Sunday, June 24, 2012

Tom Hanks, Navy SEALs and 'A Captain's Duty'

Review by Bill Doughty
Tom Hanks is Richard Phillips, formerly the civilian captain of MV Maersk-Alabama.  A movie about Captain Phillips and his rescue by the Navy is being produced now in Norfolk, Virginia.
Meantime we have the book.
“A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALs, and Dangerous Days at Sea” by Richard Phillips, with Stephan Talty, published in 2010, presents the harrowing story of the rescue of the merchant mariner from the hands and guns of pirates at sea.
Phillips recounts his ordeal but also gives a fascinating look at life as a civilian sailor, showing us what its like in big container ships moving cargo on the world’s oceans, comparing ports like Subic Bay (Philippines), Chongjin (North Korea) and Monrovia (Liberia).
Some of the prose will read like poetry to men and women who go to sea:
“When you’re a sailor, you return to an ancient rhythm.  The sun tells you when to get up and when to go to bed.  It bookends your day with these incredible sunrises and sunsets.  I couldn’t wait to get out on the water.  this is why you go to sea, I thought, as I looked out over my ship.  I knew that every day on the water would be different.  It always is.  The sea would never look the same, its color changing from a granite black to vivid blue to an almost transparent green...”
“A Captain’s Duty” is reminiscent of “Lone Survivor” by Marcus Luttrell, about Lt. Michael Murphy and the Navy SEALs’ Operation Red Wings -- similar stage-setting, biographical background, and mix of the sacred and the profane.
Sacrificing his own safety and risking his life, Phillips negotiated with the pirates to take him rather than members of his crew.  How and why that came about is its own cat-and-mouse story in the book.
Throughout the retelling, Phillips brings in themes of leadership, duty and service.  He showed the strength of improvisation and trusting instincts while resisting fear in the face of threats, beatings and loaded AK-47s.
“The real obstacle wasn’t the Somalis, I told myself.  It was fear.  Every time I pushed through it, I found that I could persevere.  This isn’t over until you say it’s over, I said to myself.  I’m not going to give up.  I will outlast these guys.”
Tension builds, but there is real humor, believable dialog and splashes of philosophy as Phillips references Jack Kerouac, Winston Churchill and Mark Twain.
USS Bainbridge Sailors are thanked by Phillips. (Photo by MC3 David Danals)
He sees the irony of being rescued by the USS Bainbridge (DDG 96), named after the Navy captain who was captured by Barbary pirates in the Tripolitan War (and who went on to command the USS Constitution in the War of 1812).
Phillips speaks with gratitude about meeting with the Sailors who rescued him and with President Obama who gave the go-ahead for the rescue.   Obama, who invited Phillips and his wife Andrea to the Oval Office in May 2009, said, “I share the country’s admiration for the bravery of Captain Phillips and his selfless concern for his crew.  His courage is a model for all Americans.”  
Phillips’s biggest sense of gratitude, understandably, is for the Navy SEALs who saved him.
“I’ll be grateful for what the SEALs did for me until the day I die.  And these days I can’t go to a ball game and listen to the ‘Star-Spangled Banner’ without choking up.  When other Americans risk their lives to rescue you, that anthem becomes more than a song.  It becomes everything you feel for your country. The bond we all have with one another that is so often invisible, so often demeaned...”
“A Captain’s Duty” gives us a unique civilian seaman’s perspective on the importance of the Navy to the world’s shipping.  Readers can look forward to how Tom Hanks will bring the story to life.
Paul Greengrass (United 93, The Bourne Ultimatum) is directing the film from a screenplay by Billy Ray, according to media reports, and the movie is due for a March 2013 release.

Hear from Tom Hanks in a previous Navy Reads post, "Faith, Fear and Tom Hanks."

