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March 7, 2013

New HBO Miniseries Based on Professor Donald L. Miller’s Masters of the Air

Donald L. Miller’s Masters of the Air: America’s Bomber Boys Who Fought the Air War Against Nazi Germany will be the primary source for HBO’s newest World War II miniseries. An award-winning author and WWII expert, Miller is the chief historical consultant and is helping write the master script for the Tom Hanks/Steven Spielberg-produced series, also called Masters of the Air, which does not yet have an airdate.

Masters of the Air will show viewers a very different war than what they saw in HBO’s previous WWII miniseries, The Pacific (2010) and Band of Brothers (2001), for which Miller was a consultant and writer. Miller’s book has received numerous accolades, including Outstanding Book of the Year by World War II Magazine. With a deluge of material, both in print and on film, about the war, Masters of the Air brings to light a front unfamiliar to manythe dangerous and pivotal air war that made D-Day possible.

As in many of Miller’s projects, students played a key role in the production of Masters of the Air. Through Lafayette’s EXCEL Scholars undergraduate research programMeredith Castor ’10Jessica Cygler ’07Marisa Floriani ’07Emily Goldberg ’05Miriam Habeeb ’04, Margarita Karasoulas ’08, and Alix Kenney ’06 assisted with locating photographs, fact checking, proofreading, and critiquing the book. Miller’s First-Year Seminar “A War Within A War” is built around the book and is one of his favorite classes to teach.

Donald L. Miller

Donald L. Miller

As Miller, John Henry MacCracken Professor of History, explains, the fliers of the Eighth Air Force only served six- or seven-month tours because the conditions were so horrific. Nearly 77 percent were injured, captured, or killed, leaving them with a one in four chance of making it out of the war intact. Miller scrupulously recreated the period in his book, and as chief historical consultant on the miniseries, he wants to ensure that that authenticity is reflected on screen.

It’s a challenge, Miller says, to bring the story to life in a compelling and historically accurate way when the topic is so large. After working with HBO on The Pacific, he’s confident the team will do the job well. During the war, there were dozens of American air groups and stations in London and the small towns northeast of the city, so the master script will most likely focus on one group and one station while also vividly portraying England as the nexus of the Allied assault. The series also will explore the prisoner of war experience. In 1943, almost every American prisoner of war was an airman, and the Eighth Air Force suffered more casualties than the entire Marine Corps did during the whole war.

Ironically, Miller says, the English are more familiar with the Eighth Air Force than most Americans. In fact, his English publisher changed the title of the book to Eighth Air Force: The American Bomber Crews in Britain for its release there. The inherent danger of being an airman is compelling. The planes were unpressurized, with open gun portals that allowed the wind to whip through the plane and temperatures of 65 degrees below zero. With a skin so thin that a screwdriver could poke a hole in it, the planes were vulnerable to constant flak as they neared their targets.

“I don’t think a lot of people know about the Eighth Air Force,” says Miller. “Many people don’t realize how incredibly dangerous it was. That’s what drew me to this subject, trying to visualize how I could have gotten into one of those planes. This was the first bomber war in the history of the world, and the Eighth was never stopped in 999 missions. It was an amazing mental feat. Going up there, these guys were playing Russian rouletteit was all luck. Freud said that was the worst kind of trauma a human could experience, having absolutely no control over your fate.”

Playtone, the production company owned by Hanks and Gary Goetzman that is producing Masters of the Air for HBO, first approached Miller about the new miniseries when he was working on the HBO documentary about the experiences of WWII veterans returning home from war. Miller was associate producer and on-camera expert for the film, which was packaged with the Band of Brothers/The Pacific Special Edition Gift Set and premiered at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans. Hanks and Goetzman were executive producers of the documentary.

He also worked as a writer and historical consultant with Hanks on Beyond all Boundaries, an IMAX film that is the signature attraction of the WWII Museum’s Soloman Victory Theater. Hanks was the film’s producer and narrator. A strong supporter of the museum, Miller was longtime chair of the Presidential Counselors, a board of international scholars, television executives, and heads of other major historical institutions, which shapes the direction of museum policy.

Miller is the author of eight books, three of which are on the war: Masters of the Air, D-Days in the Pacific (2005), and The Story of World War II (2001).

The Story of World War II inspired the 10-hour series WWII in HD that aired on the History Channel and was the most watched program of the network’s fall season. Miller was the writer and chief historical consultant for the series. The chapters on the Pacific theater from The Story of World War II also were adapted for an award-winning PBS American Experience television documentary, Victory in the Pacific, which was nominated for three Emmy Awards: Outstanding Historical Programming-Long Form; Outstanding Individual Achievement in a Craft: Writing; and Outstanding Individual Achievement in a Craft: Research.

Miller also appeared as an on-camera expert on the one-hour PBS American Experience documentary The Bombing of Germany, based in part on Masters of the Air, and he served as the production’s principal consultant. He is chief historical consultant and writer for The Pacific’s ambitious website and is historical consultant and on-camera expert on the DVD and Blu-Ray components of the series.

