The Mathews Men: Seven Brothers and the War Against Hitler's U-boats
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
Review Date: 9 Mar 2018
Mathews County, Virginia on the eastern coast of the United States had a long seagoing history. A significant portion of the male population of the county worked in various capacities aboard ships, and it was apparently not unusual for one of them to unexpectedly run into a neighbor working on a different ship at a far away port. During WW2, the combination of local culture, family history, and a wish to avoid being drafted into a combat role on land, a great number of them served the war effort in the United States Merchant Marine. Collectively, they had experienced the German submarine attacks along the US coast, in the Gulf of Mexico, in the Caribbean Sea, and in the Atlantic Ocean; they had experienced the dangrous convoys to Murmansk in far northern Russia and to Malta in the Mediterranean Sea; they had supplied troops fighting on the beaches of Normandie, France and Salerno, Italy. Some died violent deaths, some survived unbelievable hardships, and some disappeared and were never seen again. William Geroux's The Mathews Men, a collective memoir, told the stories of the men and their families and provided a fantastic view of life in this particular remote and rural corner of the world. The author successfully linked the journeys of these men with the developments of the war across the world, thus providing examples of how decisions made in the capitals of world powers affected the lives of the common folks at the very bottom of the societal food chain. He also jumped from the tale of one man or family to that of another at many points of the book without creating confusion, which was no small feat.
I had reviewed this collective memoir in its audio book format. I thought Arthur Morey performed wonderfully.
Ultimately, the efforts of men of one small county, however hard-working these men were and however harrowing their travels were, would be trivial in the grand scheme of history. However, The Mathews Men provided a wonderful slice of life during war time United States. It also presented itself as a great companion to the numerous memoirs of naval sailors, to contrast the duties and experiences of military sailors and civilian sailors.
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