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Ray Bradbury: ‘Everything is Love’

by Bill Doughty
Ray Bradbury, who passed away earlier this month, may have discovered the  meaning of life: “witness and celebrate” and love life with a passion.
“There’s no use having a universe, is there?  There’s no use having a billion stars.  There’s no use having a planet Earth, if there isn’t someone here to see it.  You are the audience.  You’re here to witness and celebrate,” he said in Point Loma in 2001.
“Love is the answer to everything. It's the only reason to do anything,” he also said.
Bradbury, unable to join the military due to poor eyesight, used his eyes to read books, his mind to balance wonder with insight, and his fingers to create new worlds.  His science fiction, fantasy and horror stories were popular with soldiers and sailors in World War II, helping them escape, imagine and reflect for a few hours.
Ray Bradbury was inspired by Edgar Rice Burroughs, H.G. Wells and Jules Verne.  In the wake of the depression his family moved from Illinois to Arizona and eventually to California.  After high school he was self-educated, believing in the power of libraries and books.  
“I spent three days a week for 10 years educating myself in the public library, and it's better than college.  People should educate themselves -- you can get a complete education for no money.  At the end of 10 years, I had read every book in the library and I'd written a thousand stories.”
In Los Angeles he was mentored by Leigh Brackett and literally looked over Robert Heinlein’s shoulder as Heinlein wrote.  
The Navy Professional Reading Program includes some works of fiction, including one by Robert Heinlein, “Starship Troopers.”  Heinlein, Bradbury and Isaac Asimov are considered excellent gateway authors for young readers who discover literature through science fiction and fantasy.
Bradbury’s “Illustrated Man,” “Martian Chronicles” and “Fahrenheit 451” are revered as masterworks.  In honor of Bradbury, Apollo 15 astronauts named a crater on the moon after the Bradbury’s novel “Dandelion Wine.”
“Fahrenheit 451,” published in 1953, is seen as a classic in dystopian fiction, along with George Orwell’s “1984,” published in 1949, and Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World,” published in 1932.  Modern dystopian tales (that may stand the test of time) are Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” (1985), Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” (2006) and Suzanne Collins’s “The Hunger Games” (2008).
“Fahrenheit 451” continues to be a top seller.  The book celebrates books, the freedom to read and the need for a diversity of ideas.
“There are worse crimes than burning books.  One of them is not reading them,” said Bradbury.  “You don't have to burn books to destroy a culture.  Just get people to stop reading them.”
Through books we can see the world and understand what it means to be alive -- important thoughts for Father’s Day.
On his view of the meaning of life, according to Sam Weller, author of “The Bradbury Chronicles,” “His mantra to his very last breath was ‘do what you love and love what you.‘  He believed that love was the rocket fuel ... that propelled his career.  He always said that ‘everything is love.’”

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Battle of Midway Really a Turning Point?

by Bill Doughty
Capt. Tameichi Hara, author of “Japanese Destoyer Captain,” says a series of mistakes by senior leaders in the Imperial Japanese Navy -- including ignorance or misuse of intelligence reports -- brought about catastrophic failures after the Battle of Midway (the first week of June, 1942), and especially as the war moved across the Pacific to Truk and Guadalcanal.
Hara writes with great candor about Admirals Nagumo, Yamamoto, Nagano, Ijuin, and others in his book, subtitled, “Pearl Harbor, Guadalcanal, Midway -- The Great Naval Battles as Seen Through Japanese Eyes.”
“The Midway Battle is termed the point at which the tide of the Pacific War turned in favor of the United States.  Nagumo suffered a crushing defeat at Midway, to be sure, but that did not mean the entire collapse of the Navy.  Yamamoto’s Combined Fleet was intact, and Japan still had at least four carriers to match those of the U.S. Navy.
What really spelled the downfall of the Imperial Navy, in my estimation, was the series of strategic and tactical blunders by Yamamoto after Midway...”
Published by the U.S. Naval Institute Press, the book is a classic and no-holds-barred memoir by the so-called unsinkable Captain.  It is a reprint, originally published in Japan in 1961, of his account of events, battles and life at sea from the early 1900s till after the war.
The book includes a first-person account of the sinking of John F. Kennedy’s PT-109, although there was no awareness at the time of that event’s signficance.
Not as comprehensive or technical as another Japanese perspective on the Battle of Midway, “Shattered Sword,” by Jonathan Parshall and Anthony Tully, “Japanese Destroyer Captain” nevertheless offers in-depth and invaluable context to plans, battles and consequences of war.
Loyal to his mentor and friend Adm. Chuichi Nagumo, who led the attack on Pearl Harbor but who was defeated at Midway, Hara also writes poignantly about Nagumo’s bushido-like suicide in the face of surrender at the Battle of Saipan, July 6, 1944.  
According to Hara, Yamamoto deserves the blame for key Japanese naval defeats.  Hara calls some of the strategies and plans by Imperial Japan’s military “stupid blunders.”  Writing about mistakes at Guadalcanal, Hara says, “the real blame must rest with Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto who held his Combined Fleet in home waters.”
Pearl Harbor’s Combat Intelligence Unit Station Hypo’s then-Ensign, now retired Rear Adm. Donald “Mac” Showers, said the biggest mistake by Imperial Japan, was that “senior officers, including Admiral Nagumo, in many cases ignored intelligence.  They thought they could outwit us.”
Yamamoto's death. (USAF painting.)
Operational intelligence literally proved to be the death of Yamamoto.  U.S. military intelligence -- codebreakers, analysts and linguists -- pinpointed  his location, and his plane was shot down April 18, 1943.
As to whether the Battle of Midway was a turning point in the war -- and in world history, as Showers contends, the reader can imagine “what if.”
What if Imperial Japan had succeeded in winning a toehold at Midway, a foot wedged in the door to a corridor to Oahu?  The Combined Fleet had failed to deliver a knockout punch six months earlier, but their sights were still set on the islands.  Hawaii could have been the next to fall, to serve as Imperial Japan’s own “gateway” -- eastward to California.
The United States Navy indeed turned the tide at Midway.
“There would not have been a victory at Guadalcanal without victory at Midway. The Battle of Midway was the turning point,” Showers said at Pearl Harbor this past weekend (see the following Navy Reads post for his in-depth perspective.)
A sacred tea ceremony aboard USS Arizona Memorial for peace July 19, 2011.
(U.S. Navy photo by MC2(SW) Mark Logico)
Perhaps the most important legacy of the Battle of Midway and the outcome of World War II is that today, more than seventy years after the start of the war, the United States now has a strong ally and friend in former enemy Japan, cooperating together, committed to freedom and peace.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Midway Perspective from “Mac” Showers

