The Jersey Brothers: A Missing Naval Officer in the Pacific and His Family's Quest to Bring Him Home

The Jersey Brothers: A Missing Naval Officer in the Pacific and His Family's Quest to Bring Him Home

by Sally Mott Freeman


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The extraordinary, real-life adventure of three brothers at the center of the most dramatic turning points of World War II and their mad race to change history—and save one of their own.

They are three brothers, all Navy men, who end up coincidentally and extraordinarily at the epicenter of three of the war’s most crucial moments. Bill is picked by Roosevelt to run his first Map Room in Washington. Benny is the gunnery and anti-aircraft officer on the USS Enterprise, one of the only carriers to escape Pearl Harbor and by the end of 1942 the last one left in the Pacific to defend against the Japanese. Barton, the youngest and least distinguished of the three, is shuffled off to the Navy Supply Corps because his mother wants him out of harm’s way. But this protection plan backfires when Barton is sent to the Philippines and listed as missing-in-action after a Japanese attack. Now it is up to Bill and Benny to find and rescue him.

Based on ten years of research drawn from archives around the world, interviews with fellow shipmates and POWs, and primary sources including diaries, unpublished memoirs, and letters half-forgotten in basements, The Jersey Brothers is a remarkable story of agony and triumph—from the home front to Roosevelt’s White House, and Pearl Harbor to Midway and Bataan. It is the story, written with intimate, novelistic detail, of an ordinary young man who shows extraordinary courage as the Japanese do everything short of killing him. And it is, above all, a story of brotherly love: of three men finding their loyalty to each other tested under the tortures of war—and knowing that their success or failure to save their youngest brother will shape their family forever.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781501104145
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 05/09/2017
Pages: 608
Sales rank: 326,561
Product dimensions: 6.30(w) x 8.60(h) x 1.90(d)

About the Author

Sally Mott Freeman was a speechwriter and media and public relations executive for twenty-five years. She is currently Board Chair Emerita of The Writer’s Center, the premier independent literary center in the mid-Atlantic. The Jersey Brothers is her first book.

Read an Excerpt

The Jersey Brothers
I have a clear memory of that moment when our innocence was fractured, perhaps because it was in such contrast to our blissful cousin-play. It was a midsummer night in the 1960s, and we were playing badminton on the south lawn of Lilac Hedges, our grandmother’s home in New Jersey. The highlight of those summer visits was seeing our cousin there, whom we adored and rarely saw otherwise. I know it was dusk because that was when the bats started dive-bombing the birdie, our favorite part of the evening.

The adults—my father, mother, aunt, and grandmother—were having their cocktails on the front porch. Suddenly we heard Aunt Rosemary’s voice rise up over the rest, after which she burst into tears. Then we heard a glass break, which is when we stopped our play, got dead quiet, and strained our ears. When I say break, I don’t mean fall-off-the-table break; I mean throw-against-the-wall break. Then we heard our mother try to say something, and then she started crying.

My father was an admiral, and at the time serving as the navy’s judge advocate general (JAG). He usually held the attention of the people around him—at work and at home. But his attempts to restore calm were in vain that evening, as apparently were my mother’s attempts to assist him. We couldn’t hear much, but without a doubt, the ever-charged topic was our mysterious Uncle Barton, a naval ensign who had been wounded and taken prisoner by the Japanese long before any of us was born.

We kids had never met Uncle Barton, but my siblings, cousin, and I all knew what he looked like. There were photos of him on every wall of every room at Lilac Hedges. You would hardly have known that our grandmother had three other children. I especially remember Barton’s imposing oil portrait on the facing wall at the turn near the top of the front stairs. I was sure his smiling green eyes followed my every step as I walked up. We joked that he was winking at us, but whenever I reached that landing, I took those last two steps in a leap of terror, as though fleeing a ghost.

We left Lilac Hedges abruptly the next morning for the drive back to Washington, DC. A flimsy explanation for the early departure was offered as four glum kids took turns hugging our cousin, promising him unconvincingly that we’d be back, and then piling into our old Chevy wagon. I don’t remember what reason was offered, just that none of us believed it.

One thing was certain: there was always tension when this Uncle Barton’s name came up. Each time, I felt a familiar tingling at the back of my neck and then braced myself. Here we go again. What was going on here? As children, and then teens, and then young adults, we analyzed every syllable whenever the topic sprang from its dark corner, hoping to elicit conclusive details. But the mystery persisted long into our adulthood. Speculation on what had happened to him—and when—became a sort of a parlor game for us, and it never ended satisfactorily.

When I set out to unravel this family mystery, my objective was to uncover the facts that led to the anguished outburst that night—and which ended our traditional summer visits to Lilac Hedges. I was determined to learn more about this Uncle Barton, but what I uncovered would have stunned the adults on that porch.

Table of Contents

Preface xv

Part 1

1 April 1942, Luzon, the Philippines 3

2 Benny 23

3 Helen 40

4 Bill 51

5 Cabanatuan, Spring 1942 67

6 White House Map Room, April 1942 74

7 "This Force Is Bound for Tokyo" 81

8 Barton, 1930-1941 93

9 The Perils of Escape-and a Little Baseball 115

10 A Brother's Burden: The Search 123

11 Midway 138

12 Under Siege: JN-25 152

13 To Davao: En Avant! 159

14 And Then There Was One: USS Enterprise Versus Japan 168

15 The Other War: Army-Navy Football 184

16 Happy Days at the Penal Colony 193

Part 2

17 Winter's Grief 203

18 Escape: Crime and Punishment 208

19 Farewell to the White House 215

20 A Tale of Atrocities 231

21 August 1943: Allied War Summit; Quebec, Canada 239

22 Revenge on the Innocent and a Covert Plan 249

23 Secrets Inside the Oxygen Tent 259

24 Hero of Bataan Versus the War Department 264

25 Bad Tidings 269

26 Politics in Brisbane 278

27 "Proceed to Kwajalein" 282

Part 3

28 The Best-Laid Plans 291

29 Initiation at Saipan 303

30 Decampment 325

31 September 1944, Lilac Hedges 333

32 Hopes Dashed 343

33 Setbacks 351

34 Through a Prism: MacArthur's Return 364

35 What Benny Knew 380

36 The Oryoko Maru 390

37 End Game in the Pacific 407

38 A Sailor's Nightmare 428

39 In the End, a Question of Casualties-and Sea Power 447

40 No Peace at Lilac Hedges 467

41 Final Hours 481

Epilogue 509

Afterword 527

Acknowledgments 531

Notes 535

Select Bibliography 565

Image Credits 575

Index 577

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