A fresh account of a well-documented historical event, the Pearl Harbor attack, which “has never been told through the eyes of the many brothers serving together aboard the Arizona that fateful day.”
As Borneman (MacArthur at War: World War II in the Pacific, 2016, etc.) recounts, there were 38 sets of brothers serving on the Arizona when it was attacked. The author’s history of their lives and the events of that day alternates between impending doom and eternal hope for survivors. The narrative gets bogged down in the necessary but inevitably similar backgrounds of the soldiers, most of whom suffered during the Great Depression. They came from all over the country and entered the Navy at the lower ranks. Most were farm boys or children of merchants who joined up to help feed their families. They were luckier than most because the Navy was happy to assign brothers to the same ship, recognizing the positive impact on morale. Of the 2,403 killed in the Japanese attack, almost half were on the Arizona; it remains the single worst military ship disaster in American history. Borneman’s extensive research turns up interesting details about the history of the battleship, including the massive amounts of fuel and gunpowder that contributed to the conflagration when the Japanese bombs hit. Ultimately, though, this is the soldiers’ story, and the author tells it in moving, only occasionally excessive detail. Later, accusations rose that the Navy never should have had so many ships at Pearl Harbor, but the author notes that while there were more than 100 vessels there, there were more than 100 others out to sea, and not all those in port were lost.
The subject matter makes the book sometimes difficult to read—as it was no doubt difficult to write—but Borneman’s broad knowledge and sensitive touch make it an entirely worthwhile experience.