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Robert Lyman’s Among the Headhunters
May 2015 Bob Pigeon of Da Capo Press in New York has announced that Perseus Books have secured world rights to Robert Lyman’s Headhunters, and published Spring 2016.
Headhunters tells the previously untold story of the loss of USAAF Flight 12420 in August 1943 over the vast, jungled borders of northern Burma, deep within Japanese-held territory. Of the twenty one passengers and crew on board that day were senior OSS operative Duncan C. Lee (a descendant of Robert E. Lee) clandestinely working as a Soviet spy, en route to meet the Chinese intelligence chief; Eric Sevareid, the celebrated CBS journalist sent by President Roosevelt to ascertain the ‘truth about China’ and General ‘Vinegar Joe’ Stilwell’s political adviser, John Paton Davies of the State Department, and Bill Stanton a senior operative from the Department of Economic Warfare.
Sevareid found fame as the man who announced the German entry into Paris in June 1940 and was one of the most feted radio journalists of the age. For his part the brilliant Davies was to lose his Foreign Service career in the McCarthy witch hunt of the following decade, merely for predicting that the Communists would win the decades long Civil War in China; Super-spy Duncan C. Lee would, surprisingly, never be indicted and go on to have a successful post-war career as a lawyer.
Flying the notorious ‘Hump’ route between India and China, the twin engine Curtiss-Wright C-46 ‘Commando’ suffered engine failure and crashed over the mountainous, remote border country between India and Burma. Against the odds all but one of the 21 people on the doomed aircraft survived – it remains the largest civilian evacuation of an aircraft by parachute. But they fell from the frying pan into the fire.
Disentangling themselves from their ‘chutes the shocked survivors discovered that they had arrived in wild country dominated by a tribe with an especial reason to hate white men. The Nagas of the Patkoi hills were notorious headhunters who routinely practiced slavery and human sacrifice, their specialty being the removal of enemy heads – often women and children – with razor-sharp daos. On two occasions in recent years the Naga’s village had been burned to the ground, their warriors killed in running battles with British-led Indian soldiers. The Japanese lay close by too, retaining a special hatred for American flyers.
Headhunters tells the incredible true story of the adventures of these men among the Naga warriors, their sustenance from the air by the USAAF, and ultimate rescue by a joint British-American military expedition. In this meeting two very different worlds collided, American and Naga. The young, exuberant apostles of the vast industrial democracy of the United States came face-to-face with an ancient race determined to preserve their local power, based on head-hunting and slaving prerogatives.