by Bill Doughty
Rear Adm. (ret.) Donald “Mac” Showers spoke yesterday at Pearl Harbor.  An ensign at Station Hypo with Rochefort, Layton, Holmes and Dyer, he worked with “dozens of the Navy’s finest cryptographers and linguists,” part of the intelligence team that intercepted, interpreted and confirmed Imperial Japanese Navy’s secret plan to attack Midway Atoll 70 years ago this week.
"Mac" Showers was an ensign at Station Hypo in 1942. 
Like most other veterans of his generation, Showers is extremely humble.
“I was sent to Pearl Harbor in February 1941 as a naval investigator.  I didn’t know the first thing about investigations,” he said.  An open billet needed to be filled with Lt. Cmdr. Joe Rochefort’s Combat Intelligence Unit team at Station Hypo, so Showers was reassigned.
“I was introduced for the first time to radio intelligence.  It began a 42-year career in intelligence,” he said. “At Station Hypo we had the ability to read and understand the context of Japanese messages.  We provided communications intelligence to guide operations.”
Admiral Nimitz relied on the information and context provided by codebreakers and analysts at Station Hypo and other Navy intelligence units, including Fleet Radio Unit Melbourne in Australia, Showers explained.
Mac Showers said, “It was the birth of Operational Intelligence -- get it to the commander in time to succeed in battle.”
After a distinguished career in the Navy, Showers continued in public service with the Central Intelligence Agency, but Station Hypo was a seminal, pivotal place and time -- not just for him but also for the nation.  In his foreward to Elliott Carlson’s “Joe Rochefort’s War” he writes:
“My experiences during that early and critical period of the war are clearly the most memorable of my forty-two years of service to the intelligence arms of the Navy and the Federal government.”
Midway was a “history-changing battle,” writes Showers, who believes Rochefort was the individual most influential in cracking the code and providing the intelligence needed to win the battle.
“That puts him in lofty company, with men like Themistocles at Salamis, Admiral de Grasse in the Chesapeake Bay, and Colonel Joshua Chamberlain at Little Round Top.  But Rochefort stands out even among that noble company; for he achieved his triumph without even firing a shot or even coming within sight of the enemy.”
I spoke with Admiral Showers about Carlson’s book, Symond’s “The Battle of Midway,” and Layton’s “And I Was There.”  Showers also recommends “Combined Fleet Decoded” by John Prados.