Tin Can Man
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
Review Date: 7 May 2011
When E. J. Jernigan joined the United States Navy as an enlisted man, he was but a teenager, keenly observant and had a fresh perspective on his surroundings. His experiences aboard battleship USS Washington and destroyer USS Saufley (particularly the latter) formed the basis of his memoir Tin Can Man. Blood and sweat were never far from his memory; his description of submarine threats and air attacks provided good perspective of what combat was like for a sailor who typically worked deep in the machinery spaces of a warship. Without having to worry with strategy or even battlefield tactics, however, Jernigan had the luxury to absorb the little things that took place both in and out of combat that not all others had, ranging from sailors hitting their shin bones while responding to calls to general quarters to seeing flying fish leaping out of the water, sometimes ending up on ship decks. Although he refrained from using the dirty language that he admitted to have learned during these years, his first-person narrative did not skirt around the some of the less-than-innocent issues that some men of his generation might be more inclined to overlook, such as visiting whore houses and picking up loose women. Military tradition painted the model warrior to be loyal, responsible, brave, among other virtues. While "brave" certainly described E. J. Jernigan and his shipmates, they certainly came slightly short in some of the others.
The book was told by a simple sailor, thus the book was written in very simple language. Though the book lacked literary elegance, this characteristic was by no means a shortcoming; rather, I thought it gave the book a more personal feel, as if the author was sitting across from me at the kitchen table, casually telling the story. While Jernigan's explanation of everything Navy, down to the very trivial such as the definition of the word "scuttlebutt" and what it took to be made "chief", might seem unnecessary to those already familiar with the life at sea, his inclusion of such information made this book a good primer for the general population, especially those who were just learning about the life at sea. Although judging by the writing style alone this book would make a great introduction to the WW2-era US Navy life to the younger reader, the occasional objectionable topics mentioned earlier should be taken into consideration.
I had reviewed this title in its audio book form. The narrator Kent Cassella did a fine job reading the book in terms of pace, clarity, etc. I might just be too picky, but I thought the voice he lent Jernigan could have been made slightly older, as Jernigan was telling the story of his younger years as an older man.
Tin Can Man provided an insightful and entertaining glimpse into the daily lives of the common sailors in the WW2-era US Navy and the camaraderie between the men, and was a wonderful compliment to the usual ways to study the wars at sea.
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