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Orient woman’s memoir tells tale of husband’s journey as World War II pilot

When Nancy Hungerford set out to tell the story of her late husband, Robert’s, journey as a World War II pilot, she not only wanted to create a tribute to his service, but also to the many other unsung heroes of that generation.

An Orient resident, Ms. Hungerford pored over her husband’s logs and journals, his notes and those of his squadron peers. Those documents became the guide for her memoir, “Well Done: A WWII Memoir from Childhood Dreams to Naval Aviator.” The project became a labor of love, she said, and took over 10 years to complete.

The story takes readers directly into the cockpit and plunges them deep into the pilot’s experiences of the war.

Ms. Hungerford wrote the book entirely from her husband’s perspective. She said that was one of her biggest challenges.

“I found the hardest part of writing this was to write it not in my voice, but the voice of Bob,” she said. “I redid many chapters, after reading them — saying, ‘redo, this is Nancy’s voice, not Bob’s.’ It is, after all, a memoir.”

She decided to self-publish because her goal was to get the memoir out before he passed. But Mr. Hungerford died July 5, 2020. He was 98. The memoir was published in March 2021.

The memoir begins with Mr. Hungerford daydreaming as a child while inspecting airplanes for fun with a friend at a nearby airport. From there, the memoir moves from one milestone to the next as he achieves his childhood dream of being a pilot and flies the famous Grumman Hellcat fighter plane in the 13th Fighter Squadron on the USS Franklin.

“Hanging around the planes built up my romantic notion that I would one day become a pilot, not just any pilot but like one of those hero [World War I] ace pilots I read about,” an excerpt from the book reads.

Readers also join Mr. Hungerford in the pilot’s seat with vivid descriptions of his flights. The book includes a lot of technical details that Mr. Hungerford learned in his extensive training. Aviation aficionados can also enjoy reading about stunts like wingovers, chandelles, circle slips and more.

“It’s not just a World War II story, there’s a story about someone with no direction finding a direction and then really applying himself to it,” Ms. Hungerford said. “There are a couple of stories within the story.”

She said her husband’s example can serve as inspiration for today’s youth who may be struggling to find their way. The story highlights the focus and dedication Mr. Hungerford used to achieve his goal, as well as some sacrifices he made to get there.

After the war, Mr. Hungerford pursued more creative avenues. He became an art director in Detroit. Afterwards, he moved to Manhattan and became vice president of J. Walter Thompson agency. Later, he became a principal in the New York agency Bradley, Dimmock & Hungerford. Then he served as a commodore of the Orient Yacht Club and became co-publisher along with Ms. Hungerford of the monthly lifestyle paper, North Fork Country.

Ms. Hungerford has also ghostwritten two other books as well as an award-winning newsletter, “Just Cats.” She is a member of the Cat Writers Association and writes a bimonthly column for the Town Tribune of New Fairfield, Conn. She is currently writing her latest book about cats.

The memoir is available for purchase at Burton’s Book Store in Greenport, Barnes and Noble and Amazon. Those with electronic readers can find it on Apple Books, iBooks and Kindle.