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Descent Into Darkness: Pearl Harbor, 1941: A Navy Diver's Memoir Hardcover – June 1, 1996

4.7 out of 5 stars 96 customer reviews

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The Black Presidency by Michael Eric Dyson
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Within hours of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Raymer, an enlisted man, was on a plane headed from San Diego to Oahu. His primary mission: to act as chief diver in the operations to rescue men trapped in sunken battleships. Removing bodies, recovering material and raising the ships themselves could, and would, come later. In this compelling memoir, Raymer describes the multiple hazards of working inside wreckage-strewn warships under the handicaps imposed by available diving technology. Courage was at least as important as competence as the number of dives mounted and the law of averages shifted against the men who went down. Raymer details many harrowing incidents, including one in which he, an arachnophobe, began to panic when a spider stowed away in his diving suit began to crawl over his face in the middle of a dive. The narrative includes lighter passages as well, especially the depictions of how the divers spent their off-duty hours pursuing food, liquor and women. For all its drama and charm, however, Raymer's memoir is useful above all as a case study of the hands-on, un-bureaucratized approach to problem-solving that the U.S. brought to WWII from the beginning. Photographs and maps not seen by PW.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Raymer's World War II memoirs throw some light on a literally dark side of Pearl Harbor and the Pacific war--the salvage efforts on sunken and damaged ships. He spent most of his wartime diving career in Hawaii, working on ships ranging from the ruined Arizona to the comparatively easily salvaged California, but also took a side trip to Guadalcanal aboard a salvage tug. His is a plain tale plainly told, and one could wish for more material on diving and less on chasing women and liquor ashore. Yet Raymer pays tribute to fallen comrades--diving was nearly as dangerous as combat--to good and bad superiors and divers, and to the technical ingenuity of the U.S. Navy at the time of its greatest trial. He adds more than enough to our knowledge of the Pacific war for his recollections to be worthwhile. Roland Green
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 214 pages
  • Publisher: Presidio Press; Presumed First edition (June 1, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0891415890
  • ISBN-13: 978-0891415893
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (96 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #392,201 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This really is a first-rate account of a process that has largely been ignored by writers and historians. I think it's a "given" that diving around sunken, fully armed and fueled battleships would be dangerous, but until I read this book I didn't realize just how MANY different hazards there were. For example, who would have known that it's dangerous to enter a previously-sealed but empty compartment that contains rust? (the formation of iron oxide [rust] depletes oxygen in the space)
The reader gets a firsthand account of the daily lives of salvage divers, and how frequently solutions to problems were devised on the spot. Rather unexpectedly, readers also get a firsthand description of what life was like "on the ground" during the Guadalcanal campaign.
Anyone wanting to know more about the Pearl Harbor attack really should read this book. Many people tend to think of the battle as being over when the last Japanese plane returned to its carrier; in truth, the battle had just BEGUN.
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Format: Paperback
Edward Raymer was in charge of a team of US Navy divers sent urgently to Pearl in the aftermath of that infamous attack. Their first priority was to save as many men as possible who were trapped in upturned hulls. Once that job was considered as complete as it ever could be, their tasks changed as salvage and recovery work got under way. On his retirement from the US Navy in 1996, he wrote this book about the work he had undertaken all those years ago.

Having finally found and read the work, I began by writing a review which explained the content and applauded the overall product but, as I was doing this I thought that many non-divers would fail to grasp the enormity of the tasks those brave men undertook in the immediate aftermath of Pearl Harbour.

It occurred to me that many people who are unfamiliar with the underwater world would think that those US Navy divers would only have to switch on a torch (and that the US Navy would have provided some very powerful diving torches) and everything underwater would be as clear as possible. Take it from me, there is no light in the world which penetrates oil and water so dark and thick with dirt that the diver cannot even see his instruments when they are pressed against his faceplate or facemask. The inside of a ship's hull is a large dark space where no natural light penetrates. Add to that, thjere were also two other vitally important factors; Firstly, these US Battleships were amongst the biggest in the world - so big that crew members frequently got lost. These divers had to find their way in (and out again!) without an intimate knowledge of each vessel. Secondly, those ships were now badly damaged, upside down or on their sides.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As a military diver I could easily identify with the techniques and characters in the book. While the techniques have been updated, the people haven't really changed. This book shows what life was/is like for a diver. Divers often work in extremely nasty environments with little to no visibility. Add to this the psychological effects of being among different things that you must identify by feel and you get a small glimpse of what it is like.
This type of diving is completely different from civilian SCUBA and this illustrates the type of mentality required.
This book will show you what it is like to really be a working diver.
All present and former divers owe a tremendous debt to gentlemen like Mr Raymer. They were truly pioneers whose accomplishments often went unreported and unrecognized.
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Format: Hardcover
An interesting rendition of an enlisted Navy diver's efforts to aid the war effort by helping to raise sunken battleships after December 7, 1941 in Pearl Habor, HI.
The editors at Presidio (if there were any) need to be given a kick in the backside for their lack of effort on this text.
Despite the editors' lack of attention, the author does an excellent job of relating an enlisted man's view of how the War looked, and explains how he coped with both the horrors of his work in attempting to help raise the sunken hulks of Battleship Row, make jury-rigged repairs off Guadacanal, and his successes and failures while "blowing off steam" while on Liberty. Maybe there's a bit too much about the liberty antics, but I'm sure that the author's successes in these efforts remain as important memories that he wished to share with readers.
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Format: Paperback
Edward Raymer was in charge of a team of US Navy divers sent urgently to Pearl in the aftermath of that infamous attack. Their first priority was to save as many men as possible who were trapped in upturned hulls. Once that job was considered as complete as it ever could be, their tasks changed as salvage and recovery work got under way. On his retirement from the US Navy in 1996, he wrote this book about the work he had undertaken all those years ago.

Having finally found and read the work, I began by writing a review which explained the content and applauded the overall product but, as I was doing this I thought that many non-divers would fail to grasp the enormity of the tasks those brave men undertook in the immediate aftermath of Pearl Harbour.

It occurred to me that many people who are unfamiliar with the underwater world would think that those US Navy divers would only have to switch on a torch (and that the US Navy would have provided some very powerful diving torches) and everything underwater would be as clear as possible. Take it from me, there is no light in the world which penetrates oil and water so dark and thick with dirt that the diver cannot even see his instruments when they are pressed against his faceplate or facemask. The inside of a ship's hull is a large dark space where no natural light penetrates. Add to that, thjere were also two other vitally important factors; Firstly, these US Battleships were amongst the biggest in the world - so big that crew members frequently got lost. These divers had to find their way in (and out again!) without an intimate knowledge of each vessel. Secondly, those ships were now badly damaged, upside down or on their sides.
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