Don Ball enlisted in the Navy just prior to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. His duties included diving to retrieve remains from the wreckage of the USS Oklahoma, which was sunk in the attack. He also had the misfortune to be serving onboard the USS Callaghan, bound for home when it became the 13th destroyer sunk off Okinawa by kamikaze attack and the last ship sunk in World War II. Forty-six men died in the explosion and fire; Ball was among the 73 wounded.
Grandpa What Did You Do In The War? is the exceptional recounting of Ball’s wartime experiences. Told in clear, simple language and less than 100 pages, Ball nevertheless packs a world of information in here. He conveys his youthful excitement at joining the service and much of the day-to-day realities of Navy life, including repeated drills that seemed pointless until the moment sailors were under attack, when that ability to respond automatically could save lives.
Ball describes the frightening work involved in diving for human remains, and how most of the men charged with that duty drank to excess on their days off to dull their senses. Despite the dark subject matter, he writes with a game spirit and sense of humor. After his rescue from the wreck of the Callaghan, the Red Cross issued him a fairly useless kit of trial-size toiletries, which he later found deducted from his pay to the tune of $5. “Bitter?” he notes. “Yes!”
It’s not certain whether a grandchild actually asked Ball for his recollections, but that’s no matter. Anyone wondering what it was like to serve in the Navy during the Pacific War will learn much from this well-crafted story.