Unforgotten Hero: Remembering a Fighter Pilot's Life, War and Ultimate Sacrifice. By Jim Escalle. Bakersfield Calif.: Traylor House Publishers, 2013. Maps. Photographs. Notes. Bibliography. Index. Pp. 262. $16.95 paperback ISBN: 978-0-9887851-1-3
On June 19, 1953, U.S.AF Lt. Jim Escalle was lost while flying his F-86 Sabre over North Korea. Although not conclusive, circumstances suggested that he was killed when his airplane crashed on a strafing run. A year and a day later, with no evidence to indicate Escalle was alive, the Air Force changed his status from "missing in action" to "presumed dead."
That might have been the end of Escalle's story, were it not for his namesake and nephew. Author Jim Escalle first learned about his uncle while browsing through old family photos as a child. He peppered his relatives for information but lost interest until two events rekindled that interest and enabled him to begin a search to learn the full story of his uncle's life and death. First, the government published a report in 1993 suggesting the possibility that Escalle was among thirty-seven airmen captured and handed over to the Soviet Union. Second, several years later he was introduced to the Internet as a powerful research tool.
Starting with old newspaper clippings, letters written by the elder Escalle, and memories of local friends, he was able to find and interview dozens of people who had known his uncle. He used the results of this research to weave an interesting, highly readable story of a man he had never met but came to know very well.
Born in 1929, Escalle grew up in a small farming community in California and learned the virtues of hard work, excelled academically and athletically, and was an exceptional leader. He took engineering courses at a two-year junior college to prepare for a career in aviation.
The Korean War began just as Escalle was completing his two-year degree. Intending to serve as a pilot, he signed up for the Air Force's Aviation Cadet Program. As a cadet he trained at Lackland AFB Texas, Columbus AFB Mississippi, and Big Spring AFB Texas. His final training assignment was at Nellis AFB Nevada, where he received fighter-weapons training in the F-80 and F-86.
When he reported to Suwon AB in Korea in February 1953, Escalle was assigned to a ground-attack unit, flying F-86s with the 36th Fighter-Bomber Squadron. He was soon recognized as a better-than-average pilot and was designated an element leader, leading one of...