By Matthew J Garretson, Friends of Naval Aviation, Pensacola, FL (2021).
Reviewed by Ens. Sydney M. Willis, USN
Blue Angels Decades Vol: 1 is a comprehensive history of the Blue Angels, the Navy’s Flight Demonstration Squadron, through the view of primary documents in their archives. The book transforms a collection of documents into a coherent timeline of the Blue Angels’ history. Mathew Garretson, the author, lets the documents speak for themselves and only adds captions to each providing more context or stories that connect them to make a cohesive timeline. Garretson is a naval historian who focuses primarily on aviation and is the print historian for the Blue Angels association. He has published numerous articles and one other book on aviation, Vought A-7 Corsair II: Legends of Warfare. Blue Angels Decades is unique because many of the sources included have never been collected or published in the history of the Flight Demonstration Squadron. The book is an excellent broad history for the casual aviation history buff but also serves as a research source for anyone studying the Blue Angels.
The first volume of the planned eight-volume series is organized by year and covers the first ten years of the Squadron’s existence. Each year starts with a written introduction by Garretson outlining the significant events and any additional facts about that year. The Blue Angels tour card for that year’s season follows the introduction and provides an outline for that section. Every year is organized chronologically by event or related media and anecdotes between events. The organization works well for a book of so many different primary sources and makes it feel as if you are the one exploring the Blue Angels’ archives. The accomplishment of Blue Angels Decades is how Garretson is able to provide just enough captions and background to the sources to give detail and also fill in the gaps between the sources making it a cohesive timeline.
In the book you can find newspaper clippings detailing their shows, flyers, plans of maneuvers, details of each aircraft they flew, personal photos, and stories from the pilots. The book opens with a foreword by a Blue Angels alumnus, Capt. Gil Rud, USN (Ret.), adding credibility and emphasizing the influence the Blue Angels, current and former, had on this book. Then the timeline begins in 1946, detailing the beginning of the Naval Flight Demonstration Team. They were not designated as a squadron yet and did not receive their Blue Angels moniker until 1947. Some of the highlights of the book are tidbits of information about the Blue Angels that could only be found in the archive or by talking to a former pilot, such as the creation of some of their famous maneuvers, documents about when they began performing the United States Naval Academy’s “June Week,” and more solemnly the personal stories about some of the fallen Blues of the decade.
Garretson did a great job compiling so many different sources about the Blue Angels from the Naval Aviation Museum’s Blue Angels archives, his own collection, and from former Blue Angels and their families, but it is a lot. This is not a book one could sit down and read cover to cover, because to get the full effect of the documents included you might spend hours on a few pages reading the newspaper clippings and the stories and captions provided. However, the book is great for two things, casually flipping through and learning about the Blue Angels and as a resource for researching them. Blue Angels Decades brings the archives to you and would be perfect for the amateur historian or a student or academic beginning their research.
Ensign Sydney M. Willis is a recent graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy.
A lifelong pilot and aviation advocate, Garretson serves as the Managing Editor of Publications for the Air Traffic Control Association, Executive Director of the A-7 Corsair II Association, and as the Print Historian for the Blue Angels Association.
Blue Angels: Decades, 1946-1955. 1. Vol. 1. 8 vols. By Matthew J Garretson (Pensacola, FL: 2021)