Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Walter R. Borneman's "Brothers Down"

Walter R. Borneman's works of nonfiction include MacArthur At War, The Admirals, Polk, and The French and Indian War. He holds both a master’s degree in history and a law degree.

Borneman applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Brothers Down: Pearl Harbor and the Fate of the Many Brothers Aboard the USS Arizona, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Kimmel claimed that the Japanese would not attack the United States in the Pacific and chance a two-front war with it and Russia. “The Japanese are too intelligent to run the risk of a two-front war unnecessarily,” Kimmel explained. “They will want to wait until they are sure that the Russians have been defeated.” The admiral’s public relations officer, Lieutenant Commander Waldo Drake, remembered the admiral’s conclusion a little more pointedly: “I don’t think they’d be such damned fools."

Seaman, Second Class, Oree Weller, just six months out of boot camp, applied a special dose of spit and polish to the navigator’s station on the Arizona’s bridge in anticipation of the captain’s scrutiny. Suddenly, Weller heard a racket overhead and looked up to see a drill bit boring through the ceiling. It was quickly withdrawn, but no sooner had it been than a steady drip, drip, drip of red-lead primer paint fell from the hole and splattered onto the navigator’s desk below.
Page 99 of Brothers Down offers a glimpse into its key theme—the stories of individual sailors, including thirty-eight sets of brothers, assigned to the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor—in the context of the secondary theme of America’s preparedness for World War II. Through the lives of these brothers, the book offers a snapshot of what life was like in the United States that December morning in 1941. While page 99 does not include any stories of these brothers, it does show that the book relies heavily on the experiences of the rank and file at Pearl Harbor.

Through the eyes of brothers serving together, Brothers Down casts the Pearl Harbor tragedy in very personal terms. I was surprised by how emotional their relatives still are—sometimes two and three generations removed—about their loss and their sacrifice for our country. These families shared letters, photographs, and personal reminiscences—many of which have never been published. The equally poignant part after the horrific loss of life was how these families learned of the death of loved ones—sometimes multiple deaths when two sons were lost—and how that loss affected them their entire lives. Surviving brothers in particular carried a tragic sense of survivor’s guilt to their graves. In one family, Francis and Norman Morse were the only children of Clara Morse, a widow. She wrote them regularly, including immediately on December 7 upon learning of the attack. Her letters from that day were returned three weeks later marked “unclaimed.” Both boys died. Clara joined the Red Cross as a volunteer and lived a lonely life by herself for another forty years.
Visit Walter R. Borneman's website.

--Marshal Zeringue