Sailor Man

Sailor Man

SAILOR MAN is the illuminating account of James Preston Nunnally, a teenager who lied about his age to enlist in the Navy, endured combat service in World War Two’s Pacific Theater, and returned home. What sets SAILOR MAN apart, making it an invaluable addition to the canon of World War II, is that it also reveals the lesser known dark side—the psychological trauma so many of these brave young men experienced as a result of their repeated encounters with the horror of war—what we now call Post Traumatic Stress. SAILOR MAN is a book that must be read and shared.

—Dwight Jon Zimmerman, #1 New York Times bestselling author, and President of the Military Writers Society of America

The following extract from a letter to his son after the war describes just one of the episodes that, cumulatively, was to have such an impact on the young Nunnally. He was on the USS Fuller, an attack transport, when he volunteered to take a boatload of ammunition ashore during the US landings on the Philippines:

After a while the Japs brought up artillery and it got dangerous to haul stuff ashore. I stole a half case of hand grenades so we could have more protection against suicidal Jap swimmers. I also built a little diesel oil stove out of odds and ends to make hot chocolate and coffee. This kept our rations warm, although we could heat rations cans on the boat engine’s manifold.

One night the boat officer came up and wanted a crew to deliver a load of Bangalore torpedoes ashore. He explained that the shell fire was intense ashore and that he wouldn’t order any one to go, only volunteers. I called up my engineer and bow hook and explained the situation to them, telling them I was willing to volunteer if they were. Although the shell fire was so intense that we might all be signing our death warrants by going. They volunteered to go.

I told the Officer of the Deck, whom I called Long John when we were out of earshot of everyone else. I shook hands with him because we both knew this might be the last time we saw one another on this earth. Soon we were loaded and the bow hook shoved off the LCVP and we were underway with the Bangalores going to shore.

On the way we had a couple of scares. Our star shells, which the destroyers shot up to illuminate the battle grounds, some of these were duds and fell short close to us. Its a scary thing seeing a big ball of fire coming straight at you. They all fell short of us, maybe a hundred yards or more away.

Scary as hell.

After a while we began to come into shell fire. The closer to shore we went, the more intense was the artillery barrage. Shells were exploding all around us and I was afraid we would go up if one exploded on top of us. It wasn’t the shell fire that bothered us as much as it was the tons of sensitive high explosives we had on board.

Finally, I called a halt and told the engineer and bow hook to gather around and consult. There wasn’t a glimmer of light ashore. That meant that even if by some miracle we got ashore with the load intact, we couldn’t get unloaded. Also, closer to the shore we could see the shells were coming in so hot and heavy, so much that it seemed the whole ocean was exploding. Hundreds of shells a minute were slamming in.

I said we could take a vote on it, butI thought it would be sheer suicide to attempt a landing and even by some miracle we made it in, we could not get unloaded, and not a light anywhere.

Well, they voted to back off and wait ’til morning to try to go in. After we got back out of the shell fire, anchored, and worked out a schedule of‘ posting watch, I loaded the port machine gun (30 cal.) because the night before a boat had drifted close to an enemy held beach and got themselves in a fire fight with Jap troops ashore. After that we kept one man on watch, rotated every two hours while the rest slept. So passed the night.

The next morning I was on watch. Just before daybreak at our stern a string of tracers, a twin pair of them, started slamming into the water. As I watched them getting closer and closer, I first thought a boat was firing on the horizon and they were lobbing over to us.

I hit the deck. I realized by this time that it was a plane, although I could not see him or hear him. The tracers were coming from the sky. Something in me said, “Damn your soul, Nunnally, get off your damn belly and fight like a man!”

So I grabbed the 30 m.g. thatI had loaded the night before, cocked it and pulled the trigger—nothing! I cocked it again, all the time screaming for my crew to wake up. Tracers hit in the water only inches from the boat, making a sizzling sound like pouring water on a red hot stove. My heart was in my mouth. I knew that if one of those tracers hit in several tons of high explosives we were carrying we would all be nothing but a bloody mist in less than a second. As the tracers slammed into the water I thought, “Pretty little devils, but deadly.”

The strings of tracers passed us and hit one or two LSTs close to shore, and started a few small fires. I was pretty shook up, not from the m.g. attack, but of the fact that we were carrying several tons of Bangalore torpedoes.

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