Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A Boy, A Ship & A War - Book Review

I think that perhaps the best place to begin is the part of the story that comes after the story.  Paul Harvey used to call this ‘the rest of the story’.

“On the evening of July 7, 2010, my wife Marie and I were traveling in New York State between Sidney and Unadilla on Route 7. We stopped at a small place called Country Motel to spend the night. Both Marie and I went into the office where we were greeted by an older lady.
"Can I help you?"
"Yes, we would like a room,” I said.
She looked up at my hat and asked "Were you in World War II? My husband was in that war. He was a Marine on a LST in Okinawa. His ship was hit by a Kamikaze and he had to jump into the water. He was in there for hours!”
"Don't tell me the LST was number 884!” I exclaimed.
She was shocked. She said, "How did you know that number?”
I explained, “My ship picked up all the Marines from that ship.”
(Excerpt taken from The Tidewater Review, November 10, 2010)
That is the epilogue to the story, and it took place sixty-five years later. 
The story begins in December, 1943, when high school drop-out Claud Aldrich, whose availability and age did not go unnoticed by Uncle Sam, was drafted into military service.   Claud wanted to be a Marine, but the drafting quota for Marines was full.  Given the choice, Claud chose Navy.  What follows is a journal of the life of a seasick young man in a tin can called the USS Van Valkenburgh, a brand spanking new Destroyer named for the Captain of the USS Arizona who dent down with his ship in the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor the morning December 7th, 1941.  It is the almost daily journal of his life as Torpedo’s Mate Third Class in a voyage that began and ended in South Carolina, and records a journey of over 75,000 miles, two oceans, thousands of ships and aircraft, hundreds of thousands of men, and the largest sea battle in history.
It is told from the point of view not of a professional journalist, novelist or historian, but rather from the perspective of a brave, if frightened young man who gave over two years of his young life in defense of his country in the cramped quarters of a floating speck on an endless sea.
I’m a book critic.  It is my job to attack a book, whether novel or non-fiction, and scour it to pick at the nits.  Aldrich made my job easy.  He is not a polished professional writer.  But a funny thing happened on the way to the deadline.  I started to see a war waged before my birth through the eyes of a man who survived it.  Suddenly, page by page, the nits became less and less an issue as I got caught up in a mind game where my heart was begging for T/M 3c Claud Aldrich to survive, even as my head kept reminding me that of course he survived.  He wrote the bloody book, you fool!
I found myself finishing the short seventy-nine page read in about an hour, and discovered when I reached the end that my eyes were leaking and I wanted nothing more than to stand up, reach out, take Torpedo’s Mate Third Class Claud Aldrich, USNR, American Hero by the hand and thank him.
Claud’s book, A Boy, A Ship & a War, ISBN: 0-9690242-6-9 is published by Books to Believe In Press and Thornton Publishing, Inc. And is available online and from the publisher, at Amazon.com, and in the Tampa Area at Barnes & Noble.  Four stars and my gratitude to the author and his mates.
By the way, ‘Bob’, the marine rescued in the excerpt at the beginning of the review?  His rescue is on page thirty-five.
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