Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Good Reuben James and Other Stories

This is a short short story so I have a chance to add some editorial comment. The Reuben James was a naval destroyer which was being used to guard the eastern coast. In March of 1941, along with four other destroyers, it was assigned to escort a convoy of ships carrying supplies for the United Kingdom. The tragedy is often considered to be the first casualties of WWII although we were not at war at the time.

If there is someone looking for a good Hollywood production, you may want to research the person for whom the boat was named.
To start, Reuben James himself was apparently one hellaciously forceful figure -- an boatswain's mate who distinguished himself in the very early USN in the two wars against the Barbary or Tripoli pirates (1803 and 1815) and in the War of 1812, serving in all three under Lieut., Capt., then Commodore Stephen Decatur. In the first pirate war, James was one of four sailors whom Decatur took under cover of darkness to burn a captured American warship in Tripoli harbor, an exploit praised as the most daring in naval warfare at the time by no less than Britain's legendary Admiral Lord Nelson. James also is credited with saving Decatur's life on at least two occasions, the first in the Battle of Tripoli when despite bleeding from wounds in both hands he threw his body over Decatur's prostrate form and took a scimitar slash for him -- then got up and killed the assailant and went on fighting. He served more than thirty years in the USN, retiring in 1836 at 57 due to ill health from his many combat wounds.

Finally, I've come to realize that, although we make fun of mother for her view of society when growing up ("No one drank in school."), she did travel in a very specialized circle. Dad's college roommates were all classmates from Columbia H.S. and all earned Phi Beta Kappa. It may the the only time in history that three roommates from the same high school accomplished this feat. Practically all of her friends went to the very best schools witness Craig and Gale Spowers.

One of Dad's friends in high school was Gale Spowers. He went to Williams. His brother, Craig Spowers, was on the Reuben James when it went down. I think he went to Annapolis. Do you remember the song? 'Did you have a friend on the good Reuben James?'

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