Academic journal article Military Review

The Airmen and the Headhunters: A True Story of Lost Soldiers, Heroic Tribesmen and the Unlikeliest Rescue of World War II

Academic journal article Military Review

The Airmen and the Headhunters: A True Story of Lost Soldiers, Heroic Tribesmen and the Unlikeliest Rescue of World War II

Article excerpt

THE AIRMEN AND THE HEADHUNTERS: A True Story of Lost Soldiers, Heroic Tribesmen and the Unlikeliest Rescue of World War II, Judith M. Heimann, Harcourt, New York, 2007, 304 pages, $26.00

Does an almost forgotten chapter of World War II history involving a little known military rescue deep in the jungles of Japanese occupied Borneo offer any relevance or interest to the average reader of today? This is the question that is both asked and answered affirmatively by The Airmen and the Headhunters: A True Story of Lost Soldiers, Heroic Tribesmen and the Unlikeliest Rescue of World War II. The book chronicles the adventures of eight army airmen shot down over Japanese-occupied Borneo in 1944. The airmen are discovered by the Dayaks, an unknown tribe of head hunters from the interior of Borneo. Interwoven in this story is the saga of British Major Tom Harrison and a group of seven other Australian special soldiers conducting operations in Borneo during this time. The actions of these special operations soldiers were linked closely to the successful rescue of the airmen.

On 16 November 1944, Japanese forces shot down a B-24 from the 23d Bomb Squadron, 307th Bomb Group, carrying a crew of 11 personnel over the interior of Borneo. The world of a remote jungle people soon engulfed these eight survivors. The Dayak tribe, having sworn off headhunting as late as 1930, was a mystery to the airmen. However, several of the Dayak group were Christians due to their exposure to missionaries and considered it against their faith to turn the airmen over to the Japanese. The eight airmen survived for over seven months by being shuttled between different Dayak villages. …

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