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In Harm's Way

ISBN: 0-8050-7366-3
Review Date:

July 1945, the once powerful Nihon Kaigun was not even the shadows of its conquering past. It was almost wiped out. Whatever ships remained were faced with an almost depleted fuel supply.

ALMOST. That is the key word.

After delivering critical components of what would be the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, the heavy cruiser USS Indianapolis was sent from Tinian to Leyte. She was unescorted, because it was believed that the Japanese no longer had the capability to strike at Allied vessels. She was supposed to report to Leyte for training, then to Admiral Oldendorf for operations against the Japanese home islands. Due to a series of unfortunate miscommunications and problematic standard practices, neither Leyte nor Oldendorf's staff knew when exactly Indianapolis was to arrive. So when Japanese submarine I-58 hit her twice with torpedos, no one showed up to rescue the 900 men left floating in the Pacific. Of the 900-some men, only 317 would survive the ordeal.

Doug Stanton's In Harm's Way was the story of the men who floated in the shark-infested waves. The survivors' accounts were hauntingly descriptive. Stanton successfully dramatized this nearly-forgotten event in his book, telling a story of despair, courage, and survival. His extensive research and interviews with the survivors gave his writing a feeling of authenticity, making the book real and frightful. Below is an exerpt that was successful in placing me amidst the survivors, floating in the middle of nowhere:

"Around 10 A.M., they unexpectedly drifted free of the vaporous oil slick, and beneath them the sea lit up like an enormous green room. The effect was fantastic. Suddenly they were floating in space, suspended between earth and sky. A complex web of sea life, including giant grouper, man-of-war jellyfish with stinging tentacles, and giant barracudas, twined beneath them."

Then, as I was imagining this eerily beautiful place, Stanton dramatically shot the awful truth of their situation back at me.

"But the relief was short-lived; the sea also teemed with dozens of probing bacteria and organisms that, as the boys drifted, began gnawing at their flesh. The salt water itself was a caustic brew, consisting of 78 percent sodium chloride, and including trace elements of sulphate, magnesium, potassium, bicarbonate, and boric acid. Floating in it was not unlike immersion in a mild acid bath.... The high potassium levels in each taste began leaking into their bloodstreams and breaking down their red blood cells, forging the first link in a chain that could, if left unchecked, lead to the onset of anemia and increased physical weakness."

Of course, there were the descriptive shark-attack passages that, for the sake of suspense, I will leave out of this review in hope that you will pick up the book for yourself. You will find out more about what the survivors had endured in the days they drifted in the Pacific with negligible food, no water, and utterly alone. Like his writing where horror was hidden amongst the beautiful narratives, heroism and the meaning of comradeship can be found within these frightful pages.

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Famous WW2 Quote
"With Germany arming at breakneck speed, England lost in a pacifist dream, France corrupt and torn by dissension, America remote and indifferent... do you not tremble for your children?"

Winston Churchill, 1935

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