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Finding Pay Dirt in a Rabbit Hole

Research can lead one to some interesting--and often surprising--sources. Granted, it can also lead to a lot of empty rabbit holes and wasted time, but one never knows which "rabbit hole" will waste time and which will yield pay dirt.

While researching for a writing project involving the 8th Air Force during World War II, I ran across several articles that mentioned the movie Twelve O'clock High, starring Gregory Peck. In the first instance, I skimmed right past the mention without a second thought. Similarly with the next two or three times I encountered it.


But then I ran across an article titled "The Real Twelve O'clock High" by John T. Correll in Air Force Magazine. The mental screen of my research radar indicated a significant blip. I read the article with heightened interest.


The famous movie, it said, was "based on actual persons and events. Very little of it was pure fiction."


The author had my undivided attention. Although I seldom read fiction, I do enjoy an occasional good war movie, especially if it's based on fact.

The article proceeded to summarize the movie's plot, setting, and cast and how the movie was tied so intimately to the U.S. 8th Air Force in its early days of taking the war to Hitler's front door.


My curiosity whetted by that article, I had to see the movie about which I had known for years and read so much recently. I spent the next two and a half hours of valuable research time viewing it on my laptop.


I was not disappointed. And I didn't feel a bit guilty of wasting time afterward. I'll readily admit that the movie entertained me, but, more importantly, it informed me in a graphic way about the very points of my research: how flight crews and ground crews contributed to the success of the bombing of the Third Reich and its military-industrial complex (a term coined only years later by Eisenhower after the war), what life was like for crewmen aboard a B-17, and the stresses and consequences of intense and prolonged aerial combat. And it showed how the right leadership can transform a "hard-luck" group into a tight-knit and effective fighting force that is proud of its contributions to the greater objective. Although the movie changed the names of people and places, it was essentially and precisely what had happened in real life.


I'm now a little less reluctant to chase down a tempting rabbit hole, knowing it might yield productive information and writing material. I know I must be careful, guarding my valuable time, but I also see promise of reward in surprising resources, even some films.


Hmmm. Since I am getting along in years, maybe I should "research" The Over-the-Hill Gang Rides Again. There might be some important life lessons for me in it. Or maybe a writing idea or two. Are those reasonable justifications for an afternoon of movie viewing?

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