Real-Life Bucky In ‘Masters Of The Air’: How Did John Egan Die?


Callum Turner played one of the most enthralling and charming characters in Masters of the Air, named John Egan, aka Bucky. Egan often thought from his heart, and underneath all that machismo, I felt he was an extremely emotional and affectionate guy. Egan was the kind of man who valued relationships, and he could go to any extent to save his own people. The most intriguing part of Egan’s personality was that one could never assess how he was when he flew those B-17s if they saw him dancing and drinking in a nightclub. The man knew how to have fun, but he was also well aware of his duties. He was dedicated to the cause of his nation, and he knew that he was not going to go anywhere until he hoisted the American flag in the heart of Berlin. So, let’s find out who the real-life John Egan was, if the makers have changed some events or some aspect of his personality, and how much of what we saw in the Masters of the Air series was true. 

Who Was John Egan? 

The character of John Egan is based on a real-life person, and the makers of the series have made sure to keep it as close to reality as possible. John Egan, aka Bucky, was born on September 8, 1915, in Manitowoc, Wisconsin. Just like his friend, Gale Cleven, he also enrolled in the air police, and then in 1942, he joined the 100th bomb group. Everybody knew that John Egan was an innately flamboyant character, and he often liked living his life on the edge. He was a fearless fighter, and the fact that he was literally putting his life at risk did not deter him from making the most courageous and responsible choices. There were two sides to John Egan: one was that he loved to party and be the last man standing in the bar, and the second was that he was a responsible citizen who was dedicated to the cause of his nation. Giving up was never an option for Egan, and he was the kind of man who didn’t leave one’s own bleeding on the battlefield. Egan was very strong-minded, and though at times there were internal conflicts, he was always very sure about what his priorities were. Egan greatly valued the existence of his friend, Gale Cleven, and he knew that life at the war front would have been even harder if he wasn’t around. 

What happened during the Munster mission? 

We saw in Masters of the Air that Egan was a part of many missions back-to-back. This was the time when the 100th Bomb Group, together with various other regiments, were flying every single day as there was a need to destroy German strongholds. The problem was that every time the fleet of B-17s flew in the air, half of them were destroyed by German fighter jets even before they reached their target. The B-17 was called the flying fortress for a reason, but still, it was not able to endure the onslaught of the sophisticated German jets. Also, the Americans carried out their mission in daylight as they wanted to drop bombs at precise locations, but the downside of it was that they were easily spotted in the air. The P-51 Mustang, the American fighter jet, started accompanying the B-17 fleet after a very long time, and until then, all the pilots flew, knowing that the odds did not favor them. 

Egan was asked to spend some downtime, as his superiors didn’t want him to get fatigued. The flights took a toll on not only one’s physical well-being but also caused a lot of mental health issues. The flying crew were literally facing their fears, and the probability of them not making it back alive was terrifyingly high. They saw their colleagues going down; they saw them getting shot in front of their eyes, and it all took a lot of toll on their mental well-being. There was a reason why most soldiers after World War II suffered from PTSD. The sights they saw and the scenarios they were stuck in gave them nightmares that haunted them for an entire lifetime. Egan called his base to talk to Cleven when he learned that after the raid. Egan rushed to his base and told his superiors that he wanted to fly for the mission.

In Masters of the Air, we saw that he was advised against it, but Egan was so restless that he couldn’t resist his impulse. In the Munster operation, the B-17 pilots were told to bomb the city center. There were people in the regiment who believed that it was not the right move to make, as everybody knew that there was a possibility of civilians getting hurt. They all knew that there would be children and women in and around the city center, so they shouldn’t have targeted them. But Egan had a different view. His friend’s plane had been knocked down, and he didn’t know if he was dead or alive. Egan said very ruthlessly that the Germans called for it, and in war, such collateral damage was bound to happen. His colleagues did not reconcile with his views, but they also knew that the man was hurt, and probably all that hate was originating from there. The German anti-craft defense system proved to be fatal for Egan and many other B-17s. After Egan’s aircraft was damaged beyond repair, he had to eject from it to save his life. Egan was taken into custody by the German forces on the ground, and for better or worse, he was sent to the same prisoner camp where his friend Cleven was staying. 

What Happened To Egan After World War II? 

Egan and Cleven made plans to escape the POW camp named Stalag Luft III, but till the very end, they were not able to do so. After the German forces realized that very soon the Soviet forces would reach their camp, they took all the prisoners and forced them to march for months under harsh weather and extremely deplorable circumstances. That’s when Cleven was able to escape, but for some reason, Evan wasn’t able to do so. Masters of the Air showed us that just when Egan was about to escape, he was caught by the SS guards but was left unharmed as the commander came and asked them to leave him. Egan stayed in captivity until May 1945, after which German forces officially surrendered, and we witnessed how he hoisted the American flag on enemy territory, marking the end of one of the most unforgettable and traumatizing eras in the history of mankind. 

After the war ended, Egan served in the Korean War and then later went on to become the director of air force operations for the entire Pacific. In 1946, Egan married the love of his life, Josephine Pitz, who was also in the army and served in the Woman Air Force division. Egan died of a heart attack in 1961, and he was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. John Egan was the poster boy of bravery, resilience, and what it meant to live life for others. He was an extremely passionate man, and he not only cherished every moment but also made sure that he stood for what he felt was right. 

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Sushrut Gopesh
Sushrut Gopesh
I came to Mumbai to bring characters to life. I like to dwell in the cinematic world and ponder over philosophical thoughts. I believe in the kind of cinema that not necessarily makes you laugh or cry but moves something inside you.

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