Vanished: nonfiction that reads like a mystery, a thriller, and an action adventure all rolled into one

vanVanished: The Sixty-Year Search for the Missing Men of World War II by Wil S. Hylton is one of the most fascinating books I have ever read on the Second World War, and I have read plenty of them. Hylton’s style and approach is so well done that the book reads like a mystery wrapped around a thriller and rolled up in an action adventure.

When three B-24 Liberators crashed near the island of Palau during the war in the Pacific, their families were left wondering about their fate for the next 60 years. That is until Pat Scannon, a licensed physician with a Ph.D. in Chemistry who’d built his own corporation from the ground up, traveled to Palau and spotted something in the water that would change his life and the lives of MIA men’s families forever – the right wing of a B-24 Liberator.

The sight of that wing awakens something in Scannon that takes his life on a new course with a new purpose: to locate those planes in order to bring closure to the relatives of the men, who six decades after the end of the war, were still listed as Missing in Action. To put into perspective the scale of those affected by MIA designations, consider this. Over 73,000 U.S. servicemen from WWII are still listed as MIA, and 43,000 of them were from the Pacific theater of the war (p. 91). With these three planes, Scannon has the opportunity to put to rest the fate of at least 30 of those 43,000.  With that in mind, he begins a 17-year search for the planes and the men who flew in them.

Hylton weaves the past with the present as he lets the tale of the Liberators unfold. It’s an informative read, not limited to the Pacific Theater or the search for the planes. Instead, he touches on the interconnected history of Palau and England and the American Revolution. He explains the birth of JPAC, the military unit that identifies and recovers the remains of MIA and POWs. He delves into the history of Japanese treatment of POWs and its erosion from the First World War to the second. He explains the first psychological research regarding MIA grief. The book is a wealth of history but the pace is steady and it never bogs down the way some nonfiction tends to do.

One of the most honest and interesting things I took away from this read is that not all mysteries can be solved and some questions will never be answered. Even after 17 years of research and a large amount of success, plenty of mystery still surrounds the crew of one of the B-24s; however, through commitment and perseverance, Scannon is able to answer enough questions to bring peace to the families of the men who were missing in action for 60 years.

Vanished is a great read for history lovers, military buffs, or anyone who enjoys and intriguing read.

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