Sunday, November 30, 2014

What's on Pearl Harbor Survivor's Kindle

by Bill Doughty
Then-Lt. Edward Vezey Jr.
Former Lt.Cmdr. Ed Vezey, a Pearl Harbor survivor who was aboard USS Oklahoma (BB-37) during the attack of December 7, 1941, told me recently his favorite author is James D. Hornfischer. Among the books on Vezey's Kindle are "Neptune's Inferno," "Last of the Tin Can Sailors" and his top pick, "Ship of Ghosts."

"That book had the most impact on me," Vezey said. "The thing I like about it is how it goes from civilian life to what they did despite the inhumanity they witnessed. Hornfischer really knows how to show the brutality of naval combat. [USS] Houston ran right into the buzzsaw."

For Vezey, who is reportedly the last USS Oklahoma Pearl Harbor survivor living in the State of Oklahoma, "The Guadalcanal Campaign was worse than Pearl Harbor. During the war, instead of hour after hour, it was weeks and months, every day and every night."

Vezey recalls "no good torpedoes" against the enemy, waters "teeming with submarines," and the effects of a battleship's ferocious guns targeting smaller ships. "Sixteen-inch guns would go right through a destroyer, and they would try to hit below the water line."

Vezey is expected to speak at the USS Oklahoma Memorial Ceremony on Ford Island next weekend during the Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day. The memorial is located adjacent to Battleship Row, where USS Oklahoma was berthed in 1941 and where Battleship Missouri Memorial sits today.

Vezey helped make the USS Oklahoma Memorial a reality. The memorial, dedicated Dec. 7, 2007, is in tribute to 429 Marines and Sailors who lost their lives aboard the USS Oklahoma during the attack.

In an interview with Brandice J. Armstrong at Tinker Air Force Base in 2010, Vezey, who had reported to USS Oklahoma in April 1941 as an ensign, said, "It's hard to convey to non-Sailors how important this ship is when you're a Sailor. It's your mother, your home and if you spend a lot of time at sea like we did, it's the fundamental island [of] security."

Today, Vezey exercises daily and lives a healthy lifestyle. He has two 'themes' in life.
A USS Oklahoma Sailor uses nap time to read. Courtesy USSOklahoma.com.
"The first is that life is one whale of an adventure, but don't let go when it tries to throw you off," Vezey said. "The second is to keep pedaling, or else the bike will fall over. This is fundamentally true in your health, your job skills, your marriage. If you stop pedaling, all of a sudden you discover life is passing you by."

"Life can be great if you don't quit."

That attitude is reflected in Hornfischer's "Ship of Ghosts" (see the next blog post) and, a generation later, in Craig Venter's autobiography, "A Life Decoded."

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Haunting Defiance in 'Ship of Ghosts'

Review by Bill Doughty

In "Ship of Ghosts: The Story of the USS Houston, FDR's Legendary Lost Cruiser, and the Epic Saga of Her Survivors" by James D. Hornfischer (2006, Bantam Dell) the author takes readers to sea, to POW camps and into the jungle as he examines key chapters of World War II.

FDR aboard USS Houston 1935.
Ultimately, this book is about unspeakable horrors of war but also the triumph of the human spirit.

Hornfischer begins by showing why USS Houston (CA-30) was President Franklin D. Roosevelt's favorite ship and how FDR knew many of the crew by name. The president would go fishing with Houston's Sailors.

Then the author shows how Japan's search for natural resources fueled the start of the war and set the stage for Imperial Japan's ultimate downfall, despite earlier victories against America's ally China: "A failure of foresight and a shortage of materiƩl sealed their doom."

That need for oil and other resources continued throughout the war, as Hornfischer writes:
"It was all about China. A world war engulfed the Pacific because Japan had struggled to subjugate its mainland neighbor. Franklin Roosevelt's economic sanctions and oil embargo were punishment for Japan's assault on China, Asia's keystone in the economic world order. Japan's earliest offensives in the southwestern Pacific grew from is need for oil to pursue its war on the continent. Now Japan aimed to strangle China by cutting its essential lines of supply from India and Burma, kept open by threadbare British and American armies."
Japan's army, with its "rigidly hierarchical and ruthless system," where "conceit seemed to flow from the highest levels of the Japanese command," guided the government and justified actions based on ancient martial codes (Bushido) and religious dominion under a belief that the emperor was a descendent from heaven. Those who controlled the military believed God was on their side.

