Crossing the Line: A Blue Jacket's World War II Odyssey

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9781419622441: Crossing the Line: A Blue Jacket's World War II Odyssey
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A gritty, humorous, and knowing account of an enlisted man's life aboard World War II aircraft carriers, this memoir captures the tedium of a seaman's routine and the terror of the war's great battles, from Pearl Harbor to Hiroshima.

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Review:

Alvin Kernan, seeing no prospects in his native Wyoming, enlisted in the U.S. Navy in the spring of 1941. As a seaman on the U.S.S. Enterprise, he saw the destruction and smelled the fires still burning as the aircraft carrier returned to Pearl Harbor from maneuvers on the day after Japan's surprise attack. Years later he would see and smell much the same thing in Japanese harbors. In the time between, Kernan had some exceptional adventures, which are chronicled in Crossing the Line. This reflective memoir is utterly unpretentious in providing an engaging view of ordinary Americans at war. Leaving the grand historical themes for other writers, Kernan tells us what it was really like for the sailors in the fleet, during fierce combat as well as during some lively recreation.

From Kirkus Reviews:

An unpretentious personal memoir of participation in WW II. Kernan (a senior advisor in humanities at the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation; The Death of Literature, 1990) left the shadow of the mountains of Wyoming to join the Navy. He soon found himself on the carrier Enterprise just outside Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Kernan watched Doolittle's bombers take off for Tokyo, was aboard the Hornet in its death throes as Japanese firepower sank it, had a sea-level view of the decisive Battle of Midway, and was again outside Pearl Harbor on V-J Day. The young sailor advanced from ordnanceman to airborne gunner and finally to chief petty officer at 22, when he was discharged at the end of the war. But that's not what the story is about. It's about the unadvertised superiority of torpedoes labeled ``Made in Japan'' and the appropriate ratio of tracers to armor-piercing ammo. It's about shore leave and drinking and women. It's about tedium and terror and random death. One sailor's story becomes, somehow, emblematic of the collective memories of all those boys of war half a century ago. And no matter who the survivors are now, this is a tale of who they--and their comrades--were then. Kernan remembers sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge to the war in the Pacific: ``My eyes moved from one face to another of men who are as alive to me now as they ever were but whose bones are washing around the bottom of the sea, tangled in the wreckage of their planes, between Okinawa and Taiwan.'' This quiet book is no techno-heroic Tom Clancy text. It's an honest story of collective courage, evocative, well-written, and fixed before the colors fade. (Photos and maps, not seen) (Book-of- the-Month Club/History Book Club selections) -- Copyright ©1994, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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