03/21/1994 at 01:00 AM EST
by J.I. Merrill
On Oct. 7, 1944, the Liberty Belle, a B-24 bomber piloted by Lt. Jim Merritt, then 24, crashed in Yugoslavia after being hit by antiaircraft fire during a bombing run over Vienna. Merritt and his crew parachuted to safety and spent the next two months with partisan sympathizers trekking across Croatia and dodging enemy soldiers before reaching the Adriatic Sea and safe passage to Italy.
Goodbye, Liberty Belle is the dramatic re-creation of that walk to freedom, but with a twist. Written by Merritt's son, it is the story of one man trying to learn more about a father whose past had always seemed mysterious. The younger Merritt writes about his boyhood fascination with the khaki Air Corps uniform hanging in his parents' closet and the letters and faded newspaper clippings kept in the attic. As he solves the mystery, he not only crosses the country to interview members of the crew, but also travels with his father to Yugoslavia, where they raise glasses of plum brandy with the men who rescued the crew of the Liberty Belle.
Culminating with a tour of the crash site almost 40 years later—and four years before the start of the current civil war—Goodbye, Liberty Belle draws moving portraits of young men on both sides of the battlefield caught up in the tragedy of World War II. At the same time, it admirably recounts the political and military divisions in Yugoslavia, divisions that still haunt us today. (Wright Stale University Press, $18.95)