“The Untold Story of the Downed American Reconnaissance Plane”
April 1, 2001. Five full months before America turned the corner into the horrors of Radical Islamic Terrorism—never to return—the nation was gripped by yet another international crisis, this time with the Chinese. The crisis is now but a vague memory to most, but for eleven long days that Spring, concerned Patriots around the world longed for the safe return of 24 of our own from the grips of the P.R.C.
As a US Navy reconnaissance plane was flying on automatic pilot over international waters and away from China, it was harassed and clipped on the left propeller by a dangerously flown Chinese fighter jet. The Chinese jet went down to the sea in flames, its pilot being lost in the infinite blue after having ejected from the falling wreckage. The American plane, no longer able to safely remain in the air, was forced to make an emergency landing onto Chinese soil, at Lingshui Army Base on Hainan Island. Lieutenant Shane Osborn and his 23-person crew were held for eleven long days on the island. Their captors interrogated them regularly, hoping to squeeze from at least one crew member an admission of guilt and an apology to the Chinese people, but throughout the ordeal, each seaman maintained his integrity and professional decorum by refusing to break under the pressure and lie.
Born to Fly is a memoir by the plane’s Commanding Officer and follows Osborn’s growth into the position, as well as his obvious love for his country, his branch, and his job. At some points crass like a true Navy-man, and at others gentle like a tender Mama’s boy, Osborn writes his account of events as someone, well, who figures he needs to write his account of events: nothing terribly spectacular. The information is helpful and the experience must have been difficult, but after having finished the book, I think I would rather have read the Cliff-Notes version or perhaps a long article about the events instead. From the way Osborn describes his experience in China during those eleven days—the people, the accommodations, the smells, the food—it’s clear that he’s about as cultured as any Nebraska farm boy, and therefore not the best at explaining what life was really like. Had this book instead been a cooperative, 24-person account of the goings-on during “captivity,” I think it could have provided a more interesting take.
To give him credit, I did enjoy Osborn’s descriptions of the interrogations, the threats, and captor’s changed attitudes after-the-fact. From all I know about such bureaucrats and bullies as those represented here in the book, nothing about their methods surprised me. Screaming, reading long legal-speak diatribes, shading the truth in order to turn one member against the others, twisting words so as to make the desired lie sound somewhat reasonable, and then pretending like none of it happened while they pose for a keepsake photo at the end—all of that sounds so incredibly expected! If nothing else, this book gives good insight into how certain governments can rule so well simply by bullying people around.
Unless you’re a pilot or deeply interested in this page of recent American history, Born to Fly isn’t worth much more than a skim. Likely there are shorter, just-as-full articles about this event out there. Seek those out first.