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A twelve-year dream of publishing the life story of world-class athlete and American fighter ace Harry ‘Dirty Eddie’ March, has finally be achieved by local author Lee Cook.

Lee, a record breaking boxing ref from Upwell, has published ‘Eddie’s Dirty War’ - his fourth book chronicling the heroics of the Second World War American Naval Fighter Squadron VF-17.

Despite countless rejections from publishers Lee refused to give up on telling Harry March’s wartime story and lockdown gave him the opportunity to finally review his manuscript and thanks to a fellow author contacted North Texas University Press, who agreed to finally print the book.

Boxing ref Lee Cook refused to be knocked out by the dozens of rejections before finally getting his book accepted and published. (51694248)
Boxing ref Lee Cook refused to be knocked out by the dozens of rejections before finally getting his book accepted and published. (51694248)

Lee, who became Guinness World Record holder for refereeing the most professional fights last summer, came across Harry March’s unique journal while researching the history of the squadron.

Lee said:“Harry March’s unique journal remained with his family for seventy-four years until I discovered it in the course of my research

“There have been numerous personal accounts and memoirs from servicemen who fought in the Pacific War, but in most cases, they are a retrospective look at events with experiences recalled with the benefit of hindsight and the passage of time.

“What is unique about the diary of Harry March is that it is a story of its time and his words are just as poignant now as when as he recorded them.

“He provides a snapshot of the war as he saw and experienced it, at a time of cataclysmic world events.”

Dirty Eddie's War is Lee Cook's fourth book on the VF-17 Squadron. (51694273)
Dirty Eddie's War is Lee Cook's fourth book on the VF-17 Squadron. (51694273)

Harry’s exploits have been brought together as a complete story of his life and chronicles the action seen by this heroic pilot, largely through genuine extracts from his diary pieced together with additional research on the Pacific War.

Harry was a talented athlete and U.S. National Pentathlon Champion in 1940, destined for Olympic glory, before the war. Following his graduation from the University of North Carolina, he joined the U.S. Navy with the goal of becoming a fighter pilot.

Disregarding official regulations, March kept an unauthorised diary from 1942-1944 to record his experiences throughout his combat tours.

Harry March - known as Dirty Eddie kept an illicit diary during his time fighting in the Pacific. (51694276)
Harry March - known as Dirty Eddie kept an illicit diary during his time fighting in the Pacific. (51694276)

He records life on-board aircraft carriers and the brutal campaign and primitive living conditions on Guadalcanal, dealing with the shattering loss of close friends and comrades.

After his heroic exploits, March returned home and resumed training in track and field to prepare for the 1948 Olympics in London. Tragically, a swift and severe illness cut his life short at the age of only twenty-seven. His devoted wife Elsa raised their only daughter alone and never remarried.

Lee said: “My fascination with the legendary squadron VF-17, goes back to early 1993, when I saw a limited-edition print called The Jolly Rogers by Nicholas Trudgian advertised in Flypast magazine. In the summer of that year, I saw a signed copy of the print at an air show, loved it and bought it.”

Harry March flew a Vought Corsair F-AU fighter planed for the US Navy during World War II (51694270)
Harry March flew a Vought Corsair F-AU fighter planed for the US Navy during World War II (51694270)

Lee knew someone who was writing to fighter pilots in the United States and he found out that among his correspondents was Tom Blackburn, the skipper of VF-17, one of the four pilots who had signed the print.

“Lee started writing to Tom who sent him a full roster of everyone from the squadron who was still alive.

Lee wrote to the 26 people on his list and was later invited to the Fighting Seventeen reunion at Oshkosh, Wisconsin, USA in July/August 1994.

He said: “Meeting the surviving pilots led me on a journey of discovery about the squadron’s record-breaking achievements in the Solomon Islands and I was challenged to record their history.”

Harry March (pictured right) and fellow pilots involved in the Pacific conflict. (51697761)
Harry March (pictured right) and fellow pilots involved in the Pacific conflict. (51697761)

This resulted in the publication of three book.

He said: “The picture on the cover of my first book, ‘The Skull and Crossbones Squadron—VF-17 in World War II’, was the one which I had bought at the air show.

“Eight years after the publication of my first book, a recurrence of an old injury forced me to take a break from my career as a boxing referee and this gave me the opportunity to write two further books on VF-17, which were published in 2011.”

Lee invited to the Fighting Seventeen reunion at Oshkosh, Wisconsin, USA in July/August 1994. (51697756)
Lee invited to the Fighting Seventeen reunion at Oshkosh, Wisconsin, USA in July/August 1994. (51697756)

Lee resumed working as a boxing official and from 2015 to 2020, was the busiest professional boxing referee in the World. When the Covid pandemic put a hold on his refereeing career, he was faced with the uncertainty of what to do.

He decided to focus on completing his fourth book, ‘Dirty Eddie’s War’.

He had written a manuscript and after 34 rejections had stopped counting. The events of early 2020 gave him the opportunity to review the book and try again.

He said: “Taking advice from a fellow author who I met on a tour around Europe in 2019, I followed up a lead to approach North Texas University Press and submitted a proposal in April 2020. I was surprised to receive a reply the same day expressing their interest.

“The lockdown then passed by in a blur of revisions, further research and documenting sources, all to meet set deadlines. It was a massive learning curve.”

“After facing a climate of total rejection for 12 years ‘Dirty Eddie’s War ‘was completed and now published - I just wouldn’t give up.

“My goal throughout my research has been to perpetuate the memory of the courageous men of VF-17 who fought against the Japanese. I wanted to document their exploits and ensure that they will be remembered in the future for their many achievements.”

The book is available from Amazon along with Lee’s previous three books. It is priced £21.78 for a hardback or you can download it for £13.49.



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