Extreme Heroism in Dark and Dangerous Skies
A Son’s Tribute to Marine Pilot Father’s Valiant NightFighter
Phoenix, AZ – In the tradition of War by Sebastian Unger, Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand and For Crew and Country by John Wukovits, Nightfighter: Radar Intercept Killer by Mark A. Magruder (Pelican Press, 2013) is another riveting World War II story that brings out the truths of combat. This engrossing biography is a must read for every war buff who enjoys true stories of courage under fire. It also provides an opportunity for every father who wants to provide his son or daughter with an inspirational example of the lengths to which our warriors will go to protect each other and protect our country, and shows how everyday people can become heroes. It is also a son’s moving tribute to his late father.
Even with the above-mentioned and other excellent books on World War II, Nightfighter offers a unique perspective on the valiant courage of the Marine pilots in Pacific night fighter squadrons. The job these men did was literally akin to a deadly game of hide-and-seek in pitch-black skies where lost radio contact and electrical failures could be catastrophic, and engine trouble usually proved fatal. Unlike other World War II fighter pilots, these men had zero visual perspective. Alone in a cockpit, it was easy for their minds to play tricks on them, and for night fighters even a few moments of vertigo could be a death sentence.
No one knew this more than then-ranked United States Marine Corps Lt. Colonel Marion Milton “Black Mac” Magruder, one of the first Americans to learn the techniques of Airborne Intercept Radar Night Fighting, a highly classified training program that required each participant, literally flying blind, to rely upon instantaneous communications from his radar counterpart on the ground and sound, smell and touch to close on an enemy within killing range of his extremely limited onboard radar. This arduous process was akin to two maneuvering streaking bullets finding a place to intersect. At best, the Nightfighter might only get a single chance to make an intercept. After only a year in combat, Magruder would not only use but further refine this (originally British) technique to lead his men in an emergency deployment to shore up sagging night operations in the Okinawa Campaign. This was to become the longest-ever over-water flight of single-engine fighters in the Pacific Theatre!
During their time there, these men – also known as Black Mac’s Killer’s – experienced the worst typhoon season the island had seen in several hundred years, while simultaneously becoming the targets of the Giretsi--Japanese suicide pilots—as they attacked Yontan Air Field, the only such incident of its kind during the Second World War.
In Nightfighter: Radar Intercept Killer Mark Magruder, one of Col. Magruder’s five sons, reveals the unprecedented risks and personal sacrifices made by his father and by the men he trained and commanded, all of whom overcame immeasurable odds and cheated death to accomplish what the "experts" believed was impossible. Written from an insider’s perspective, this riveting memoir includes never-before-published information on World War II night-fighting methods from his father’s private files, first-hand accounts from VMF (N)-533 squadron war diaries, after-action reports and select secret communiqués, along with dozens of personal photos.
Commenting on his reasons for writing the book, Magruder, a Phoenix-based artist and writer, commented, “I’m very proud to preserve this story of my father and his men whose remarkable legacy, because of its classified status in WWII, up till now is little known and has been relegated to just a footnote in history. Like so many others, he gave his all for America. I’ve tried to detail the intricacies of night fighting by placing the reader in Black Mac’s mind as he faces zero visual perspective and must primarily rely on his other senses in the self-contained cockpit to work the buttons and levers while literally trusting his life to the instruments, deciphering the sounds of his roaring engine against those of a nearby intruder, and even to deciphering the changing smells that could indicate an internal problem with his F6F Hellcat. The book is a testament to all these unsung heroes. I also believe it is one of the Second World War’s greatest untold stories.”