Houston & Peach

New book tells the story of local war hero Robert L. Scott that many don’t know

Those who prefer to know heroes only by their heroic deeds might not care for “Double Ace,” a recently published book about Gen. Robert L. Scott, who grew up in Macon.

But for those who recognize that even a great man has flaws, and those flaws are part of his life story, they might find the book by Atlanta writer Robert Coram a compelling read.

“It’s the first book about Gen. Scott that wasn’t written by him,” said Ken Emery, who is director of the Museum of Aviation and was Scott’s close friend. “I think it’s an honest look at his career.”

Scott, who died in 2006 at the age of 97, is one of the most famous people to come out of Macon. He shot down at least 10 Japanese aircraft while fighting over China in World War II. That gives him the rare title of double ace, but he is best known as the author of “God is My Co-Pilot.”

Scott dictated the book over three days while he was home from the war, and it became a best-seller and a movie. The book is still in print today. As Coram points out, it inspired many people to become pilots, and the title later became a popular bumper sticker across the South.

At age 72, Scott gained national attention by hiking the 1,900 miles of the Great Wall of China. He later moved from his retirement home in Arizona to Warner Robins, where he helped build the Museum of Aviation into a major tourist attraction. He died in Warner Robins in a personal care home, with Emery by his side.

‘God is My Co-Pilot’ parade drew huge crowd

Coram writes that when the film “God is My Co-Pilot” premiered in Macon in 1945, the governor declared it Robert L. Scott Day and 75,000 people attended a parade that featured Scott and stars of the movie.

“To the good people of Macon,” Coram writes, “and to all the people of Georgia, the idea of a movie premiere about a local man was an event of near-biblical proportions. The idea that Hollywood was coming to Macon was almost impossible to grasp.”

Coram gives a detailed account of Scott growing up in Macon and how he honed his instinct for leading the target by hunting along the Ocmulgee River. Coram also recounts the famous story of how 12-year-old Scott built a glider, flew it off the top of a house and crashed into bushes. Scott claimed it was the only time he ever crashed.

The book also tells of the tenacity he showed to even get into the war. By the time the war broke out Scott was considered too old to be a fighter pilot, but he had dreamed of it for so long that he worked unrelentingly for the chance to get in the battle and eventually got it.

But Coram also writes at length of Scott’s extramarital affairs and his tendency to exaggerate. A recurring theme in the book is that while Scott is confirmed to have achieved many great things, it never seemed quite enough for him. He always had to make the story greater.

Scott claimed he shot down 22 planes, but during the war the Air Force credited him with 13 kills. A later review of all pilots records reduced the official number of Scott’s kills to 10, Coram found in his research. Coram said it is possible that Scott did shoot down more planes because the Air Force has a rigid standard for giving credit for a kill.

Coram said he spent more than three years working on the book. As he did the research, he got some resistance about it from locals in Warner Robins and from some of Scott’s family, including Scott’s daughter. She declined to help with the book, Coram said.

But Coram said Emery and others at the Museum of Aviation understood that he was trying to tell the whole story of Scott’s life and helped extensively. Coram spent considerable time going through various documents at the museum and elsewhere, including from Scott’s book publisher, to try to separate truth from Scott’s exaggerations.

Coram said he didn’t understand the resistance he got about the book.

“Gen. Scott is held in such reverence around Warner Robins that me just asking some questions about some things made some people down there think I was a satanic presence trying to crucify Gen. Scott,” Coram said.

The most compelling part of the book for Warner Robins might be the ending, which details how Scott came to the Museum of Aviation. Emery is a key character in the story as are others still living in Warner Robins. One is Bill Paul, who in 1985 wrote a letter to Scott in Arizona asking for memorabilia that the museum could use to set up a display for him.

Scott was living a lonely life in a retirement home at that time and getting fed up with his nosy neighbors. He wrote back that not only would he donate some items but he would bring the items to the museum, which he did. A short time after that he was invited to become the public face of the museum, and that’s what he did for many years until his health began to fail.

Emery said he didn’t have any hesitation about putting Coram’s book for sale at the museum gift shop, even though it wasn’t all good about the man who helped build the museum.

“The book shows him as a real person with vulnerabilities and faults just like all of us,” Emery said. “It’s a book for sale like any others — you can take or leave it.”

Wayne Crenshaw: 478-256-9725, @WayneCrenshaw1