Rag Radio: Military Aviation Historian and Vietnam Vet Thomas Cleaver: The True Story of ‘Catch-22’

Cleaver provides vivid accounts of the war in Italy, the 57th Bomb Wing, and the experiences of bombardier Joseph Heller.


Vietnam vet and aviation historian Thomas McKelvey Cleaver is the author of the best-selling military history, The Bridgebusters: The True Story of the Catch-22 Bomb Wing, published by Regnery History, which we discuss on the show. Cleaver provides vivid accounts of the war in Italy and the 57th Bomb Wing, considered the most successful battlefield interdiction campaign ever carried out by the U.S. Air Force, yet which is largely unknown today.

Thomas Cleaver is a native Texan, a journalist, and a produced screenwriter. He has written successful horror movies and articles about Second World War aviation, was a major fundraiser for Barack Obama, and has been an activist on anti-war, political reform, and environmental issues for almost 50 years.

In The Bridgebusters, Tom believes he has found “the artist in the work.” One bombardier in the 57th Bomb Wing — that flew out of Corsica during World War II and bombed vital bridges throughout Italy to sabotage German supply routes — was a young New Yorker named Joseph Heller, who would later turn his experience into the classic 1961 war novel Catch-22. Tom contends that, “there is a direct connection between [Joseph Heller’s] life experiences during the war and his decision to write the novel.” “There’s strong circumstantial evidence,” according to Cleaver, “that Heller said ‘yes’ to the deal his alter ego Yossarian said ‘no’ to, and that he came to see that as a moral failure. As a writer, he was able to create an alternative universe where the correct decision was made.”

Thomas Cleaver is also the author of Fabled Fifteen: The Pacific War Saga of Carrier Air Group 15 and The Frozen Chosen, his critical history of the first year of the Korean War, will be published by Osprey Publishers in July. He is currently completing Pacific Thunder, a history of the U.S. Navy’s fast carriers in the Central Pacific campaign of 1944.

Tom Cleaver was previously our guest on Rag Radio, on August 8, 2008, when, on its 50th anniversary, Tom provided first-hand history about the Tonkin Gulf “incident” that was used as a pretense for starting the War in Vietnam. He also wrote about his Tonkin Gulf experience here.

Rag Radio is produced in the studios of KOOP 91.7-FM, an all-volunteer, cooperatively-run community radio station in Austin, Texas, in association with The Rag Blog and the New Journalism Project, a Texas 501(c)(3) nonprofit. The host and producer of Rag Radio, Thorne Dreyer, is a prominent Austin-based activist and writer who was a pioneer of the ’60s underground press movement. The show’s engineer and co-producer is Tracey Schulz and the staff photographer is Roger Baker. The syndicated show is broadcast (and streamed) live Fridays, 2-3 p.m. (Central) on KOOP in Austin, and is later rebroadcast and streamed on WFTE-FM in Mt. Cobb and Scranton, PA., on Houston Pacifica’s KPFT HD-3 90.1-FM, and by KKRN, 88.5-FM in Round Mountain, CA — and is a featured podcast at VT. All Rag Radio podcasts can be found at the Internet Archive. Contact: ragradio@koop.org.



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