Miller has won six awards for excellence in teaching, five fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, and a number of prestigious book awards.

posted in Academic News, Faculty and Staff, Faculty Profiles, News and Features, Top News, Work with Stellar Professor-Mentors

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10 Comments

  1. Great project!
    I’m looking for a way to contact professor Miller from out here in the Netherlands. I’m an air war enthusiast and I’m sure I can help him out with firsthand stories that could be a big addition to the series.
    I live in the Netherlands in a part where the Allied bombers flew over every day on their way to bomb Nazi Germany. I work in a museum dedicated to the WWII flyers and airmen who fought for our freedom over here.

    We dug up a lot of the planes that came down in our region and collected the stories around them. also a lot of 8th AF planes. We’ve collected a great amount of crash stories of the air personnel but also of the civilians who witnessed the crashes and helped the airmen who came down. We still frequently speak to people who are still alive and who witnessed the bombing raids and saw planes getting shot down. These people lived in fear every day during that period of time, fear of getting bombed accidentally, being shot at or even getting a crashing plane on their head or house.

    We know people who wouldn’t mind telling the wartime stories from their point of view. This could be a great addition and we would be delighted to help you out with this.

    says Sander Wolterink
    April 10, 2014 at 3:31 am
  2. I flew 30 missions during WWII as a B-17 radio operator with the 303rd Bomb Group of the 8th AF. On our 6th mission (30 July 1943), we crashed in the North Sea after enemy fighters hit us hard on a mission to Kassel, Germany. A month later (27 August), we crash landed at a British RAF base after flak damage over Watten, France. On what would have been our 14th mission (26 September), an engine fire forced us to bail out over the south of England on a recalled mission to Nantes, France. Bob Cogswell, our pilot, suffered injuries, was grounded, and flew no more 303rd BG missions. I flew with different crews until my 30th and final mission when I was wounded by flak over Saarbrucken, Germany (11 May 1944). I reached my 90th birthday (24 August 2013) and am still upright, relatively speaking.

    says Eddie Deerfield
    February 21, 2014 at 10:41 am
  3. Hello, I am attempting to make contact with anyone connected with this project who may need film shot by my grandfather while deployed with the army air corps in England during WWII. I also have a excellent picture of the air crew standing outside their plane “smilin-thru” . Thanks

    says Luke St Blanc
    January 26, 2014 at 1:08 am
  4. My father was a B-17 co-pilot and POW. I have all his letters, uniforms, training material. I’ve been to his crash site, met an eye witness and visited the Stalag 1 POW camp museum. I share this information with schools and interested organizations. Look forward to this series.

    says Janet Hillenbrand
    January 5, 2014 at 7:38 pm
  5. […] II and Masters of the Air: America’s Bomber Boys Who Fought the Air War Against Nazi Germany. (The latter is being adapted into an HBO miniseries by Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg). To supplement his classroom lessons, Miller will guide the class into the vast archives of the […]

  6. God bless those that bring such a piece of history to life.
    With so many today reading so little and even less taught in schools the visual movies are the only true way to insure the stories will be told long after those that made them are gone.

    says Carl Wright
    May 27, 2013 at 8:23 pm
  7. After reading this blog I felt “Masters of the Air” looks like a great book. I would really love to go for this. I have read The Story of World War II and it was really impressive and touching. Donald L. Miller knows actually how the power of words are used. Hats off to him.

    says Donal Finn
    March 18, 2013 at 1:54 am
  8. EXCITED, I volunteer at The Mighty 8th AF Museum in Pooler Georgia in honor of my grandfather, who flew as a gunner and with General Eisenhower, on his crew for 14 months. My grandpa was with Ike when they went to Casablanca and had to put a safety harness on Ike because the plane they were on was about to go down over the mountains.
    My grandpa was a great hero. He started out with the 8th AF at Hunter Field, the birthplace of the 8th retiring 1980. The book Masters of Air is a good book and we sell a lot of them in our gift shop…. RIP William Guy Nelson 1917-2005 Born Cherokee, NC

    says cara sanders
    March 14, 2013 at 9:34 pm
  9. Very excited to hear about this project. Wish my Dad was alive to see it. He was a ball turret gunner (aka belly gunner!) on a B-17 and flew 35 missions over Germany. He started his training to be a pilot as a cadet at Lafayette. He actually lived in the same dorm room as I did. They washed out half his class and he was sent to Texas to train as a gunner. His missions were a bit later in the war when the German air force had been diminished. Still he had pictures of B-17s in death spirals, so it wasn’t any piece of cake.

    says Hal DeWaltoff 68
    March 13, 2013 at 8:55 am
  10. When will it air??

    Can’t wait!

    says Thomas Blair
    March 13, 2013 at 7:57 am
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