Published: Jul 01, 2008 01:26 PM
Modified: Jul 01, 2008 01:26 PM
Battleship crew story in new book
One on One
Chuck Paty, a 17-year-old Charlotte high school junior, was listening to the New York Philharmonic on the radio on Dec. 7, 1941, when a report of the Pearl Harbor attack interrupted his program. Immediately, he told his parents he wanted to join the Navy. His mother told him, "You're so little you'll never pass anyway. I don't know why I'm so worried. They'll just send you back home."But the Navy did not send him back home. He made it through boot camp and wound up serving on the USS North Carolina.A recent book, "Boys of the Battleship North Carolina: Stories of the Navy's 'Showboat,'" by Cindy Hornell Ramsey, weaves Paty's wartime story with those of other crewmembers into one continuous narrative. The backbone of this saga is the history of the ship from its launch at the Brooklyn Navy Yard in June 1940 through its wartime service in the Pacific until the end of World War II in late 1945.This book's great appeal is the skillful way Ramsey blends the stories of the ship with those of the men who made up its crew. The author tells us enough about their backgrounds for us to start caring about them. Then, she uses them and their experiences to explain to us in simple ways something about the ship's very complex operations.I remember my first tour of the Battleship North Carolina at its "retirement home" in Wilmington. My own Army experience had not prepared me for it. I was amazed at how much went on within the confines of the gigantic ship, the dominating presence of the big guns, and the packed spaces where the crew ate and slept. I was awed by this "mini-city" of a ship. Missing, however, were the crew members and the opportunity to watch them do their jobs and listen to their personal stories. "Boys of the Battleship North Carolina" fills that gap and has made the memories of my visit to the ship even richer.Work on the ship continued after is launch in 1940. It was commissioned in April 1941, but even then it was not quite ready for action. More crew, more training, and more guns were needed before the ship was really battle-ready. Nevertheless, according to Ramsey, "Newspapers across the country proclaimed the North Carolina the world's mightiest ship."Its great size and power earned it another nickname: "The Showboat."As the great ship was going through its shakedown period, Chuck Paty learned "that he had forfeited all the privacy he cherished as an only child. Standing in a long line of at least 200 naked sailors, he was poked and prodded and herded from one place to another...."In January 1942, Chuck Paty's basic training was cut short, and he was sent to the Battleship North Carolina, where he became a radioman. From Paty's experiences we find out what a radioman does, where he works, and what kind of equipment he uses. Some of Paty's fellow crewmembers teach about their very different jobs. For instance, when gunnery crewmembers explain the complicated procedures for loading and firing each round of the ships biggest guns, we understand that it is not just aiming and pulling the trigger.Paty and his fellow crewmembers lead us through four years of fighting in the Pacific. We go with them to their battle stations when the Japanese planes and submarines attack their ship. We watch them respond to emergencies when the ship is torn open by enemy torpedoes. When some of them are killed in action, we bury them at sea. We go on leave with them. And we are with them all the way until the end, when some of them, including Paty, were briefly part of the occupation forces in Japan. The next time I visit the Battleship, I will listen for the voices of crewmembers like Chuck Paty. And, thanks to Cindy Ramsey, I bet I will hear them.
D.G. Martin is the host of UNC-TV's "North Carolina Bookwatch" which airs Sundays at 5 p.m. This week's guest is Joanna Catherine Scott, author of "The Road from Chapel Hill." Check his blog and view prior programs at 2008 The Chapel Hill News