Hornfischer writes powerfully about the sinking of HMAS Perth and then USS Houston in the Battle of Sunda Strait off Java just as he did in "Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors." We hear the wrench of metal, smell the smoke, see the destruction, feel the loss of equilibrium and experience the fear as Sailors fight and struggle to survive.

Memorable characters include PFC John WIsecup, Cmdr. Arthur L. Maher, Sgt. James "Pack Rat" McCone, S1C Melfred "Gus" Forsman, S2C Otto Scwarz, Sgt. Frank Fujita, Dr. Henri Hekking, Col. Yoshitada Nagatomo, and Capt. Albert H. Rooks and his extended family, among dozens more.

Hornfischer describes life in the POW camps scattered throughout Asia, where "the trick to being in Japanese captivity was to navigate the divide separating subservience and defiance."

Among the stories of torture, disease and death are tales of survival and sabotage against the guards – from stealing supplies, urinating in the captors' bathwater, tampering with equipment and hiding a radio to more serious acts against the enemy at the Nagasaki shipyard and on the railway in Thailand. Hornfischer tells the true story of the construction of the railway for the bridges over Tamarkan and River Kwai – Kwae Noi Bridge.

"One of the traits the Americans seemed to have in common with the Australians was a boundless sense of the possible," according to Hornfischer. Two survivors, 2nd Lt. Roy E. Stensland and Pack Rat McCone, are described as having "a raging mind, mercury in the blood, and a visible unconcern with the personal consequences of rebellion."

Overall, those who had a positive attitude were more likely to survive the ordeal of captivity and the rigors of slave labor. One trick was to frame the experience as "endure" rather than "suffer." POW Frank Fujita saw an opportunity to study anatomy and contemplate life and death. Ray Parkin experienced "a naturalist's reverie" in the teak forest where he found that non-dogma "faith and hope are a couple of unclassified vitamins."
"Even as it tried to kill him, Ray Parkin was enthralled by the wilderness all around him, by the cool blue-green bamboo, by the slapping wings of Asiatic nightjars and hornbills, by the swarms of brownish butterflies, by 'hooded lilies, several iris-like orchids, wild ginger, and banana (which bears no edible fruit), clumps of orchids in the branches of trees like corsages of yellow jonquils. There are waves of perfume in the bush which we sometimes walk into. Cinnamon, chocolate, and one honey-sweet like clematis. Sometimes the early morning dew on the dry bamboo leaves smells like the Australian bush – or is it just nostalgia.' 
"Parkin's 'unclassified vitamins' were all around him, and his obsession to catalog them was the kind of force that gave a man a reason to stay alive. 'Vines are leaping with bright new green leaves a foot or so across. They are heart-shaped – some are like two hearts alongside each other. Trees are blossoming. One purple like lilac, and growing like a giant ti-tree ... There are more bird calls' monkeys call like Swannee whistles – flutelike on a slurred scale. All nature moves and has its bing, and we seem to sit on it like a scab.'"
Hornfischer's prose and choice of colorful quotes are at times artful imagery or – especially in the latter part of the book – careful chronology and documentation, preserving the memory and history of POWs from the War in the Pacific, where Pearl Harbor looms throughout the book and throughout the war as a beginning beacon for all of the war's ghosts.

During the war, in POW camps in Asia service members, treated like slaves, dealt with malaria, cholera, tropical ulcers, monsoons, snakes and primitive dental care – tree sap fillings!

Frequent beatings, abuse and unreasonable expectations, combined with inadequate food rations, were a way of life – and death. Their captors regularly violated the Geneva Convention by placing prisoners next to military targets or transporting them with materiĆ©l in "hell ships" subject to attack by American submarines. As the war neared an end the POWs feared they would be killed en masse by their guards.

In 1945 militarists in Japan tried to continue to fight on, still believing in Japan's divine destiny. But as the empire crumbled and B-29s leveled cities in the homeland, Imperial Japan found itself "choking to death on the fumes of the hemisphere-wide wildfire it had started three and a half years before."

