A true story of downed B-24s in Japanese-occupied Borneo and a native tribe that “makes us—like the airmen—rethink our definitions of civilized and savage” (Entertainment Weekly).
November 1944: Their B-24 bomber shot down on what should have been an easy mission off the Borneo coast, a scattered crew of Army airmen cut themselves loose from their parachutes—only to be met by loincloth-wearing natives silently materializing out of the mountainous jungle. Would these Dayak tribesmen turn the starving airmen over to the hostile Japanese occupiers? Or would the Dayaks risk vicious reprisals to get the airmen safely home in a desperate game of hide-and-seek? A cinematic survival story featuring a bamboo airstrip built on a rice paddy, a mad British major, and a blowpipe-wielding army that helped destroy one of the last Japanese strongholds, The Airmen and the Headhunters is also a gripping tale of wartime heroism unlike any other you have read.
Using detailed research and new interviews with all the surviving players, including the tribal Dayaks of Southeast Asia, diplomat and author Heimann (The Most Offending Soul Alive) presents the story of two B-24 crews, one U.S. Army Air Corps and one U.S. Navy, shot down over Borneo in November 1944 and January 1945, respectively. With the help of a local District Official and Lun Dayeh tribesmen, the airmen survived several months in uncharted interior jungles, avoiding capture by occupying Japanese forces. The book gives great insight into the Lun Dayeh, a thriving culture that uses few tools and almost no knowledge of modern machinery, best known for their practice of headhunting. Surprisingly enough, they prove kind, welcoming and very generous with what provisions they have; meanwhile, the Japanese plunder native resources and subject opposition to torture and worse, proving the terms "savage" and "civilized" to be quite subjective. A good read for WWII history buffs, Heimann's volume also contains enough material on the culture of Southeast Asian tribes to please any armchair anthropologist.