The Lucky Seven

One airman’s remarkable true wartime story of escape and evasion from German-occupied Europe, and the brave résistance fighters who delivered him to freedom.

Non-Fiction - Historical
380 Pages
Reviewed on 09/16/2023
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    Book Review

Reviewed by Tom Gauthier for Readers' Favorite

History is too often recorded in dates, names, and events. Even recording the earthshaking history of WWII succumbs to academic formulae. Unless and until history is given life by recording the individual stories of the men and women who lived, indeed who were the history, the critical element of feelings is not linked to the facts, and emotions are not stirred. Norman W. Holden’s telling of the life of Lieutenant James J. Goebel, Jr., USAAC, from impressionable youth to combat aviator and survivor is an outstanding example of how history needs to be told through a name, a face, emotions, and the facts.

The Lucky Seven is an authentic, skillfully woven Bayeux tapestry of the aerial war of WWII as seen through the eyes of Lieutenant Goebel, his crew, and the people who interacted with them before the mission and in the aftermath of rescue and captivity. Holden provides not only the accurate physical locations of events but also the emotions, fears, actions, and reactions of the people, bringing the stark realities of history to life for the reader. This is the truest way to honor the millions of the 'greatest generation.' Holden takes us up close and personal inside the B-24 Liberator bomber in combat. The bitter cold at altitude, the hours of droning boredom, and then the sudden flashes and deadly results of flak reaching up to pluck them from the skies over Europe are faithfully recorded. Watching an aircraft ahead of you disappear, spewing only flaming pieces where there was once an aircraft and ten men, just like you, shows what a generation of heroic young men endured and what the author has skillfully recreated in The Lucky Seven.

Norman W. Holden has provided an exceptional work in The Lucky Seven. Writing a historical account is a skill many authors never master. It requires serious research and accurate details, then bringing it all to life by creating dialog that would naturally be expected under the circumstances and filling in time gaps with action that fits the same criteria. Holden has hit the mark and the result is both educational and entertaining, authentic and true, and a reflection of the research and writing skills of this author. The narrative touches the warriors in combat and, after bailing out of their doomed aircraft, their saviors as individuals in shared circumstances. Holden writes with great care to let us see the people in the war, not just the war, in a well-visualized context of human strength and frailties. The goodness, unselfishness, and bravery in the midst of unspeakable evil. Holden’s depictions of a young lad learning to pilot an aircraft, learning to take it into combat, and experiencing the hours of boredom interrupted by moments of stark terror that every pilot will describe, if asked, are faithfully recorded in this work. All this is added to the sensitive insertion of emotions, psychological reactions, and human feelings, This book emerges as a truly worthwhile piece that the author can be justifiably proud of. Strongly recommending The Lucky Seven, I commend and praise Norman W. Holden for his high-quality work.

Scott Cahan

The Lucky Seven by Norman W. Holden is a detailed account of true events that took place during World War 2. The story follows a young U.S. airman named James Goebel along with his fellow crew members on a fateful bombing run over Germany. When their plane is attacked by the enemy, Goebel and the others find themselves running for their lives across the countryside of German-occupied Belgium. They immediately receive valuable assistance from local resistance fighters and townsfolk who are sympathetic to the Allied soldiers. Even with help from friendly locals, the journey ahead for Goebel and his friends is filled with extreme hardships and the constant threat of capture by the Germans.

The Lucky Seven successfully walks the fine line between being a detailed account of history and a thrilling story of action and adventure. Author Norman W. Holden has obviously done his homework with extensive interviews and research of personal and military writings. Those details of real-life people, places, and events are woven in skillfully throughout the narrative giving the overall story a stamp of authenticity. At the same time, he keeps the story grounded by showing us the personal struggles of Goebel and the other characters. One other thing that sets this true story apart from other similar biographies is the way it highlights the civilians of Belgium and France who sacrificed so much to help the downed servicemen. Learning about their points of view alongside that of the Americans added a whole new level of complexity to the story that left me marveling at how truth really can be more fascinating than fiction. I highly recommend The Lucky Seven for anyone who enjoys a well-researched yet very exciting true story of human bravery in times of war.

