Seattle’s Seafair Fleet Week (July 31–August 4) is a 64 year annual tradition that brings military ships to the Port of Seattle for public viewing, to honor the men and women who serve their country at sea. Historical novels about World War II at sea add a vivid and exciting dimension to our celebration. Older books, like Nevil Shute’s Most Secret, Tales of the South Pacific by James Michener and Herman Wouk’s The Caine Mutiny, reveal the danger and stress of sea battle, military life in close quarters and how people processed their wartime experiences.
More recent historical sea stories entertain and inform on several additional levels, including the use of data not available to authors of the mid-twentieth century and sometimes emphasize the aspect of personal choice and its consequences. Homer Hickam’s Josh Thurlow trilogy, beginning with The Keeper’s Son, for instance, features a Coast Guard lieutenant whose brother is missing. Thurlow’s North Carolina coastline pursuit of a German U-boat is driven by his mission to find his brother. The second book, The Ambassador’s Son, is arguably the best of this excellent adventure series and sends Thurlow into the South Pacific arena in search of another missing man. The final story, The Far Reaches, brings Josh to a crossroads of three difficult choices during the bloody battle at Tarawa Island.
Peter Deutermann, master of military adventure, sets his novel, Pacific Glory, shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor. U.S. Navy Lt. Marsh Vincent and pilot Mick McCarty both struggle with personal issues, both love the same woman and the Battle of Samar becomes the ultimate test of courage and commitment for each of them. The author’s 26 years of naval experience informs his accurate portrait of fighting on and over the sea and heightens the novel’s immediacy. Deutermann’s latest book, The Ghosts of Bungo Suido, also set in the Pacific Theater of World War II (this time aboard a submarine), will be published this week on July 31st.
Also suffering from self-doubt, Royal Marine Commando Captain Mike Blackwood, having faced down the humiliating retreat in Burma, is now mounting a Mediterranean Sea invasion in which he must steel his men for battle as the first to land in Dust on the Sea. This novel is the fourth in Douglas Reeman’s Royal Marines Saga about the Blackwood seafaring family, which begins with Badge of Glory. Since the series follows 150 years of history, they do not need to be read in order.
These wartime sea stories inform our understanding of our military history and can enhance our experience of Seafair and why Seattle continues to celebrate it.