Capt. Dan Cornwell chronicles his memories of life at sea during World War II.
Moved by the audacity and horror of the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, Cornwell acts upon his patriotic sense of duty by rejoining America’s Merchant Marines. A farmer at the time, Cornwell must enroll in schooling before he can become an official seaman. Once he passes his exams, he joins his first ship and is crossing back and forth across the Atlantic with men and supplies in no time. Each voyage seems to fly by without much detail. He notes in an opening letter that though he kept a detailed diary during the war, he burned it after the war had ended and was writing nearly 50 years later from memory, which might explain the brief descriptions of action. The narrative, however, lacks enough detail to animate the author’s experiences. Cornwell also interrupts his own account at times to share more current humorous events, which drains drama from his wartime experiences. He jumps from the imminent threat of attack at sea from U-boats, mines and air raids to an anecdote about his neighbor back home chasing a fox. The digressions are short-lived and haphazard at best. Cornwell returns from these departures to note, almost casually, the stench of rotting corpses as his ship pulls into Naples for the first time. This tonal inconsistency inspires an emotional seesaw. What Cornwell does remember, however, in exacting detail are the tests required as he rose in rank from third mate to captain. There are historically important moments here, but the account reads unevenly and requires better organization.
A disjointed narrative of one man’s time at sea during World War II.