Rich Follett

The Lucky Seven by Norman W. Holden is a reverent, faithful, impeccably researched, historically accurate, and unceasingly suspenseful retelling of seven World War II airmen’s escape from the German forces in German-occupied Europe over a five-month period from 1944-45. Apart from its gripping, can’t-put-it-down narrative, The Lucky Seven is chock-full of fascinating additional information about the airmen, their planes, the many helpers and resistance fighters who watched over them as they evaded the Germans, charts and photographs to add context and interest, and historical moments that might not otherwise be on record. Reading The Lucky Seven feels like being present for world-shaping events in history, to which there are fewer and fewer firsthand witnesses with every passing year.

Given the painstaking research and attention to detail that infuses the writing, there can be no doubt that the work undertaken by Norman W. Holden to recount the experiences of James Goebel and his fellow airmen is both vital and scholarly. As erudite as The Lucky Seven is, it is also enormously appealing on the merits of the riveting and breathlessly suspenseful story it tells. The author is a master storyteller with a phenomenal eye for detail and a keen ear for dialogue. His passion for World War II history and the characters he portrays with such uncanny realism is evident on every page. The Lucky Seven is, quite simply, an epic tale not to be missed by history buffs or even those who just enjoy a supremely crafted narrative. Anyone who reads The Lucky Seven by Norman W. Holden is sure to come away edified, gratified, and highly entertained.

Grant Leishman

The Lucky Seven by Norman W. Holden is a triumphant story of courage and determination in the face of incredible risks during World War II. Second Lieutenant James J. Goebel Jr. enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Force as soon as he turned eighteen, determined to be a fighter pilot. After extensive training in the U.S. where it was determined that James would fly bombers rather than fighters, he and his crew set out for England in their B-24 Liberator via a circuitous route that would take them to South America, Africa, and across Europe before finally arriving in England to join the battle against the Nazis. On their first operational bombing mission, co-pilot James and his Liberator crew were shot down over German-occupied Belgium. Separated from most of his crew, James and six other men began the long arduous journey across Belgium and France to seek safety in neutral Switzerland. Along the way, they would have to evade many German troops hunting for them. They would also discover the kindness, bravery, and patriotism of ordinary villagers as well as the incredible courage and sacrifice of partisans in Belgium and France.

The Lucky Seven is a stirring and inspirational read that had me glued to the story from the beginning. Norman W. Holden had a vested interest in this story, as the husband of James Goebel’s daughter Jean, so I was impressed that the author consistently presented James Goebel as just an ordinary American airman doing his duty and not some sort of extraordinary hero. This portrayal of James gave the story a greater relatability and gravitas. I was amazed at the courage and tenacity of the ordinary villagers in the occupied countries as they daily risked their lives to save even just one Allied airman, who they regarded as their savior from the Nazi jackboot. This was despite the Allied air forces constantly pounding their cities to beat the Nazis into submission. The real heroes of this story were not The Lucky Seven themselves but the freedom-loving partisans in Belgium and France who accepted their seemingly inevitable deaths as a price worth paying to rid their country of the Nazi horde. This inspiring and uplifting biography perfectly sums up why this generation is so often referred to as “the greatest generation.” I thoroughly enjoyed this read and can highly recommend it.

K.C. Finn

The Lucky Seven is a work of non-fiction in the historical subgenre that aims to recount ‘One airman’s remarkable true wartime story of escape and evasion from German-occupied Europe, and the brave résistance fighters who delivered him to freedom.’ It is best suited to the general adult reading audience and was penned by author Norman W. Holden. The work immerses readers in the gripping true story of Second Lieutenant James J. Goebel, Jr., an airman who finds himself parachuting into German-occupied Belgium during World War II. After his B-24 Liberator is shot down, Goebel must navigate a hostile territory with the odds stacked against him. The narrative highlights his incredible journey of survival, escape, and evasion as he seeks refuge and assistance from brave résistance fighters.

Author Norman W. Holden's non-fiction narrative has a sense of storytelling to it that perfectly captures the tension, courage, and camaraderie during wartime, and also sheds light on the often-overlooked acts of heroism by those who resisted Nazi occupation. As the history unfolds and comes to life, readers witness Goebel's harrowing experiences, from his initial escape from his burning aircraft to his interactions with local résistance members who risk their lives to help him. The book delves into the challenges, dangers, and close calls Goebel faces as he attempts to make his way back to safety with a balance of emotional resonance and commitment to facts. This provides an informative but also deeply moving experience. Overall, The Lucky Seven is a recommended read for history enthusiasts as it offers both a detailed account of Goebel's personal journey and also pays loving tribute to the courageous individuals who played a crucial role in his escape and evasion.