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Left to Die: The Tragedy of the USS Juneau, by Dan Kurzman

New York: Pocket Books, 1994. Pp. 339. Illus., append., biblio., notes, index. $6.99. ISBN:0-671-74874-2.

The sinking of the USS Juneau was one of the most tragic events in World War II, leading to one of the heaviest losses of life: Out of 700 men, only 10 survived. Among the casualties were the five Sullivan brothers and two of the four Rogers brothers. The basics of the story are well-known: On the afternoon of November 13, 1942, as the remnants of Task Group 67.4 was retiring from a hot pre-dawn encounter with a Japanese surface force, the Japanese submarine I-26 fired a spread of torpedoes. One of the torpedoes struck the Juneau, which had already suffered severe damage in the earlier battle. In a huge explosion, the anti-aircraft cruiser vanished from the ocean. Believing that nobody could have survived, Captain Gilbert C. Hoover chose to proceed, and sent a blinker signal to a passing B-17. Only ten men out of the 140 survivors would be rescued.

Dan Kurzman proceeds to tell the story of the ordeal suffered by those men. The shark attacks, the eight days adrift, and even the sacrifice of one badly injured crew member are all laid out in detail. It is a story that has been revealed after 52 years. This includes the Navy’s failure to send out search aircraft – a delay that can be laid at the feet of Captain Hoover.

Hoover is treated very sympathetically in this book. It is understandable, given the difficult position he was in. It is indisputable that he did not intend to abandon 140 men. However, the fact remains that, despite his intentions, he did leave the survivors of the USS Juneau behind. This might sound harsh, but one only has to look at the risks other commanders took that same year – for instance, at the Battle of Midway, Raymond Spruance ordered the carriers of Task force 16 to turn on the lights to allow aircrews to return to base. In essence, what happened, while not the fault of Captain Hoover, did warrant his relief from command by Admiral Halsey.

Left to Die is a book well worth reading. It tells not only of how things go wrong, but also of how those who survived the tragedy dealt with their ordeal.

Reviewer: Harold C. Hutchison   

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