As I sit this Memorial weekend, remembering those that paid the ultimate price for our freedom, I think of Arlington Cemetery and its 400,000 graves – flags wavering in the wind at each site. I also think of the long, winding black wall that commemorates the 58,220 who gave their lives in Vietnam so many years ago.
Those of you who have read Esperance, our first (co-written) book, know that the story centers around a Naval Captain who commanded the U.S.S. Boise, a Brooklyn Class light-cruiser that was in service during World War II. We spent 7 years doing the research for this story and, as we documented our facts, we felt compelled to remain true to the history of this ship and its involvement during World War II. While all of our characters are fictitious, we strived to captured the honor, pride and dedication we felt these men had at the time of their service.
In October of 1942, the Boise took her position alongside 9 other ships that made up Task Force 64, just off the Solomon Islands in South Pacific. The Japanese had been sighted making runs up and down what was commonly called “The Slot” (an area running through the Solomon Islands) redeploying ground troops and dropping off fresh supplies on a nightly basis. They called these runs “The Tokyo Express” and they were a real thorn in the Allies’ side. Task Force 64 was sent to disrupt and destroy the shipping lanes.
The battle engaged in a place just off the Cape of Esperance, near Savo Island. It was a brutal, bloody battle that left the Boise taking 9 direct hits, resulting in a 10-foot hole in her side — 9 feet below the water line — and the loss of [gun] turrets #1 and #2, along with the men who manned them. But in spite of her damage, the Boise got her licks — in 27 minutes, she and her crew had sunk 6 Japanese ships. 107 men aboard the Boise had given their lives that night in the service of their command and their ship.
The ship was so badly damaged that it had dropped out of the firing line of the Task Force and attended to its first priority – to remain afloat. While urgent repairs and other acts of improvisation were put into place, she drifted away from the Task Force and for some time was considered lost at sea. She eventually made her way to New Caledonia for much-needed repairs. While not all bodies were recovered, she did stop en route to bury 65 sailors at sea, before resuming her trek. Once there, the sailors that had been interred in Turrets #1 and #2 – all 42 of them – were buried in New Caledonia.
I leave you this Memorial weekend with the words Captain McCullough spoke at New Caledonia, as they should resonate in each of us even today:
“There is no greater price – or higher honor – than that this fine crew displayed on the night of October 11-12, 1942. We know that – we were there. But for those that come after us, they will not know or understand the meaning of this sacrifice. I cannot think of a more fitting legacy for these fine men, than to entrust each of you with this story and the responsibility of carrying it forward in helping those that follow us understand the magnitude of their courage, strength and selfless devotion to their shipmates and, indeed, to the United States Navy. God rest their souls.”