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Aboard the Farragut Class Destroyers in World War II: A History with First-Person Accounts of Enlist

Discussion in 'Biographies and Everything Else' started by dgmitchell, Jul 12, 2009.

  1. dgmitchell

    dgmitchell Ace

    May 9, 2008
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    Many books have been written on the naval battles of the Second World War, but those battles represent only a small fraction of the experiences that American sailors experienced. During the far more numerous hours, days and weeks that sailors were merely on patrol, in port or just out of the action, they were still sailors, with a daily routine, daily amusements and daily frustrations.

    We do not often get to learn about the sailor’s daily grind, as more historians have focused on the military engagements of America’s Navy than on the nature of the coffee that the sailors drank or how they did their laundry. In Aboard the Farragut Class Destroyers in World War II: A History with First-Person Accounts of Enlisted Men (McFarland & Company, 2009; 240 pages), Leo Block – the now 89-year old author and a former sailor who served on the Farragut Class Destroyer USS McDonough (DD 351) during WWII – offers readers a charming and insightful examination of what it meant to be a sailor on a Destroyer during the war. Drawing on his own memories and knowledge of Destroyer service, and on reflections that were passed on to him by other Farragut class destroyer sailors and their families, Mr. Block paints a picture of a fraternity of men who sailed the oceans and lived with one foot one 19th century tradition and the other squarely planted on 20th century advancement.

    Mr. Block is methodical in his treatment of each – and close to every – aspect of a sailor’s day to day life. He explains to his readers everything from the most basic surveys of naval ranks and ratings to the more obscure identification of all of the locations on a ship where coffee pots might be found and the protocols within each group for the making and sharing of coffee. The reader learns of practical problems that might now be taken for granted, even in the modern navy but which were issues for sailors in WWII – how to get a haircut at sea, for example. He also offers numerous anecdotes from his personal experience and those of other sailors, including one tale of an enterprising sailor who managed to consistently find a way to break into the ships’ icebox, despite a padlock to which only the executive officer had a key, so that he could appropriate cold cuts and cheese at night – at least for a few weeks until he got sloppy after a drunken liberty and was caught.

    Mr. Block is encyclopedic in his treatment of the experiences of destroyer sailors during the war and, while that does have some merit, it also detracts from the readability of his work. Aboard the Farragut Class Destroyers in World War II does not read as a cohesive story with a distinct beginning, middle and end. Rather, it reads more as a series of entries in a guidebook and that can, at times, interrupt the flow of the book as a whole. Also, Mr. Block writes more as an old salt sharing his memories than as a true scholar sharing his research. He does make some broad, unsubstantiated, generalizations based on his pride of service, as opposed to his own analysis of factual data. Nevertheless, Mr. Block's writing style aside, he still provides his readers with valuable, entertaining and insightful commentary on his life in the service, and extends that to encompass the lives of all who served on Farragut class destroyers.

    Aboard the Farragut Class Destroyers in World War II is a wonderful oral history of life in the US Navy during World War II. Although Mr. Block focuses his discussion on sailors serving on Farragut class destroyers, most of his anecdotes would likely have similar application to sailors serving on other classes of vessels. Mr. Block also supplements his anecdotes with brief histories of each of the Farragut class destroyers who were in service during the War and offers footnotes to his source materials wherever he has relied on third party sources. In Aboard the Farragut Class Destroyers in World War II: A History with First-Person Accounts of Enlisted Men, students of naval history, in particular, will find much new material to add to their body of knowledge, but even casual readers who just want to know what it was like to be in the US Navy during WWII will find a lot to recommend this book.

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