Art O’Hara, a cocky young sailor in July 1945 quickly becomes a man when disaster strikes. As this story opens, Art has overslept after a night on the town without ship leave. A frantic race through San Francisco brings him to his ship just as the Atwood is pulling away, enroute to Tinian Island where, it is rumored, it will deposit something that should finally end Japanese fighting.
Art desultorily carries out his shipboard duties while constantly baiting and challenging his fellow sailors, but his friend Mark steadily tries to change his attitude. The story and Art’s attitude shift dramatically when the unescorted ship is torpedoed by a Japanese submarine.
Author John Loranger, an ex-Navy man, competently narrates the shifting emotions and actions of the crew before they realize the ship is lost. Vivid details of the crew’s frantic scrambles for safety, the ocean debris and the ship’s final sinking dramatically move the story from shipboard to the ocean. Loranger is equally adept at portraying the varying attitudes of the lifejacketed survivors in the sea and depicting the hazards of hypothermia, dehydration and, above all, brutal shark attacks, which accelerate as men die.
Like the other survivors, Art struggles with his own fears but ultimately finds solace in memories of a summer spent with his Aunt Doris in Montana when he went fishing and became infatuated with a visiting young Japanese American woman. The pleasure of the memories enables him to forgive an attempt on his life by a mate who had been his nemesis on board ship.
This gripping book is loosely based on the actual sinking of the USS Indianapolis in 1945 and we know the historical outcome. It is to Loranger’s credit that, despite such knowledge, he holds reader interest to the dramatic final page.
Also available in hardcover.