Hornfischer proves why he is a favorite with navy leaders, historians and veterans, including Pearl Harbor survivor Ed Vezey. Filled with historical photos, first-source references and an extensive biography, but punctuated with colorful descriptions and vignettes, "Ship of Ghosts" is a top read for anyone interested in WWII history in the Pacific. Read my other reviews and a contribution by the author to Navy Reads.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

State of the Navy: New Jersey

Review by Bill Doughty

Every state in the Union has some tie to the Navy. New Jersey's connections include people like George Washington, Adm. "Bull" Halsey, Cmdr. Joy Bright Hancock, Ruth Cheney Streeter and Medal of Honor recipient Marine Sergeant John Basilone and places like Asbury Park, Camden, Princeton and Naval Air Station Wildwood.

Henry Schnakenberg's "Indians Trading with Half Moon," Fort Lee Post Office.
"New Jersey: A History of the Garden State," edited by Maxine N. Lurie and Richard Veit (Rutgers University Press, 2012), is a history of the Garden State beginning with a "12,000-year odyssey" of archeology and discussion about the Delaware or "Lenni Lenape" Native Americans of the region.

Populated by the Dutch, Swedes, English and other Europeans, New Jersey has always been in the shadow of its neighbor colonies/states New York and Pennsylvania. Overlooked, according to the authors, is the state's diversity and complexity, even early on as immigrants first arrived. "The 'Dutch' themselves were of many nationalities, including French, Walloon, Scandinavian, Pole, Hungarian, Italian, German, and Finnish."

Emanuel Leutze's depiction of Washington crossing the Delaware, 1851.

A chapter by John Fea, "Revolution and Confederation Period," gives a succinct history of New Jersey during the Revolutionary War, including the pivotal year 1776. The British Navy attacked Gen. George Washington's Army in the northern part of the state. Washington's forces used the littorals – Delaware and Hudson rivers – and fought against British troops at Staten Island and Sandy Hook.

The Revolutionary War sparked support for abolition of slavery, especially in Monmouth County after the Battle of Trenton, according to Fea. 

In the Wake of the Continental Congress, New Jersey feared domination by larger states but eventually signed the Articles of Confederation 236 years ago, November 20, 1778.
"Some of the more thoughtful of New Jersey's citizens wondered how the new Confederation would foster a sense of national unity and common purpose. An unstable economy and an increase in popular participation in government was a recipe for individuals to place self-interest over the public good. Many of these observers knew that in order for a republic to survive, the people needed to be willing to sacrifice their own interests for the success of the republic whenever the two came into conflict. Calls for virtue were quite common in the 1770s and 1780s. In an August 7, 1776 address to the citizens of Cumberland county, Jonathan Elmer told his audience that a 'new era in politics had commenced.' The American Revolution would be successful in the long run only if the people were 'actuated by principles of virtue and genuine patriotism' and would agree to 'make the welfare of our country the sole aim of all our actions.'"
Other authors walk us through American history milestones as experienced in New Jersey, including women's suffrage and other civil rights, Civil War, the Industrial Revolution (and Thomas Edison's role), the Progressive Era and Great Depression and War. Like the rest of the nation, New Jersey was torn between isolationism and the need to prevent Hitler's violent subsumption of Europe.
"Despite America's worsening relations with Germany and Japan, New Jersey residents were stunned when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Fears of sabotage led state and federal authorities to take measures to protect key facilities and transportation centers throughout New Jersey. Army soldiers, members of the recently organized state guard, and state police troopers guarded key bridges, tunnels, and other vital facilities. An elaborate civil defense network staffed by thousands of volunteer air raid wardens prepared for possible attack from enemy bombers. Residents were urged to cover windows and municipalities initiated blackout drills. To prevent the landing of saboteurs, the United States Coast Guard instituted foot patrols of the Jersey coastline."
F4U-1A Corsair of VBF-4 at NAS Wildwood 1945.
German submarines patrolled off the coast, according to G. Kurt Piehler, who reveals the strong connections between the Garden State and the Navy, Marine Corps and other services:  Fort Hancock and Cape May were set up as locations for artillery batteries, Atlantic City and Asbury Park hotels were converted into barracks and later as hospitals for wounded warriors, and Naval Air Station Wildwood and Millville Army Airfield in South Jersey were used to train pilots. 

