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When Colorado author Steve Jackson found a lock of honey-colored hair buried deep in an old box his father kept from World War II, an epic story unfolded before him. The hair was his mother's - before she was his mother, or even his father's bride - and the story was the story of a generation before it became known as the "greatest generation."
Jackson's new non-fiction book Lucky Lady - a departure from his best-selling true-crime books such as "Rough Trade" and "No Stone Unturned" - is the story of two ships, two crews, and at its heart, the relatively few years that changed his father's life. The result: a history of men at war with all the pathos of Ernie Pyle and the historic intuition of Stephen Ambrose. All told, Jackson's account is unsentimental when it might have been maudlin, and eloquent when it might have been academic.
A Midwestern farm boy from a broken family, Donald Jackson joined the U.S. Navy before the war. He was due to muster out in 1942, but then came Dec. 7, 1941. The radioman, wearing his sweetheart's ring around his neck with his dogtags, came aboard the cruiser USS Santa Fe in 1943.
Known as the Lucky Lady because she logged the war's longest tour - 221,750 miles with stops in such exotic hotspots as Wake Island, Tarawa, Saipan and Iwo Jima -- with only two casualties and insignificant damage, the Santa Fe became her crew's guardian angel and surrogate soul.
The USS Franklin was the United States' fifth Essex-class aircraft carrier and the fifth naval vessel to carry the name - the original was a fishing boat loaned to the Continental Army in 1775 and re-named for Ben Franklin. Although "Big Ben" bore the seemingly unlucky naval designation as CV-13, she'd become World War II's most decorated naval vessel.
The Franklin and Santa Fe crossed historic paths on March 19, 1945, when a lone Japanese plane dropped two bombs on Big Ben, penetrating both the ship's bowels and brain. Dead in the water without radio contact and very little power, the Franklin was burning fast and listing badly. Worse, much of its crew had been blown overboard, killed or wounded.
With 724 killed and 265 wounded, the Franklin's surviving 106 officers and 604 crewmen valiantly tried to save the ship. Jackson recounts the heroic efforts of many of them, including eventual Medal of Honor winners Lt. Cdr. Joseph T. O'Callahan, a chaplain who administered last rites, organized firefighters and rescuers, and helped flood munition magazines before they could explode; and Lt. (jg) Donald Gary, who discovered 300 men trapped in a charred mess hall and made several trips below to lead them to safety.
The Santa Fe's crew was no less heroic as it pulled alongside to pluck sailors from the sea and cram its decks and wardrooms with the Franklin's wounded.
But Lucky Lady isn't just the story of inanimate steel, fuel oil, and gunpowder that make warships. It's about the men - boys, really - who are the spirit and soul of these two ships.
Through them and many others, Jackson captures not only the battle histories of two legendary ships, but the bluejacket's life, from the captain's chair to the deepest, darkest corners of the bilge-soaked hold, from boot camp ("Do you like girls, sailor?") to burial at sea. All of it is retold here through the eyes of the men who faced death and survived.
It is good to be reminded of common men's grace under fire, and that each of them enters the world stage from a place far away. Jackson's old soldiers, already fading away, help him bring this splendid, moving history to readers who will never know them.
—December 29, 2002
|Foreword: The Lock of Hair||ix|
|Prologue: A Terrible Resolve||xv|
|Part I||USS Santa Fe: Philadelphia to the Marianas - November 1942-January 1944|
|1.||Survivors: Unfinished Business||3|
|2.||Pearl Harbor 1943: "Man the Guns. Join the Navy."||18|
|3.||The Battle of Sitkan Pip: A Terrible Responsibility||29|
|4.||Bougainville to Tarawa: For a Bit of Coral||43|
|5.||My Father: A Lucky Man||59|
|Part II||USS Franklin: Newport News to Saipan - December 1943-August 1944|
|6.||Big Ben, the Flattop: With Revenge in Mind||93|
|7.||Aviators and Airedales: Air Group 13||114|
|8.||Iwo Jima to Saipan: Fireworks and Flies||130|
|Land of the Rising Sun: Divine Winds||157|
|Part III||The USS Franklin and Santa Fe: The Philippines - October-December 1944|
|9.||The Winds of War||171|
|10.||The Lucky Lady||191|
|11.||A Taste of War||207|
|12.||Upon His Country's Altar||218|
|13.||The Battle of Leyte Gulf||229|
|14.||Desperate Times, Desperate Measures||243|
|Land of the Rising Sun: The Pilot||305|
|Part IV||The USS Franklin and Santa Fe: Japan - March 19, 1945|
|18.||The Calm Before the Storm||317|
|19.||The Last Operation||340|
|20.||The Valley of the Shadow of Death||358|
|21.||A Risky Decision||380|
|22.||Ship of Heroes||388|
|24.||The Flag's Still Flying!||417|
|25.||The 704 Club||437|
|26.||The Bomb and the Lock of Hair||461|
|A Final Note to Readers||485|
Posted May 12, 2003
I can talk about it now ,after all these years,I was fresh out of boot camp,when assigned to the U.S.S.Franklin CV-13. The events about the Big Ben,on that fatefull morning,are about as true as you can find them. It was written very good,an at last the truth has been told,as it happened. It is burnt into my memory. I was fortunate enough to help bring her back home , to the Brooklyn Navy Yard .For me it stirred up a lot of memories . Fred W. Masters u. s. s.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 1, 2002
As the son of one of the men on the Santa Fe, I had the privilege of being allowed to read the original draft of Lucky Lady. My father told many stories about the war as I was growing up, but the author was able to draw out considerably more than I ever could have from my father, as well as from many others. This book is not all guns and bayonets, but goes into the lives of the crewmembers, and to some extent, the families waiting back home. It was fascinating following the transformation of the sailors, many only teenagers, as they fought for their lives, and how their lives were forever changed by the experience. Lucky Lady is written in a way that shows how the entire generation of people changed, not just the few selected for the book. Through the eyes of many different men on different ships, from engine rooms to airplanes, Lucky Lady makes the reader feel like a part of the crew. The rescue of and survival of the Franklin is the obvious highlight of this book, but that incident was one day of a multi-year experience. The reader shares the terror of being on a ship hit by a Kamikaze, and the sadness of watching the Marines land on an island. Even the victory of sinking a Japanese ship was not cause for celebration as the men on the surviving ships knew it could have as easily been Americans waiting to die in the water. Regardless of your age or interest, I think everyone will enjoy Lucky Lady.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 15, 2010
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