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The Last Mission in a Nutshell by Harry Mazer This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

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The Last Mission

Jack Raab is a 15 year old American of Polish heritage who is tall for his age. This story takes place during World War II when the Nazis start to stagger back towards their Motherland, pushed by unforgiving Allied troops. Jack wants to go ahead and "kill some Krauts" before the War ends. At 17 his older brother Irving is old enough to serve but cannot do so because of rheumatism. He uses his brother's birth certificate to enlist in the airforce and joins the army. At first, he has big plans of swerving through the sky, 30. caliber machineguns blazing as he blasts Nazis right out of their aircraft and eventually going down in glory, but when all seems lost rising from the clouds and turning the tide against Satan's Warriors.

Instead he gets stuck as waist gunner on a B-17 "Flying Fortress" where men come back with their guts puked into their laps. As time the army disciplines him into an effective waist gunner; quoting Frank McCourt, "The army will tell you when to eat, sleep, fart and squeeze your effing pimples". On most missions however, Jack encounters almost no German aircraft-but plenty of flak, or shrapnel in army slang. But even without the sky red with oncoming Swastikas, Jack has plenty of adventures. At one point he and his crew get shot down over the English channel. Another time he narrowly misses being castrated by a piece of stray metal.

To get honourably discharged he must fly thirty bombing missions over enemy territory (it is hinted that one of those bombs may have hit a German soldier's outhouse). Unsurprisingly on "the last mission" he and his crew get shot down over enemy territory the classical way. Miss their target and do another run, get their wing blasted to smithereens and go into a corkscrew screaming mayday. Of the three that parachute into Czechoslovakia only Jack narrowly evades death. At this point in the story it would be best to say that he single-handedly incapacitates a German patrol and steals an aircraft but it is not so. He sinks what little weapons he has salvaged and steals a chicken from a farm. Inevitably the next day he gets captured by a German patrol and is sent to a prison camp where he befriends Stan, a fellow inmate.

Upon the death of Hitler Jack and his friend Stan are liberated. When Jack walks through devastated villages and legless children scrounging for cigarettes in gutters he sees that war isn't about singing patriotic songs and shootin' Krauts by Christmas. It's an unfair carnage, massacres of innocent civilians exercised by both sides. But it is alas too late for the crew of his B-17 the "Godfathers Incorporated". Like most people who fight in wars, he learns the hard way of what it really is about- the grim reality. And like most people who fought in wars he learns the only way there is: The hard way.





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