(Reviewed by Glenda Anderson)
Tremendously touching and skillfully written, Del Staecker’s Sailor Man is succinct yet powerful. And it stunned me.
This is a true story of a sixteen-year-old so anxious to join the Navy in WWII and so patriotic to do his part in “teaching the little yellow men a lesson”, that he lies. Says he’s seventeen.
J. P. Nunnally got his wish. Assigned to the US Fuller, an attack transport, he soon learns the meaning of D-Day. In military parlance it stands for “Invasion Day”, or in plain old English, “Day”; to the troops, it’s D for “Death Day”.
Soon J. P. is delivering troops to the beaches in landing craft and sees first hand that “war is hell”, scenes the youngster could never have imagined. He witnesses maiming and death on a horrific scale. Just a skinny kid in a man’s war.
How best to cope? Drink: as in anything alcohol, and lots of it, as in binge drinking. By the end of his first year in the Navy, between ship-made brew and the real thing at bars during shore leave, J. P. became a full-fledged alcoholic for life.
Forever traumatized by the sounds and death-smells, the un-relieved, over-powering fear and dread clung to J. P., tagging along like an attached, invisible leech sapping away at whatever remnant of life remained of the once-innocent teenager.
Never wounded, his body in one piece, he was sent home: never to keep a job, marriage, or children. As J. P. wrote to his estranged adult son:
“I don’t think I had a dog’s chance.”
Where was Alcoholics Anonymous in those years? Oh, and yes, how long would it take before the military stopped calling their jittery, angry, nightmare-prone vets “sissies”? Shell shocked?
As an avid ‘anything WWII kind-of-reader’, Staecker’s small book was like none other I’d read, proving once again, that less is more.
Sailor Man should be required reading in boot camp… in high school….somewhere!