Face of a Hero, by Louis Falstein – 1951 (Al Schmidt)

The two images below, of the first (1950) edition (Harcourt, Brace and Company) of Face of A Hero, show the book’s front cover / spine, and title page, the latter including an illustration of an aviator’s flight helmet, goggles, and oxygen mask.  

The book’s cover combined and is limited to two fundamental elements: one symbolic – a human face; the other quite “real” – a formation of six B-24 Liberator bombers under attack by two enemy fighter planes.  Though the novel’s general setting is, of course, the WW II air war against Germany,  it’s intriguing that the cover art is set upon varying tones of red, rather than cooler “aerial” shades of blue, gray, and white.

Though the artist’s name is not presented on either the cover or within the book itself, stylistically, the human face at least seems to be reminiscent of the work of Ben Shahn…  (Well, maybe!)

It occurred to me I must write to Ruth, but I didn’t know what to tell her.
A subtle wall was being erected between my wife and me
because we had not shared this experience.
I realized with a shock that my wife was a civilian, safe back in the States.
And I suddenly resented those who were safe.
I was appalled at the ease with which I abandoned myself to self-pity
even in my hour of triumph.
But aside from the corrupting but very comfortable stabs of self-pity
there was no denying that my most profound experience had been shared with me
not by Ruth but by nine comparative strangers.
They were now a part of my life, part of my joys and sorrows.
We had not chosen one another as brothers; it had been ordained for us.
Mel Ginn, a rancher from western Texas, was my brother.
I didn’t know much about him and he was suspicious of me because I came from a large city.
He was amused by my clumsiness with the guns.
He was puzzled that an “old man” had got himself mixed up in the fighting.
Mel had never met a Jew before and this confused him also.
Before our first mission we had little to say to each other.
But today we had been through life together.
Before our first mission Leo Trent and I had little in common.
Leo used to sell perfume in Hollywood before the war.
His heart had been set on becoming a pilot,
but he had been washed out of cadet training “three hours before graduation.”
That was his story.
It rankled that his younger brother, who was twenty-one, two years Leo’s junior,
was an ace Marine fighter pilot in the Pacific while Leo became a “venereal gunner.”
He was not a good gunner (this we had in common),
and up in the air I saw him paralyzed with fear (this too we had in common).
Leo and I had never become close,
perhaps because we each knew the other to be a coward who resented being found out.
That’s why he was wary of me.
He credited me with an insight that always sat in judgment on his weaknesses.
Also, he mistook my aloofness for snobbery.
He did not like riddles.
But I wanted him to like me.
He was, after all, my brother. (p 30)

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The images below are of the 1951 Pocket Books edition of Face of A Hero, featuring cover art by Al Schmidt. 


Would Andy laugh at me if I told him I was in this war because I wanted to keep America free?
I wanted to tell him I was in it not only because I was against Hitler;
I was also for something.
I was convinced that after we won it, life would be better for all.
People would get along better;
not only Missourians and Illinoisians,
but Italians and Americans too…
But how do you tell these things to a frightened man, a man facing death?
I was afraid Andy would laugh at me.
Americans had an ingrained suspicion of words, any words smacking of patriotism.

Andy sat silent for a while, contemplating the pebbles on the tent floor.
“Oh, I’ll fly my missions,” he said.
“I’m no better or no worse than anybody else.
I certainly wouldn’t pull a stunt like Bowles pulled yesterday,
shooting off his toe and claiming it was an accident.
I wouldn’t do a thing like that, nobody in our crew would.”
He regarded me searchingly to see whether I believed him.
He got up and went to sit on his cot.
“Oh, I don’t know,” the navigator sighed.
“It’s all mixed up in my mind.
In one way I feel I’m a sucker for being in this.
In another way I feel useless.
I’m supposed to be a navigator.
The army spent a fortune to train me.
But do I navigate?
I’m just a passenger in the ship, while the lead navigator does all the work.
You men could fly without me.
It wouldn’t be so bad if I had a gun to fire.
You don’t know what it means to be shot at and not shoot back.
You’re helpless, useless.
You go crazy.
If I could only keep busy in the air –
maybe I wouldn’t have the time to worry so much about death…”
He slapped his thighs savagely
and stood up and walked to the cone-shaped entrance of the tent.
“I don’t know what to think.
I’ve never been so mixed up and so scared in my life…”  (109-110)

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The image below – a portrait of Louis Falstein posing against a “backdrop” of a B-24 Liberator’s fuselage – was scanned from a photographic print.  It’s unknown if this picture was taken during his training in the continental United States, or later, at the 450th Bomb Group’s base at Manduria, Italy. 

Most likely, the former. 

Notably, this is the same image of Louis Falstein that appeared (albeit highly cropped!) as the cover of the 1999 Steerforth Press edition of Face of a Hero.  The novel’s re-publication that year generated much commentary concerning the book’s similarities to – and striking differences from – Joseph Heller’s stunningly over-rated embodiment of literary mediocrity (and, ironic commercial and cultural success) otherwise known as “Catch-22.

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The portrait below, showing Lou in more peaceful times, appears on the jacket of the first edition of Face of A Hero.

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