Tag Archives: US Navy

“A Full Life – Reflections at Ninety” by Jimmy Carter

Published 2015 – 238 pages, indexed, with photos, poems and artwork

I grabbed this book (off a give-away table) because I spotted a section on DIPLOMACY. And if there’s anything that might help our troubled world right now, that’s it.

I rapidly realized this book fits one of my favorite categories – accounts of times and events I lived through, but don’t really understand. I’ve investigated the Civil Rights movement, Kent State (does everyone recognize this reference?) and the Cuban missile crisis.

I read one of Carter’s earlier books, An Hour Before Daylight: Memories of a Rural Boyhood. It would be worth reading even if Carter had not risen to the Presidency.

By way of a refresher… Jimmy Carter was born in Georgia in 1924 and served as the 39thPresident of the United States from 1977 to 1981, losing the campaign for a second term to Ronald Reagan. At 93, he is the longest-retired President in US history. (Wikipedia)

The social/historical thread that runs through A Full Life is race. Carter grew up deep in the segregated South. The US Naval Academy at Annapolis, MD, was segregated when he entered in 1943. In 1948, the US military and Civil Service were integrated by order of President Harry Truman. By the time he returned to Plains, GA, Carter had little tolerance for racial discrimination. So many years have passed, and our country still struggles with racial issues!

A Full Life – Reflections at Ninety is studded with surprises. I had forgotten that it was Carter who pardoned all the draft resisters from the Vietman war, allowing many who had left the country the option of return.

Carter’s account of the peace talks that led to the Camp David Accords (1978) is fascinating. As Egyptian President Anwar Sadat began to favor some of Carter’s suggestions, Sadat’s contingent became so angry that Carter feared for Sadat’s life, worrying so much he lost a night’s sleep, a rare problem for Carter. What would have happened if Sadat had been murdered in the US? (Sadat was assassinated 1981, in Egypt.)

Carter often sent family members overseas to represent him. Rosalynn Carter traveled to Brazil as part of an effort to convince that country not to refine nuclear reactor waste for use in weapons. OMG! The mere thought of nuclear states in South American gives me cold chills! (Yes, I recognize the irony…)

I very much enjoyed seeing Carter’s paintings, ten of which are reproduced in this book. As far as I know, he is a self taught artist. I’m impressed that he painted portraits. That’s much harder than a landscape or a picture of a house. I only skimmed Carter’s poems…poetry is not my strong point.

For anyone interested in the US Presidency,  A Full Life is worth a careful read. Carter is an excellent, incisive writer and an accomplished politician in the best sense of the word. I wish he could have served longer, and I admire his undertakings in retirement.

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“The Voyage of the Narwhal – A Novel” by Andrea Barrett

Published in 1998, 394 pages, Norton paperback edition.

I can’t believe how much I liked this book! It’s one of the best novels I read since Cold Mountain.

(Digression… Why was I predisposed to read this book? My Father’s World War II military service included spending two winters in Point Barrow. Alaska, prospecting for north slope oil. Barrow was a tiny, isolated community and the Navy (Construction Battalion) unit was left more or less on its own for the cold, dark months. Dad came home with an interest in the arctic exploration, and read everything our public library provided about the polar explorers and their journeys. If Dad was alive, I would send him a copy of this wonderful story!

The other thing that hooked me was theword  “narwhal” in the title. The narwahl is a beautiful creature, much less studied than the whale or dolphin. It’s single tusk may be the source of the unicorn legends…)

The plot exceeded my expectations, which were of a standard adventure/survival tale. The 1850s was a period of exploration and public excitement about distant places. An expedition leaves from Philadelphia, hoping to find a missing explorer and fill in some blank places on the emerging map of the far North.

What makes this book work so well? The characters are well conceived and idiosyncratic. The author does not give too much away. I suppose I knew there had to be a “bad guy”, but who it was and what acts he would commit were not signaled in advance. The plot surprised me (more than once), and there was a subtle arc of retribution that I barely caught on my first reading.

Yesterday I glanced at the New York Times (April 1, 2016) and found a review of another novel about the far North, with emphasis on whaling rather than exploration. The North Water by Ian McGuire sounds too gory for me, and possibly too laden with literary references. But I realize this is only one reviewer’s opinion, so I may grab this if I find it on the “new arrivals” shelf at the library.

Meanwhile, I plan to read more by Andrea Barrett.

“A Sea Story: The Untold Story of the US Navy Response to 9/11” by Joseph Pignataro and Barry AA Dillinger

The author is the protagonist in this recounting of what happened on a Navy ship in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. Pignataro changed all names except his own, which makes me wonder about the captain and other senior officers, whose names must be a matter of public record, ditto the name of the ship, USS Leyte Gulf (a Ticonderoga class cruiser, not a destroyer). The ship is described as a “bodyguard” for a battle group and normally carries about 350 people.

I have no memory of the event at the climax of this book, the ill fated boarding of an Iraqi tanker suspected of carrying embargoed goods and weapons. Several sailors died. This was probably not reported publicly at the time.

I suppose the Navy has “boarding” all figured out, but to me it seems strange to send so few people into such uncertainty with so little planning for their extrication.

I think writing this book was “therapeutic” for the author. I put the term “therapeutic” into quotes because it  is entirely possible J Pignataro didn’t ever feel he needed “therapy”. But as a witness to shocking violence and sudden death, he was certainly a candidate for PTSD, and as I read his description of the events on the boarded ship, I had the sense that he was trying, as he described his team’s movements and the responses they faced, to make sense of something incredibly complex and troubling. 

I have read that “narrative is the beginning of recovery”. Before a person can recover from trauma, it is necessary to tell the story. I hope that his experiences left no permanent scars on Pignataro.

Reviews on Amazon cast doubt on some details in this book, but I would rather read this kind of energetic first person account than some polished and 100% fact checked memorandum. My thanks to the author for giving me a glimpse of his world!

Under the Sea (off New Jersey)

On Memorial Day weekend, my brother-in-law HR invited me to tour the Submarine Force Museum in Groton, CT. The centerpiece of the Museum is the submarine Nautilus, America’s first nuclear submarine. HR was in the Navy and served on Seawolf, which was almost identical to Nautilus. The Nautilus tour involved scrambling through hatches and up and down steep stairs. The compact efficiency and impressive technology fascinated me. We had a great time!

Climbing through Nautilus reminded me of a favorite book, Shadow Divers: The True Adventure of Two Americans Who Risked Everything to Solve One of the Last Mysteries of World War II, by Robert Kurson, published in 2004. I’ve lived in New Jersey for many years, and I know “wreck diving” as the hobby and obsession of people who love risk. This book tells in exciting detail about the discovery and investigation of a German U-boat (U-869) from WW II. It was the kind of adventure divers dream about, stumbling onto something complex, improbable and historically significant. Shadow Divers is so well written that I couldn’t put it down.

While checking Amazon.com for publication date, etc., I learned of two other books on the finding of U-869 – Shadow Divers Exposed: the Real Saga of the U-869 by Gary Gentile, published in 2006, and The Last Dive: A Father and Son’s Fatal Descent in the Ocean’s Depths by Bernie Chowdhury (2012). The later examines one of the crucial events described in Shadow Divers, the terrible day when the father and son team of Chris and Chrisy Rouse goaded each other into diving in poor conditions, and both perished. You wish you could grab them and scream “Don’t do it!”

So now there are two more books for me to read. I’ll put them on my Kindle for my next vacation. Thanks, HR, for reminding me how exciting undersea adventure can be.