If you purchase the war memoir “Men of Poseidon: Life at Sea Aboard the USS Rall” expecting to read about nothing more than heroic battle rescues, Navy seamen dodging bombs and the agony of war, you might be disappointed.
The book, by Alta Sierra resident Richard Graves, contains but one chapter on the destruction wrought upon the destroyer escort vessel he served on during the height of the Pacific war in spring 1945.
Much of the book, which will be showcased at an author’s forum tonight at Odyssey Books, takes a deeper look at the lives of the sailors who manned the 289-foot-long vessel stationed in the western Pacific 1,000 miles east of the Philippines.
World War II veterans Jim Fogler, author of “Bridges That Stand,” and Fred Hargesheimer, author of “The School that Fell From the Sky,” will also be at Odyssey to discuss their autobiographical novels.
“My story is not the usual shoot-’em-up you see in the movies,” said Graves, 83, who began duty on the ship as an ensign and ended up as a captain. “I wrote it for our crew, and the fact that we were unique in that we survived a kamikaze attack. Ships much larger than ours would not always survive what we did.”
The roles played by Graves and Nevada City resident Richard Sorenson, 79, could not have been more different. As an officer, Graves ate with the big boys on the ship. Sorenson, an enlisted radio technician, took his beans in the mess hall with the rest of the grunts.
Because he liked the beans and enjoyed Sorenson’s company, Graves spent lots of time down there.
The two developed a friendship that was rekindled 60 years later.
That relationship is the subject of the book, Graves said: the late-night drinking of warm beer, the waiting with trepidation for signs of kamikaze pilots overhead or Japanese submarines below, the longing for the wife Graves left in San Francisco, and the maturation of a group of boys who became men during a single raid that killed scores of the Rall’s sailors.
It’s a day neither Sorenson or Graves will ever forget. For most Americans old enough to remember, April 12, 1945, is the day President Franklin D. Roosevelt died. For the duo, it’s the day the Japanese kamikaze pilots bombed the Rall off the coast of Okinawa, killing 21 men and injuring 50 more while ripping a gaping hole in the side of their ship.
“The sky was literally black with those planes,” Graves said.
The incident so disturbed Sorenson that he refused to attend reunions of the USS Rall’s crew for many years. Meeting Graves again, when Sorenson moved to Nevada City a few years ago, wasn’t easy.
“I had to replay the whole Rall incident in my head, and I wondered if I wanted to bring it up again,” said Sorenson, an artist and psychologist in later life. “I put out that memory for a long time. The things that happened aboard ship were just gruesome.”
There are annual USS Rall reunions now and a Web site devoted to its crew members’ adventures.
It might not have turned out that way, Graves says now.
“We were all green back then,” he said. “The story just shows how a group of civilians came together and became a unit.”
KNOW & GO
WHAT: World War II authors speak
WHEN: 7 p.m. tonight
WHERE: Odyssey Books, 11989 Sutton Way, Grass Valley
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