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."