Camden was a center for industrial support to the military. New York Ship Building in Camden built 29 major capital ships including air craft carriers, battleships and cruisers. [Although built in Philadelphia, the battleship USS New Jersey (BB-62) would become the flagship for Adm. Halsey in 1944.] Campbell Soup, headquartered in Camden, produced millions of ready-to-eat meals. In Paterson, Curtiss-Wright Corporation manufactured nearly 140,000 airplane engines. Labor surged, housing was built, and citizens stepped up to support the war effort both indirectly and directly:
GySgt. Basilone by C.C. Beall

"More than 560,500 men and women from New Jersey served in all branches of the armed forces and virtually every corner of the world. Of those who served, 13,000 were killed and an even higher number wounded. Navy Admiral William F. Halsey was perhaps the most prominent senior commander with ties to New Jersey, and he scored an impressive number of victories in the Pacific against Japanese naval forces. Seventeen residents won the Medal of Honor. The most famous was Marine Sergeant John Basilone of Rariton, who earned the award for gallantry while fighting the Japanese at the Battle of Guadalcanal in 1942. Like other war heroes, Basilone was brought home to aid the war effort by touring the country and urging Americans to buy war bonds. More than 30,000 people turned out for one rally at Doris Duke's estate in Somerville. At his own request, Basilone was reassigned to the combat ranks and later killed during costly assaults agains the Japanese-held island of Iwo Jima in February 1945. In contrast to earlier wars, women served in the armed services in unprecedented numbers – more than 10,000 enlisted from New Jersey. Ruth Cheney Streeter of Morristown served as head of the U.S. Marine Corps Women Reserves, and Joy Bright Hancock of Wildwood rose to the rank of commander in the U.S. Navy WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) and played an instrumental role in convincing the Navy to train women in aircraft maintenance and other technical positions."
Piehler shows how World War II transformed society in New Jersey thanks to industrialization and the effects of the GI Bill. "Ideologically, the war fostered important shifts in attitudes toward race and ethnicity. Supporters of American intervention prior to Pearl Harbor argued that the United States must enter the conflict in order to preserve human rights."  FDR's "four freedoms" speech in 1941 – universal rights to freedom of/from religion, speech, want and fear – helped ignite protests against discrimination and segregation.
"Pressure on the Roosevelt administration forced the Marine Corps to accept African Americans in its ranks for the first time, pushed the Navy to commission the first group of black officers, and led to the eventual desegregation of officer training in all branches of the armed forces. The latter reform had important implications for Princeton University. During the war years there emerged an intense debate among students, faculty and administrators over the wisdom of continuing to bar African Americans from the undergraduate student body. In 1945 the Navy forced Princeton to admit four black students sent there under the Navy V-12 Program, and one of them became the first African American to earn a B.A. from this Ivy League institution. In 1945 New Jersey was the second state, after New York, to pass a statewide fair employment act barring discrimination by employers on the basis of race, ethnicity or religion."
Readers interested in post-WWII contemporary history of the state may be hungry to learn more about the state in the decades since, though the book does go into some detail about the suburbanization of the state and the ongoing effects of immigration.

Other states can claim more ties to the Navy and naval history, no doubt. California, Virginia, Massachusetts, Florida and Hawaii come to mind. But this book shows connections between New Jersey and the Navy from the beginning of the nation's history and during the most pivotal international event for America in the 20th century, World War II.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Excerpts Like a Vegas Buffet

On this "Day of the Dead" reading books is still alive and well. Recent Navy Reads posts about Thomas Jefferson, Susan B. Anthony, Thomas Paine and Craig Venter – and on subjects like Jihad-Fatwa, hope vs. fear, the meaning of life, and history in context – led to the discovery of these delectable excerpts from related reads.


from "Burqas, Baseball, and Apple Pie: Being Muslim in America" by Ranya Tabari Idliby:

"Fear is not the American way, I remind my children. So although feel America's fear, and on some days even share its contempt or disdain, I do not believe that doing so reflects America at its best. As we strive for a better American union, it is knowledge and compassion, rather than fear mongering and ignorance, that must reign supreme. Today more than ever, America's hope, vision, and exceptionalism are needed as an inspiration for those who are aspiring and struggling to gain the freedoms and rights we already have. Banning imagined threats such as Sharia in an America that has had centuries of safeguarded and absolutely secular courts only serves to infringe on the equality and rights of Muslims as Americans, making them feel targeted and persecuted. It reflects a less than honest America, lacking in confidence, insecure in its mission. Let our conviction not be fear but knowledge and power – this has always been the American Way..."


