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“Vividly drawn and emotionally gripping."
—Daniel James Brown, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Boys in the Boat
One of the last unheralded heroic stories of World War II: the U-boat assault off the American coast against the men of the U.S. Merchant Marine who were supplying the European war, and one community’s monumental contribution to that effort
Mathews County, Virginia, is a remote outpost on the Chesapeake Bay with little to offer except unspoiled scenery—but it sent an unusually large concentration of sea captains to fight in World War II. The Mathews Men tells that heroic story through the experiences of one extraordinary family whose seven sons (and their neighbors), U.S. merchant mariners all, suddenly found themselves squarely in the cross-hairs of the U-boats bearing down on the coastal United States in 1942.
From the late 1930s to 1945, virtually all the fuel, food and munitions that sustained the Allies in Europe traveled not via the Navy but in merchant ships. After Pearl Harbor, those unprotected ships instantly became the U-boats’ prime targets. And they were easy targets—the Navy lacked the inclination or resources to defend them until the beginning of 1943. Hitler was determined that his U-boats should sink every American ship they could find, sometimes within sight of tourist beaches, and to kill as many mariners as possible, in order to frighten their shipmates into staying ashore.
As the war progressed, men from Mathews sailed the North and South Atlantic, the Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico, the Mediterranean, the Indian Ocean, and even the icy Barents Sea in the Arctic Circle, where they braved the dreaded Murmansk Run. Through their experiences we have eyewitnesses to every danger zone, in every kind of ship. Some died horrific deaths. Others fought to survive torpedo explosions, flaming oil slicks, storms, shark attacks, mine blasts, and harrowing lifeboat odysseys—only to ship out again on the next boat as soon as they'd returned to safety.
The Mathews Men shows us the war far beyond traditional battlefields—often the U.S. merchant mariners’ life-and-death struggles took place just off the U.S. coast—but also takes us to the landing beaches at D-Day and to the Pacific. “When final victory is ours,” General Dwight D. Eisenhower had predicted, “there is no organization that will share its credit more deservedly than the Merchant Marine.” Here, finally, is the heroic story of those merchant seamen, recast as the human story of the men from Mathews.
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.80(w) x 8.80(h) x 1.10(d)|
About the Author
William Geroux wrote for the Richmond Times-Dispatch for twenty-five years. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Associated Press, and various regional magazines. He also has worked for Maersk, the largest container-shipping company in the world.
Table of Contents
Prologue: A Gift from the Predators 1
Chapter 1 Born to the Water 11
Chapter 2 The Devil's Shovel 35
Chapter 3 Missing 55
Chapter 4 Professional Survivors 79
Chapter 5 "Off Hatteras the Tankers Sink" 105
Chapter 6 Killing Ground to Battleground 127
Chapter 7 "Avoid Polar Bear Liver" 150
Chapter 8 Catastrophe 171
Chapter 9 "Please Don't Tell Me" 193
Chapter 10 Counterattack 212
Chapter 11 The Conveyor Belt 230
Chapter 12 War's End 253
Chapter 13 Legacy 274
Afterword: Hidden History, Living History 298
The Mathews Men and Women 304
Author's Note 320
Notes on Sources 324
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
William Geroux has written a totally eye-opening book about the history of The Mathews Men and the Merchant Marines. It not only tells the story of a small county in Mathews Virginia and it’s heritage with the sea, it also tells how WWII forever changed the lives of the families living there. It’s the forgotten story of how the men from Mathews Virginia took to the sea to support their families as their forefathers had done. It’s the forgotten story of how they worked their way up to become Captains of their ships and helped the other men from Mathews do the same. Starting before the United States officially enters the war, the Men of Mathews and the Merchant Marines sail their ships full of goods, supplies, food, fuel, travelers, and arms to support the Allies in Europe. Unprotected, they face the German U-boats alone resulting in losses of both materials and lives. It’s the forgotten story of how the German U-boats almost decimated the shipping industry resulting in the United States losing staggering amounts of supplies, oil, and men’s lives and almost losing the war. It’s the forgotten story of the US Militaries failure to protect the Merchant Marines in the early stages of WWII. It’s the forgotten story of how these same men from Mathews Virginia and the Merchant Marines took part in Operation Torch in 1942 bringing supplies and food to the besieged island of Malta. It’s the forgotten story of how the Merchant Marines and the Mathews Men were part of the Invasion of Africa, Italy, and D-Day by transporting troops, landing craft, transports, and armaments necessary for theses successes, and even transporting the B-29 crewmen to Tinian Island who would crew the Enola Gay. In short, it is the forgotten story, overlooked in the US History books, of a group of men who should be honored as heroes—not forgotten. It’s the story of group of men and families who were for years denied for years the benefits enjoyed by the military such as the GI Bill and medical care. Reading this over Memorial Weekend made me appreciate the sacrifices of these men. There was no flag for the Merchant Marines flown that day, nor a call to stand if you were among this group of heroes. I find that very sad. I for one will remember that without the Men from Mathews and the Merchant Marines the outcome could have been so different. I for one will look at Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day and remember this wonderful book .
I moved to Virginia in 1952. I never knew the history of our nearby county until I read this book in January, 2017. A belated thanks for your service to our country!
Good book, well researched but confusing with so many characters