Eino Koski’s Legacy
Reviewed by Victor R. Volkman
Allan Koski’s book Another Time, Another Place is a heartfelt and compelling memoir about his father Eino Koski’s contribution to the Pacific theatre in World War II. Although Eino passed away in 2009, his son Allan managed to complete the manuscript with the assistance of his wife Marguerite Koski. Eino Koski was born in Palmer, Michigan in 1920 and his formative years were scarred by the Great Depression. Palmer is in the southern part of Marquette County, in the shadow of the Cleveland Cliffs Empire Mine. As a young man in 1939, he had already toiled in the Civilian Conservation Corps project to reforest the UP but he knew deep down there were few prospects for a great life in this hardscrabble wilderness. When he stumbled into a theatrical screening of the docu-drama “Wings of the Navy” that year, he was immediately hooked by the bravery and talent of the crews of the Navy’s PBY-5 “Catalina” flying boats. Shortly thereafter, he set his cap on PBY duty and enlisted for a six-year stint at a time when the USA was in the peak of isolationism and the prospect of war seemed as remote as the Battle of Arndennes in World War I.
The PBY-5 flying boats were an extremely versatile craft developed for the US Navy’s both unique and demanding roles: aerial reconnaissance, anti-submarine warfare, patrol bombing, convoy escort, search and rescue missions (especially air-sea rescue), and cargo transport. The PBY-5 carried a full crew of 11 to manage flight, navigation, radio, ordnance, and gun turrets. As a young man with a technical bent, Eino was drawn into the complex world of radio operations including eventually the early crude radar systems. With an operational range of more than 2500 miles on a single flight with a typical speed of around 200 MPH, long and grueling missions were the norm. As a true seaplane, the PBY-5 would normally takeoff and land on water. However, the aluminum fuselage was none too tough and if it were to skip across a shallow reef on landing, the bottom could be torn off and catastrophe would result.
At the beginning of the war, many of the islands that the US tried to recapture from the Japanese did not even have reliable maps. The Catalinas were invaluable in bringing back quality photographic imagery to develop the first accurate maps. Special cameras were mounted in the bomb bay and the airplane had to fly a perfectly level course at a fixed altitude with an unvarying direction in order to produce photos that could be pasted-up together in a mosaic useful to planners and analysts. This was 33 years before the first GPS was invented, so maintaining consistent flight paths was critical. However, this made the PBY-5 a sitting duck as far as Japanese anti-aircraft batteries were concerned and all recon missions were fought through a tremendous cloud of flak. This was especially true when tasked with battle damage assessment (“strike coverage”) where they flew at the tail end of a bomber squadron to snap pictures of the destruction. Koski’s memoir really puts you in the scene:
“Finally, came the moment we all dreaded; the steady, straight-on course through angry black gobs of flak with nowhere to hide. The Japanese gunners knew we were coming and they were ready and waiting. With no margin of safety and with our belly exposed to hot steel from below, we prayed as fervently as any man has…. Seconds turned into minutes and minutes turned into hours as the plane shook from aerial explosions, as the ugly black clusters of flak mushroomed around us”
Eino Koski describes an idyllic assignment in Hawaii just before the outbreak of hostilities after the infamous raid on Pearl Harbor. His first-person description of surviving the attack is visceral and really puts you in the picture as America’s greatest battleships are crippled or destroyed with the biggest mass casualty the USA had ever experienced. Indeed, the water in Pearl Harbor was still filled with burning oil when his airplane was dispatched on December 8th with the task of finding the Japanese fleet. Eino’s squadron had been decimated by the sneak attack, only four out of eleven airplanes could be made airworthy at that time.
Koski’s service in World War II is more or less equally divided between two major combat theatre operations: initially Patrol Squadron 23 and later as Fleet Air Photographic Squadron One. In the Patrol Squadron role, the mission was simple: fly huge arcs around the Pacific and report back the locations of enemy ships. This was easier said than done because no sooner would they make a positive ID of Japanese ships then they would be beset by the Zero fighters. Although the PBY-5 had gun emplacement in the waist, top, and rear of the ship, they had a limited field of fire and it didn’t take long for the Japanese to locate all the blind spots. The attrition rate was high, disaster could come in many forms – enemy fighters, equipment failures, and navigation errors could all be fatal.
More important than the technical aspects of war, Koski’s record captures the human toll that the war took. You meet him when he is a gung ho recruit, eager to make his mark in the war and within a year he has become a grizzled veteran with a thousand-yard stare. The missions could be so stressful that some crew members would crack under the stress and the toll of losing one’s best friends was also devastating. He survived it all and went on to serve the last two years as a flight instructor back in the states, but nothing compares with putting your life on the line day in and day out. Eino Koski truly earned his place in the pantheon of the Greatest Generation and anyone who would like to learn what it is really like to live through a war should check out “Another Time, Another Place”
Another Time, Another Place: World War II in the Pacific 1941-1944
At time of this writing, this book is not in wide distribution. Please call your local bookseller to see if it can be obtained.
About the Reviewer
Victor R. Volkman is a graduate of Michigan Technological University (class of ’86) and a long-serving member of the Board of the Upper Peninsula Publishers and Authors Association (UPPAA). As Senior Editor of Modern History Press, he has helped shepherd the U.P. Reader anthology since 2017. Volkman is the author of several books on various subjects including psychology, computer programming, and history. Send your book review suggestions to victor@LHPress.com.