The Pacific Theater of World War 2 has become one of my favorites in military history. I became fascinated after reading the Pacific Crucible, and wet my appetite even more after starting The Admirals by Walter Borneman (Amazon). Now, I have another entertaining and informative book to add to the collection: The Castaway’s War by Stephen Harding.
In this tale Harding recounts the life of Lt. Hugh Barr Miller. In college Hugh was a member of the Alabama Crimson Tide Rose Bowl Champion team. Years later he joined the military as a Naval Reserve Officer. As war breaks out in Europe, many feel the inevitability of the US getting involved. And when Japan strikes Pearl Harbor all becomes clear. Hugh is ready to serve his country
Lt. Hugh Barr finds himself aboard the USS Strong, a Fletcher-class destroyer. The USS Strong, after transiting the Panama Canal, is assigned to conduct operations in the Pacific. One night in July of 1943, as the USS Strong is conducting a search mission, they come under heavy fire from the Japanese. Gunners on land complimented Japanese ships in their assault, and were able to sink the USS Strong. Dozens of men perished. Many more were injured and thrown into the waters off the Solomon Island Chain.
A Fight For Survival
Though the assault of the USS Strong is captivating, the remainder of the book reads like a thriller. Lt. Hugh Miller fights for his life for 43 days on a remote island! He overcomes devastating injuries which he was sure were going to kill him, escapes Japanese search parties, and is miraculously saved by an American pilot after 6 weeks. Miller’s actions on the island earn him the Navy Cross, presented to him by none other than First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.
Miller’s tale is a profound one—one that I hadn’t heard before and I imagine many other young Americans hadn’t either. Harding does a history a service by doing a tremendous amount of research to unveil this tale for today’s readers.
In fact, Harding’s research is tremendously detailed. He is clearly a scholar who digs deep when learning about a subject. However, I felt like his writing was too detailed at times, providing minutiae such as precise times of events and specifications of ships. This is apparent in the first third of the book, as he provides the lead up to the events of the USS Strong and Hugh Miller.
Sparing those minor drawbacks, which some may even find welcomed, The Castaway’s War provides a gripping memory of an American hero’s struggle. Miller’s plight shows the power of perseverance and ingenuity, traits lacking in today’s men.
The book provides vivid accounts of battle, injury, faith and death. It really captures what it was like to stare death in the face day after day. “War is Hell” as they say, and this book shows that.
If you’re a fan of military history, then you must add this book to your collection.
Click here to get your copy of The Castaway’s War by Stephen Harding on Amazon.