Cover image for Black and white airmen : their true history
Black and white airmen : their true history

Publication Information:
Boston : Houghton Mifflin, c2007.
Physical Description:
160 p. : ill. (some col.), col. maps ; 24 cm.
Reading Level:
1050 L Lexile


Material Type
Call Number
Item Available
Book J 940.54 FLE 1 1
Book J 940.54 FLE 0 1
Book J 940.54 FLE 1 1

On Order



Here is the true history of a friendship that almost wasn't.

John Leahr and Herb Heilbrun grew up in the same neighborhood and were in the same third grade class together. They were classmates--not friends--because Herb was white and John was black.

John and Herb were twenty-one when the United States entered WWII. Herb became an Army Air Forces B-17 bomber pilot. John flew P-51 fighters. Both were thrown into the brutal high-altitude bomber war against Nazi Germany, though they never met because the army was rigidly segregated--only in the air were black and white American fliers allowed to mix.

Both came safely home but it took Herb and John another fifty years to meet again and discover that their lives had run almost side by side through war and peace. Old friends at last, Herb and John launched a mission to tell young people why race once made all the difference and why it shouldn't anymore.

Author Notes

John Fleischman uses his brain as a science writer with the American Society for Cell Biology and as a freelance writer for various magazines, including Discover, Muse, and Air & Space Smithsonian. He has been a science writer at the Harvard Medical School and a senior editor with Yankee and Ohio magazines. He lives in Ohio with his wife and a greyhound named Psyche.

Reviews 4

Horn Book Review

This book tells the stories of two World War II fliers. Its focus is two fold: to present details about life in the service and to examine the social barriers the men overcame to create lasting friendship. The pages are dense, but history buffs won't be put off. Black-and-white photos, war propaganda posters, and other visuals are well chosen. Reading list, websites. Ind. (c) Copyright 2010. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. All rights reserved.

Booklist Review

Fleischman fleshes out an article originally published in Air & Space Smithsonian about a late-blooming friendship between white bomber pilot Herb Heilbrun and Tuskegee Airman John Leahr with compellingly written war reminiscences, a stinging indictment of the U.S. Army Air Force's discrimination against blacks, and a sometimes-surprising picture of segregation's local realities before and during World War II. Although the two men were both born in 1920, grew up near one another in Cincinnati, and actually flew several missions together, they didn't discover their connections until meeting at a military reunion 50 years later. Adding to the personal story are photos of airplanes and memorabilia, and the book is capped by a startling picture that makes the story --a 1928 class photo in which the two stand side-by-side, oblivious to one another. An exemplary annotated, multimedia resource list closes this double portrait, which, though slightly unfocused, is often thrilling and consistently absorbing. --John Peters Copyright 2007 Booklist

School Library Journal Review

Gr 6 Up-John Leahr and Herb Heilbrun have lived parallel lives. They grew up in the same neighborhood in Cincinnatti, OH, attended the same elementary school, and both served as pilots during World War II. They were even in the same third-grade class, and there is a picture of them standing side by side to prove it. In spite of this, they never knew each other. Leahr is African American and Heilbrun is Caucasian. It never would have occurred to them that they could be friends back then, but, having met in 1997 at a reception honoring Tuskegee Airmen, they are now best friends and travel the country talking about their experiences. While the book is a record primarily of these two men's memories of the war, the similarities in their backgrounds force the differences caused by race into stark relief. Fleischman has compiled these memories, providing a good deal of historical context about segregation and events of the war. As he did with Phineas Gage (Houghton, 2002), the author has found the perfect hook to create a very readable nonfiction account. The book includes plenty of photos of the two friends as well as maps and diagrams of World War II planes. This title will be a welcome addition to any collection.-Kristin Anderson, Columbus Metropolitan Library System, OH (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kirkus Review

In spite of World War II, racism and the vagaries of time, John Lear and Herb Heilbrun became friends. Herb is white; John is black. They grew up in the same neighborhood in Cincinnati and were in the same third-grade class. A class picture from 1928 shows John standing right in front of Herb, yet because of the color line in American society and the military, it took a journey from home to war, and back home again, and several years after that, before they became friends. Photographs, maps and a variety of other illustrations offer visual appeal to an otherwise uninspiring text. Though Fleischman dismisses source notes as too scholarly and doesn't include many resources for young readers, he does recommend several websites. The lackluster title and busy text may limit the appeal to WWII buffs. (Nonfiction. 10+) Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.