
Then, following college, I was commissioned into the Marine Corps in 1981.
When did you first realize that you wanted to become a writer? What is it about writing that appealed to you?
I was similar to just about everyone, who thought, “I’d like to write a book someday.” After service in the Gulf War in 1991, I noted that no one was writing the sorts of combat stories that I grew up reading about World War II. Although it was a much less dangerous conflict, I thought I could do something about the Gulf War that might be mildly interesting and the result was Hornets over Kuwait which was published in 1997.
I like the notion of telling a story that someone will want to read, and I like being able to say that I’m a writer, although there’s little romance to it. Mostly it’s just hard work.
What fascinates you about revisiting the past and bringing it to life in a book?
What I most like is to communicate that these extraordinary people were essentially just like the rest of us. They became extraordinary because they were put into extraordinary circumstances and excelled. Or if they didn’t necessarily excel, they simply survived. This was often extraordinary in itself. I guess I like making the point that people often make history because they are put in—or put themselves in—situations that offer historic opportunities.
But, again, I like to make the point that every generation has the potential to be the “Greatest.” The human dynamic doesn’t change much from one generation to the next.
Why did you decide to write this book? What prompted you to put this story down on paper?
I was approached by a dying man who had long been interested in Righetti’s story and had collected material for years. He came to realize that he would never be able to finish the project and approached me to do it. At first I wasn’t sure that I could, or even wanted to. But after communicating with him further, and approaching the Righetti family, I decided to do it. Sadly, this gentleman passed away before the book was finished.
How long did it take you to write it?
It took about a year. I have a fulltime job that takes up my days (and pays my pesky bills). So, in order to write a book, I average a couple of hours of writing each night during the week, and about ten hours per weekend. This is about normal for me. It’s a real commitment, and I am lucky that I have a family and work life that permits this.
What do you like most about your book? Why should we read it?
I like how it follows a normal young man through his life and to eventual command of a wartime fighter group. For example, Righetti was driving a dairy truck before the war. By 1945 he was leading formations of fifty aircraft or more against Nazi Germany. Yet, he and his family had typical origins and were normal in every way.
Just like you and me.
I also like the excitement of the late-war flying and the dynamics associated with high-stakes strafing. Using Righetti’s story as a vehicle to discuss the greater air war was also enjoyable.
Further, although tragic, the mystery surrounding his disappearance is something that tugs at my sensibilities.
What are you working on at the moment?
Hanging a ceiling fan. I’m somewhat uncomfortable with the project as I don’t think the wall switch is supposed to make sparks and smoke.
Thanks as always Jay!
Stout is a recognized military subject matter expert and polished speaker and presenter. He has appeared on the Fox News Network, Al Jazeera and National Public Radio as well as dozens of regional and local network affiliates.