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The Mathews Men: Seven Brothers and the War Against Hitler's U-boats Paperback – March 21, 2017
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An Amazon Best Book of April 2016: When the United States entered WWII, it was still in the process of building up its naval fleet to take on the enemy at sea. Much of the early burden was placed on the merchant marine, which moved cargo and personnel, essentially unprotected, through the initial period of the war. Author William Geroux has produced a well-constructed and meticulously researched account of the heroics performed and sacrifices endured by the merchant marine, focusing on the Chesapeake Bay county of Mathews, Virginia. As Geroux writes, “For more than 250 years, the profession of choice in Mathews had been sailing merchant ships.” These men, including the Hodges family, which sent seven sons to war, performed an essential but underreported service for the country. If the cover reminds you of Unbroken or The Boys in the Boat, it should. This one deserves to be a best seller. --Chris Schluep --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Reviews for The Mathews Men
“The valor and contributions of the U.S. Merchant Marines to victory in WWII has seldom been acknowledged . . . Geroux presents an unflinching, inspiring, and long delayed tribute to the sacrifice of these men.”—Booklist (starred review)
“Poignant . . . A deep, compassionate group biography of these ‘unsung heroes’ of the Merchant Marines.”—Kirkus
“Geroux combines the skills of a newsman and those of a scholar to tell the story of the vital and heroic role played by the U.S. Merchant Marines during WWII”—Publishers Weekly
Advance Praise for The Mathews Men
“Vividly drawn and emotionally gripping, The Mathews Men shines a light on the mostly forgotten but astonishing role the U.S. Merchant Marine played in winning World War II. It brings back to life a breed of men who repeatedly risk all for their country. It chronicles the sagas of families that stoically endured heartrending losses. It honors a community that pulled together to support its sons as they set out—again and again—on deadly seas. And it reminds us how much we owe to the legions of ordinary Americans who quite literally saved the civilized world in the 1940s.”
—Daniel James Brown, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Boys in the Boat
“William Geroux has written a classic American tale, a gripping story of courageous everyday heroes facing death in World War II.”
—James Bradley, author of Flags of Our Fathers
“William Geroux’s The Mathews Men harkens to the war heroics of Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken and the British detective drama Foyle’s War. A little-known story about the brutal sacrifices made by Merchant Mariners—and the tiny bayside community they left behind in Mathews County, Virginia—Geroux’s book is a gripping account of hard-drinking and even harder-working seamen, and a fresh take on World War II history. Loaded with offbeat characters trying to survive against astonishingly impossible odds, Geroux gives these unheralded heroes their belated due in an account that is as meticulously researched as it is even-handed and poignant.”
—Beth Macy, author of Factory Man: How One Furniture Maker Battled Offshoring, Stayed Local - and Helped Save an American Town
“When a reporter who writes as elegantly as Geroux unearths such a dramatic and untold story, he must feel as if he’s hit the motherlode. With The Mathews Men, Geroux gives us a rollicking read that plunges you into the middle of the ocean and seduces you into caring for the story’s heroic seafarers. This is both a terrific and terrifying blow-by-blow of the actions of the sailors of the U.S. Merchant Marine as the dodged deadly U-Boats during the course of World War II and who, as Lincoln put it, too often made the ultimate sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.”
—Bob Drury and Tom Clavin, co-authors of Halsey’s Typhoon and The Heart of Everything That Is
“Often overlooked and unsung, the men of the U.S. Merchant Marine risked all against stealthy German U-boats whether within sight of East Coast cities or on the Arctic run to Murmansk. Mr. Geroux has superbly chronicled the gripping and deeply personal story of brothers in blood as well as in mission.”
—Walter R. Borneman, author of The Admirals: Nimitz, Halsey, Leahy, and King—The Five-star Admirals Who Won the War at Sea
“The German U-Boat war against American merchant men was deadly and dramatic—in World War II, the U.S. Merchant Marine had twice the fatality rate of the U.S. Navy. William Geroux has unearthed a fascinating tale of one small coastal town caught in the thick of the fight, and he tells it with a sharp reporter’s eye and a real feel for the heroic men who went down to the sea in ships.”
—Evan Thomas, author of Being Nixon and Sea of Thunder
From the Hardcover edition.
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This book centers around the service of men from a small, rural county in Virginia which provided a larger than average number of men who served in, and died while transporting goods and raw materials around the world. They served in every battle zone and in many areas that were not considered to be battle zones. They served prior to the formal declaration of war, yet were torpedoed even before the United States was formally involved in the war. Most importantly, they continued to serve, and move goods, despite getting nearly zero protection from the military.