from "The Origins of Virtue: Human Instincts and the Evolution of Cooperation" by Matt Ridley:

"The roots of social order are in our heads, where we possess the instinctive capacities for creating not a perfectly harmonious and virtuous society, but a better one than we have at present. We must build our institutions in such a way that they draw out those instincts. Pre-eminently this means the encouragement of exchange between equals. Just as trade between countries is the best recipe for friendship between them, so exchange between enfranchised and empowered individuals is the best recipe for cooperation. We must encourage social and material exchange between equals for that is the raw material of trust, and trust is the foundation of virtue."


from "The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan" by Jenny Nordberg:

"Perhaps someday in our future it will be possible for women everywhere not to be restricted to those roles society deems natural, God-given, or appropriately feminine. A woman will not need to be disguised as a man to go out, to climb a tree, or to make money. She will not even need to make an effort to resemble one, or to think like one. Instead, she can speak a language that men will want to understand. She will be free to wear a suit or a skirt or something entirely different. She will not count as three-quarters of a man, and her testimony will not be worth half of a man's. She will be recognized as someone's sister, mother and daughter. And maybe, someday, her identity will not be confined to how she relates to a brother, son, or father; instead, she will be recognized as an individual, whose life holds value only in itself. It will not be the end of the world, the nation-state, or sexuality. It will not solve all the world's problems. But it is an exciting promise of how we might continue to evolve, through small bursts of individual greatness alongside a slow overhaul of civilization."


from "The Meaning of Human Existence" by Edward O. Wilson:

"The advances of science and technology will bring us to the greatest moral dilemma since God stayed the hand of Abraham: how much to retrofit the human genotype  Shall it be a lot, a little bit, or none at all? The choice will be forced on us because our species has begun to cross what is the most important yet sill least examined threshold in the technoscientific era. We are about to abandon natural selection, the process that created us, in order to direct our own evolution by volitional selection – the process of redesigning our biology and human nature as we wish them to be."

"Science and the humanities, it is true, are fundamentally different from each other in what they say and do. But they are complementary to each other in origin, and they arise from the same creative processes in the human brain. If the heuristic and analytic power of science can be joined with the introspective creativity of the humanities, human existence will rise to an infinitely more productive and interesting meaning."


from "The Origins of Crowd Psychology: Gustave Le Bon and the Crisis of Mass Democracy in the Third Republic" by Robert A. Nye:

"The great historian of Victorianism G. M. Young has written 'The real, central theme of history is not what happened, by what people felt about it when it was happening.' No doubt Young does not mean to say that what happened has no bearing in assembling a version of the historical past; but he hopes to stress that contemporaries in any epoch only rarely grasp the nature and significance of the historical forces shaping their lives. Marx, Tocqueville, Weber, and other giants of nineteenth-century social thought notwithstanding, it seems safe to say that most observers of the process and consequences of European industrialization and urbanization suffered from a manifest incongruence between what actually occurred and how they perceived it. And it seems equally safe to say that very often the illusory perception of a generation will refuse to die with it, but will live on, barely transformed, to haunt later generations. It follows that the historian must take these perceptions seriously insofar as they served as truisms that influenced men and women's attempts to make sense of a complex social reality."


from "Conversations with Kennedy" by Benjamin C. Bradlee:

"The helicopter took off in a dark overcast for the jump across the bay. Halfway across, the president spotted the crew of a carrier lined up at attention along the deck, presumably in his honor, and asked the chopper pilot to circle low over the carrier to show that he was aware and appreciative of their respect. The Navy has a special hold on him, irrespective of his rank as commander in chief. We landed on the lawn of Hammersmith Farm, in a scene that was half space-age pomp and half 'Wuthering Heights.' The wind whistled from the helicopter blades, but the light was that dark yellow light of a New England fall evening, and that barn of a house could have been brought over intact from the Bronte moor.  This was the first time we had seen Jackie since the death of little Patrick, and she greeted JFK with by far the most affectionate embrace we had ever seen them give each other. They are not normally demonstrative people, period."