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Pub Date 30 Apr 2022 | Archive Date 31 May 2022


World War II tail gunner Gene Moran fell four miles through the sky without a parachute and lived. Captured by the Germans, he survived a harrowing eighteen months as a prisoner of war, including a six-hundred-mile death march in 1945 across Central Europe.

When Gene returned home, he kept those memories locked up for nearly seventy years. His nine children knew little of their dad's war story. But when John, a young history teacher, learns of Gene's amazing fall, he's desperate to learn more. Finally, Gene agrees.

So begins a series of "Thursdays with Gene" interviews. Gene, nearing his ninetieth birthday, recounts incredible tales. But John has no idea what wounds he's reopening. Gene's nightmares and grief return. But both men persevere, bonded by their close and growing friendship.

As the interviews go on, John faces an ordeal of his own. His wife is fighting brain cancer. What will happen to his wife and his two young children? John must continue uncovering Gene's story of survival as he himself confronts the greatest trial of his life.

Tailspin is more than a war story. It's a story of two men's separate journeys confronting trauma and loss. It's a story of resilience and hope.

World War II tail gunner Gene Moran fell four miles through the sky without a parachute and lived. Captured by the Germans, he survived a harrowing eighteen months as a prisoner of war, including a...

Advance Praise

"Moran's survival is a cinematically grand story, bigger than life but not fantastical, dramatically gripping as well as emotionally stirring. An extraordinary, moving account of survival and endurance."

-Kirkus Reviews

"A survival story that bridges generations, told with heart-rending poignancy. Tailspin unveils the twin stories of two remarkable, resilient men facing the biggest trials of their lives. More than a war story, it's a universal story of family filled with truth and compassion."

-Heather Shumaker, author of Saving Arcadia

"Tailspin is a survival story you'll never forget. While it centers on the vivid and harrowing tale of Gene Moran's ordeal as a German POW in WWII-and the trauma that followed him home-the book is more than a tribute to Armbruster's courageous friend and neighbor. By including the stories of how he worked with Gene to unearth his painful past all while supporting his young wife in her battle with Stage IV cancer, Armbruster transcends the genre in powerful, surprising ways. What you're left with, at the end of this incredible reading experience, is a richer appreciation of all the ways we're connected in our suffering-and the everyday courage it takes to fight, heal, and soldier on."

-Mark Rader, author of The Wanting Life

"Armbruster actually tells three stories in this book. The first is about sensitively getting to know Gene Moran and enlisting his trust; then facilitating the therapeutic sharing of Gene's traumatic ordeal; and last but not least, the painful telling of his own wife's battle with cancer. It is three carefully interwoven journeys, well told. Think of Tuesdays With Morrie, Unbroken, and Steel Magnolias all in one."

-Edward Krall MD, MS, LFAPA, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry, Medical College of Wisconsin

"Tailspin is one of the most engaging books I have ever read. Like his mentor Ben Logan, John carefully and reverently tells a story which was buried in Eugene Moran's emotional bedrock for years. With patience and respect, the story of a survivor and survival is evoked and intersects with the story of the author. The story is human and humanizing; there is dignity and strength in sacrifice and suffering. These truths are known but seldom spoken with such compassion and competence. Eugene and John invite us to explore our lives of sorrow and joy, triumph and tragedy, by humbling sharing their lives and love with each of their readers and fellow human beings."

-Thomas Thibodeau, Distinguished Professor of Servant Leadership at Viterbo University

"Tailspin is a compelling story that transcends genre. This narrative demonstrates the power of resilience when confronting the 'tailspins' of life."

-Kathleen Hendrickson, Reading Specialist, Westby Area Schools

"In bringing Gene's story to light, Tailspin brings a dark chapter of history into the present and ultimately offers hope that although it may take generations, sharing our stories can help even the deepest wounds to heal."

-Keefe Keeley, co-author of The Driftless Reader

"Moran's survival is a cinematically grand story, bigger than life but not fantastical, dramatically gripping as well as emotionally stirring. An extraordinary, moving account of survival and...

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ISBN 9781645383772
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Featured Reviews

It’s so important that such personal histories as this be recorded and this is an unusual way of presenting such an account, weaving in a secondary story at the same time. The second layer takes this book beyond a social history to be a genuinely moving account of challenge and grief and how we come to terms with both.

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This is a remarkable WW2 survival story. I learned lots of things about the men who fought the war.

This story follows Eugene "Gene" Moran, a farmer boy who wants to enlist in the US Army and fight Germans in the second World War. He becomes a tail gunner in a "Flying Fortress" bomber plane.

Shot down, he miraculously survives his fall, and then begins a very long adventure for Gene as a POW.

Gene's tale is very gripping, and John Armbruster, who was just a history teacher, did a very good job telling this tale. History was not one among my favorite classes in school, but I always was interested in learning stuff about the war.

This book is not only about Gene's story. It's also about the author's own battle, his wife's cancer. A very emotional story too.

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Anyone who has researched World War II has likely heard about an airman who fell to earth in the severed tail of a B-17 and survived. Here is his story.
How he survived in a mystery. How he survived with a fractured skull is more amazing. Two Serbian doctors operated on his head in what couldn’t have been a very sophisticated infirmary at a POW camp.
The graphic descriptions of the days on a hell ship and the death march to camps out of the Russians’ reach are appalling.
Postwar, his emotional state seemed to be worse than his physical wounds. Drunkenness, the way he treated his wife. His refusal to talk about the war left his family with no idea what caused his moods.
This is actually a dual time account. Besides the biography and wartime experiences of Gene Moran, there is the author’s story of not feeling qualified to write a book and his ordeal with his wife’s cancer and death while he interviewed Gene.

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Tailspin by John Armbruster is the incredible story of Gene Moran. This book is unique in that in telling Moran's story he also is living and telling the story of one of his life's darkest moments as well as interviewing and gathering data for Moran's story. Armbruster's wife is dying from cancer while he is learning of Moran's history. The story of Moran's journey from a dairy farm in Wisconsin to the last flight of the "Riki Tikki Tavi", his horrific capture and imprisonment, and finally his difficulties adjusting to normalcy upon his return is one you won't want to miss..It is a very real chronicle of the struggles of a man who sacrificed a great deal for his country and struggled on his journey back to the realities of life in America. His memory of life as a young man coming of age in our country's most challenging time, his training to be a tail gunner, his flight experiences, and his time as a P.O.W. are well told, well researched, and reveal a personal part of the history of America's triumphs and tragedies in the struggle to free Europe from Hitler's heavy hand. Thankfully Gene Moran was able to rise from the tragedies of his World War II experience and Armbruster was able to do so as well. Both stories are intertwined and the journey to telling the story is part of the story itself. Thanks to #NetGalley#Talspin for the opportunity to read and review this outstanding book.

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