“HELL IS SO GREEN” By Lt. William Diebold. Lyons Press. 259 pages. $22.95.

The first time Lt. William Diebold flew into the Himalayas in a drafty Douglas C-47 cargo plane in World War II, his reservations about volunteering to parachute into them were justified. “They were the biggest, highest hunks of earth I have ever seen piled in one place. When I thought about climbing around in them, they grew even larger and more formidable.”

He was attached to one of the great airlift operations of the war, created to ferry fuel, food and weapons over “The Hump” from eastern India to southern China to resupply Chiang Kai-shek’s army, who were battling the Japanese. Diebold was part of the U.S. Army Air Transport Command out of Assam, India. Flyers making the daily runs were the stuff of legend, flying under extremely dangerous conditions: An absence of good maps, mercurial weather and severe winds. Many planes were lost; many pilots and their crews were killed.

Those who were fortunate enough to survive crashes were often swallowed by dense, trackless jungles and forests that rose up the flanks of the Himalayas. If the survivors were lucky, Diebold and others like him in search and rescue would find them and bring them out. The quickest way in was to parachute.

But getting out again was something else.

That Diebold’s account, “Hell Is So Green,” has been rescued from oblivion is a tale in itself. He chronicled his activities shortly after the end of the war. And although pieces of it became magazine stories, the full manuscript was lost, in a sense, for 60 years until Penelope Diebold, one of his daughters, retrieved it from an attic trunk.

She then entrusted Richard Matthews, a veteran of Vietnam and a journalist living in Phillips, Maine, to shape and edit it into a publishable work. Matthews also added some much-needed contextual framing in a forward and afterward to the book.

It is, quite simply, an adventure tale. Diebold relates half a dozen of his rescue missions. Although the book lacks a strong, unifying narrative arc and richer historical accounting, Diebold clearly possessed a gift for storytelling.

And he’s got some good stories to tell: About encountering native people who took him in and greatly aided him; being, for a time, the designated nanny of a motherless newborn; scraping an emergency runway out of the jungle with little more than dynamite and the bare hands of scores of tribespeople in order to evacuate a severely wounded flyer.

Through it all, Diebold is a man of optimism and good cheer, always eager to find the humor in situations that would defeat the less resilient. At the same time, there is something very ordinary about the man.

The story he tells gives testament to the fact that quite ordinary people are capable of doing the most extraordinary things. 

Frank O Smith is a Maine writer, ghost writer and writing coach.