In my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles, John and one of his best friends, Sam Feldman, go to war as civilian doctors assigned to the Army. Their motivation is the attack on Pearl Harbor, an eye-opening event in the lives of many Americans who believed we could stay neutral in regards to the war taking place in Europe and atrocities such as those that occurred during the Rape of Nanking.
For most Americans, World War II started with Congress declaring war after the attack on Pearl Harbor. However, for other Americans, specifically sailors in the U.S. Navy, it started in the early morning hours of October 31, 1941, with the sinking of the U.S.S. Reuben James by German Submarine U-552.
The Reuben James, a World War I Clemson-class, four-stack destroyer, was part of an escort for convoys bound for Great Britain carrying war materials from the “Arsenal of Democracy.” German U-boats (submarines) didn’t hesitate to fire on any ship in the convoy, considering them all to be fair game. For this reason, it was only a matter of time before America became involved in a “shooting war.”
The Reuben James was torpedoed and sunk while escorting convoy HX-156. The incident resulted in the loss of 115 of the 160 crewman, including all officers. Although not the first U.S. Navy ship to be torpedoed before the war, the Reuben James was the first one lost.
When news of the sinking reached America, many concerned people wrote letters to the U.S. Navy trying to determine the fate of loved ones and/or friends. Unfortunately, most of the country ignored the sinking. One person who did not was folk singer, Woody Guthrie, who wrote “Sinking of the Reuben James” immediately following the incident.
I mentioned the Reuben James in my novel in an effort to remember all who lost their lives during a dark time in history. Also, in the spirit of one tagline I came across during my research, friends don’t allow friends repeat history.