Shark!

1000 survivors from the sinking of the Johnston, the Roberts, the Hoel, and various others are in the water after being told to abandon ship. Most of them are in the water because their life rafts were full of holes. Admiral Halsey, obtuse as ever, cannot seem to locate the ships’ proper coordinates and keeps sending rescue ships out — to the wrong location. Also, he does not send planes to accompany the ships, which would have made finding the men easier. Next thing you know, on p. 376 . . .

  • Drifting toward a fatal sleep, the men decided to fasten themselves together with their inflatable life belts, assigned each other numbers, and counted off at intervals to indicate their physical and mental presence. Clint Carter had just finished securing himself to Chuck Campbell when someone said, “Shark!” and the men started climbing atop one another toward the stars. In the zero-sum equation of salt-water buoyancy, one man’s success was another man’s sudden dunking. Something bumped Carter heavily in the back, and he felt a wrenching force. He screamed, put both hands on Campbell’s shoulders, and lifted himself out of the water as a shark’s bear-trap jaws tore away a chunk of his life vest, along with a small bloody piece of his side. As Carter rose up, his weight plunged Campbell under. The shark let go of Carter, Carter let go of Campbell, and Campbell surfaced spluttering and gasping. Then the shark tasted Carter again, and once more he dunked Campbell in his bid for the raft. The shark let go of Carter, Campbell surfaced and, regaining his breath, he helped lay Carter, bleeding badly, into the raft.

Self sincerely hopes Admiral Halsey received a demotion — he, and not the Japanese, seems to be the real villain of this book. He left his carriers undefended to go chasing after a decoy Japanese battalion. When he got the telegram from the US President, telling him in no uncertain terms to go to the assistance of Taffy 3, Admiral Halsey became upset, threw his hat on the deck, and only calmed down when an aide told him: “Pull yourself together! What is wrong with you!” And then, his rescue operation — waow, probably a second grader could have done it and it would have had the same result.

This (excruciating) chapter (Forty-nine) should likely contain a trigger warning. It traces the fate of particular men, which was absolutely the right decision; it is very gripping. Again, hats off to author James D. Hornfischer for making the right authorial decisions, every step of the way throughout this book.

Chapter Fifty focuses on the survivors of the Samuel B. Roberts. In the middle of the night, they heard a shout:

  • The voice sounded American . . . He called hoarsely in reply and, echoing one another, ranging by sound, the source of the shouting finally found them. It was a man, swimming alone.

This was Howard Cayo, a former circus acrobat. He had been clinging to a wooden scaffolding with about sixty other men when it was attacked by sharks. After hearing his story, the survivors of the Roberts decided to make a determined effort to swim toward land, a distance they estimated to be around thirty miles.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

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