Centreville resident Lt. Col. Braxton "Brick" Eisel has recently written a book entitled "Beaufighters in the Night: the 417th Night Fighter Squadron," which chronicles the stories and experiences of many of the men in the 417th. The book, which was published by Pen and Sword, is already in stores.
FOR EISEL, 43, an active duty Air Force officer who has been in the Air Force for 21 years, writing this book was a natural progression from writing articles for aviation magazines.
"I've always been interested in history, and I've written articles for magazines such as Air and Space, Maryland Life and Air Force Magazine," said Eisel. "The Beaufighter is my favorite plane."
Although he didn't know any of the 417th personally before writing this book, a few of the articles he had written had been about the squadron. Eisel was eventually contacted by Rich and Lorraine Zeibart, who were historians for the 417th.
"They sent me a box of memoirs and pictures, as well as a list of contacts," said Eisel. This information proved to be invaluable to Eisel as he was writing this book, which took about six months, as well as a year of research.
"He tells a story like he was there," said Major Doug Hill, 41, Eisel's friend and coworker. "He has a great writing style. He does a good job of going to an historical event and finding personal stories of the people involved."
Eisel mainly communicated with the men in the 417th through email and phone interviews, although he did go on day trips to visit some of the soldiers who lived closer by.
"This book provides both official history and anecdotes," he said. "I interviewed survivors, read letters they had written to their families during the war. Many of them had spoken about this for the first time. Some of their families didn't even know what their fathers or grandfathers had done during the war."
"HE'S VERY factual," said Col. Bill Fosdick, 54, another of Eisel's coworkers and friends. "If it's in one of his publications, he has done very good research and everything is as true as it can be."
The use of the Beaufighter by the Americans in World War II is significant because at the time, there had been no planes or technology equipped for night-fighting. Through the Lend-Lease program, which allowed the Americans to let other Allied countries borrow planes and ships, the British lent the Americans less than 100 Beaufighters. Young pilots had to scrounge for used parts in good condition to make repairs, which proved to be very difficult to find.
The book features anecdotes from the soldiers, some of whom have passed away since they were interviewed. "It would be neat if kids asked their parents what they did in the war, and asked about and appreciated their family histories," said Eisel.
Eisel first got started in the Air Force because his father was an officer, although he retired when Eisel was young. "I couldn't figure out what to do, and then the Air Force gave me a scholarship, so that made the decision a lot easier," he said.
Eisel met both Hill and Fosdick while working in the Air Force. "He has a great sense of humor, very smart and friendly, and he's a quick wit," said Hill. "He reminds me of a British author. I can see him wearing a tweed jacket with a pipe in his mouth, although he doesn't do either of those things."
"He's very intense and logical; he's very involved in what he does and believes in," said Fosdick.
Eisel's first assignment in the Air Force was to monitor the usage of nuclear missiles in North Dakota, but now he works for the Department of Defense as a liaison to the Federal Aviation Administration.
IN HIS SPARE time, he likes writing, running, and aviation in general.
Eisel even spoke at an unveiling of an Australian Beaufighter at the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio. Today, there are only six complete Beaufighter planes in the world.
According to Eisel, his biggest accomplishments have been his wife Linda and three children, Patrick, 16, Casey, 12, and Emily 8, as well as being in the Air Force for 21 years, and getting his book published.
"It is about a group of young Americans using strange equipment to get the job done no matter what," Eisel said. "It's an interesting story and it's not very well-known. Anyone who likes airplanes or history would enjoy it."