Sunset and Evening Star and one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar when I put out to sea,
But such a tide as moving seems asleep, Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep, Turns again home.
Twilight and evening bell, and after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness or farewell when I embark.
For tho’ from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far, I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crost the bar.
“Crossing the Bar” by Alfred (Lord) Tennyson, 1889.
Introductory Note: Over the 2018 Veteran’s Day (USA) weekend I read, watched and heard numerous media reports related to the dwindling numbers of WW2 veterans. A common theme — besides that they will soon all be gone — is that practically all of them never spoke of what they did during the war. I urge all who read this who still have someone remaining to them from that era to see, if for one last time, if you can at last persuade him or her to recall for you those hitherto lost years.
Seventy years have passed since the end of World War II. Some who went to sea in response to the terrible demands of that war were as young as 15. Throughout the years many of them insisted that the summons to confront danger, and even death, was simply a call to fulfill an expected duty. It took six years of toil, grief, and time away from home, friends, and family before they would prevail. For the Navy’s veterans, however, the fruits of their victory were not immediately certain. It would be left to us, their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, to receive and to relish the bounty that their efforts were to ultimately provide. We have been left with a legacy of security and promise. Former enemies are now staunch friends and allies. Humankind is more closely unified through the regular and open exchange of goods, ideas and culture. Our present age of unprecedented global cooperation and prosperity is a gift that some of those who helped make possible did not live to see.
Over the years, we often asked the sailors who returned, “What did you do in the war?”, “What ship were you on?”, “What did you see?”, How did you feel?”, or “What did you think?” More often than not, our questions were deflected or deferred. We became involved with our daily lives and moved on. No longer asked, the questions went unanswered and forgotten. Now, time has carried practically all of them “across the bar” to the haven of all old sailors. They are no longer with us save in memory. For many of us, those memories are incomplete. Large measures of the lives of our dear ones have apparently slipped away. Almost.
This book has culled archives for some of the sailors’ own words about their wartime naval service. The voices of long-ago 15 year old boys recall hunger, corporal punishment, fear, and discipline as the Navy took them in hand to train them to become men. Aircrew, with voices that are sometimes faint or wavering, look back to take-offs, crashes, and landings. There are echoes of bitterness, sorrow, and even forgiveness during recollections about life as prisoners of war. Despair engendered of abandonment at sea following the loss of their ship became, for some, lingering frustration at the Navy and the government they once proudly served. The heartbreak over the loss of ships and friends to shells, torpedoes, bombs, and Kamikazes is a persistent theme of veterans’ stories. The strain they endured while at war helps us see why many of the one-time sailors were recalcitrant to speak of it until they were once again prodded to do so late in their lives.
The ships carried the men and the men operated the ships. Some ships were bright and new while others were worn and rusted. There were those placed in the forefront of battle while some were sent to ply distant backwaters. They included battleships and corvettes as well as minelayers and aircraft carriers. Stories of the ships cannot be separated from those of the crews who loyally and lovingly instilled them with life.
This book’s most fervent wish is that, through its selection of long unshared stories, it can bring us closer to the generation of men we so love and to whom we are so deeply indebted. The better we can know them, the better we can remember them. In this way, they may never fully cross the bar.