Contributor: C. Peter Chen
Review Date: 14 Nov 2007
Full Title: Inferno: The Epic Life and Death Struggle of the USS Franklin in World War II
Having recently done some research on kamikaze doctrine, which naturally was from the Japanese perspective, I was eager to return to the American view, which, sadly, was from the receiving end of things. After learning more about both strategy and tactic of special attacks, I wanted to read again about the devastation and suffering that these attacks caused.
As if learning the effect of the special attacks for the first time, I found myself in utter shock through many parts of the book Inferno by Joseph Springer.
I was immediately impressed by Springer's writing style, which was straight-forward but was done without sacrificing detail. He professed that his interest in the history of USS Franklin had been nearly life-long, and it showed. The book delivered in clear detail everything encompassing the ship's history, configuration throughout the war, and the environments she had been in. Springer also succeeded in providing just enough information about the Pacific War so to shine light on why Franklin engaged in actions that she did.
The greatest strength of the book was not how Springer wrote it, however; it was quite the opposite. I felt that the reason why the storytelling was so compelling was because Springer gave the responsibility of the storytelling to others: the veterans. More than half of the book was told by the survivors of Franklin. The daily lives, the aerial combat, the falling bombs, the kamikaze attack, and the ensuing inferno, all were told in engaging detail. The book carried the feel of an oral history. Like one of the veterans, First Lieutenant Ken Linder, said in the appendix B of the book, "[h]istory is a funny thing. It's usually written by people that weren't there." Inferno was definitely not the case, for it was told in the words of the survivors who were there. Authors sometimes got lost in the strategy of the war and lose sight of the people who fought in it; Springer's decision to make his book a personal history avoided that.
Inferno also brought to light the injustice of the men who fought hard aboard the carrier. During the 19 Mar 1945 attack, the devastation was so total that some men were forced to jump, or in some cases even thrown into the water by the force of explosions, only to be later charged by the ship's captain as cowards who fled the ship when she needed them most. To further add insult to injury, the captain created the "704 Club", granting membership to the 704 who remained on board, and later, deny the honor of medals to those without membership. Reading the book and learning of this injustice nearly made me emotional, which was the author's apparent intention. With this book, the men of Franklin, along with their courage in the face of disaster and their accomplishment of bringing the devastated ship back home on her own power, were made known.
I highly recommend Inferno, a history told with harrowing and gripping detail.
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