The book moves from life in Mathews County to life at sea. It details the lives of men and families that served, as well as what was happening in both the German Navy and the U.S. military. It is well researched and contains information from oral histories, as well as from written histories from the German U Boat service.
The book is well written, and becomes hard to put down once you get into it a little. You are drawn into the lives of the men and their families. The only part that is somewhat difficult are the various people….after a while names run together, although the author does include a list of who the individuals wer at the end of the book.
A Review by Anthony T. Riggio of the book “The Mathews Men” by William Geroux
I ordered this book in hardbound, form Amazon, because it was a history book and one I wanted in my library. It told the valiant yet unheralded story of the men of the US Merchant Marine Service story during time of World War II. I thought it was a significant story and a worthy read because of where most of the players were from, namely Mathews County Virginia.
Mathews County Virginia, especially during the War years was unknown to any but the people who lived within proximity and the major US shippers of cargo, sent to far off places in the world. The Mathews County men were renowned for their seaman skills and development of Captain’s for the Merchant service. Many predecessors were known and heralded during and after World War I.
As World War II began the world and the United States were mostly unprepared for war time commerce especially given the isolationist feelings of most Americans who wanted nothing to do with Europe’s wars. Despite this attitude a hue and cry for help from both England and Russia fell on the ears of some in power in the US, including President Franklin D. Roosevelt resulting in new policies titled Lend Lease.
The Materials and food products had to be shipped by boat and it fell on the major shippers of the day to begin the dangerous transporting across the Atlantic and the men of Matthews and elsewhere stepped up to the plate to endure these risks.
During the early years of World War II the German Navy quickly fell into a state of non-importance primarily, because of the strength of the British Navy. However, the Germans concentrated their naval strength by use of the submarine of U-Boat fleet. Realizing that the US was taking a non-committed position of supplying both Britain and Russia, the Germans soon began to attack American Shipping to Europe and Russia as their assaults and invasions moved forward.
The book pointed out some significant statistics on the amount of material tonnage and human life that was lost and destroyed and weaved into this recapture of events told the story of the commitment made by ordinary “heroes” from Mathews County VA.
The flow of the authors writing made reading this book like great novel that I found difficult to put down.
I was impressed and somewhat astounded by the proximity of the U-boat operations near and within US Waters and the number of ships and lives lost. There were many heart wrenching stories of men who experienced their ships torpedoed under them and yet men continued to ship out. The stories of the carnage in the waters around Russia were both frightening and hair raising.
The men of the US merchant service were never rewarded after the war nor recognized for their herculean efforts and great sufferings. They were never included in the Veterans benefits program and were largely forgotten for many years. As a point of personal interest, I had an uncle who at 16 joined the US merchant service, because he was too young to enlist in the armed services and delivered material and food during these dangerous times. In 1950 he was drafted into the Army and fought in Korea because his prior service was not recognized.
If you love action oriented history, and the great story telling of the author and his extensive research he did to tell his story. Reading it, I was pulled back in time and felt both the experience and feelings of the Mathews Men.
I gave this book FIVE Stars out of five and highly recommend its reading to lovers of history. The cited statistics will blow you away.
I was impressed by the vigor with which German U Boats succeeded in inflicting heavy damage to the Merchant Marine cargo ships off the eastern shore of the United States. While there were many sightings of U boat activity in the North Atlantic, the extensive loss of life and cargo so close to our eastern shore line was startling to learn. To be sure, there were other types of ships that were sunk as well, but the Merchant Marines took the brunt of the attacks. It seems also that U boat commanders were rather fickle about whether to assist the men cast overboard after their ship was torpedoed. In some instances, the Merchant Marine men were provided food and water while in their life boats, while others were literally abandoned to fend for themselves, at times in raging storms at sea. The loss of life was significant, and, as I understood it, the survivors, or their relatives received no benefits from the U.S. as was provided to their military counterparts.
Clearly, spring 1942, Germany was having its way with U.S. shipping in the mid Atlantic. Interestingly, I got the message from the read, as true as it may have been, that the White House' official stance on what was going on was one of secrecy and denial. Clearly, the Government didn't want its citizenry to learn of such activity so close to home.
I have read several accounts of U Boat sightings along the Chesapeake to include sending U Boat mariners ashore. But I've not read of any damage to property, or loss of life occurring as as result.
We also know that the Japanese patrolled the Pacific environs off the coast of California, but I've not read of any encounters as brazen as what was occurring on the Atlantic side particularly so close to our shores.
As I say, since my reading was for research purposes, I would certainly recommend the book to fellow WWII researchers. As for the various story lines in the book, I mostly glossed over those so cannot give an opinion as to overall readability. Therefore, I'll defer to those who read the whole book and rated it accordingly as a better reader review of the book.