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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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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.
About the Author
William Geroux wrote for the Richmond Times-Dispatch for twenty-five years. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Associated Press, and various regional magazines. He also has worked for Maersk, the largest container-shipping company in the world.
From the Hardcover edition.
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Goosebumps to see the picture of my uncle David.
Sad that my grandmother is no longer with us to see the tribute to her family. I know that she would have been very proud.
She had told us most of these stories when we were kids. I can say that the stories were so unbelievable that I truly didn't believe them until I read the newspaper clippings as an adult.
Really wish that she were here to see this.
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.
During WWII, however, civilian owned and crewed supply ships for the US Navy were on their own without military escort or support. The ships and crews were easy pickings for the German U-boats that skulked off the Atlantic coast, and the loss of lives and resources while the Navy turned a blind eye is appalling. The Mathews Men focuses on the men from Mathews County, VA, which had a long history of coastal mariners running in families, and how they and their families were affected by WWII.
The narrative is well researched, and while some of the tales are horrific, the telling is not overly graphic or gruesome, just frustrating and sad. The narrative also describes the daily life of a merchant marine, which in some respects (at least according to my husband) hasn't changed all that much except for wi-fi and cell phones.
I recommend this book for WWII history buffs and for anyone with a friend or loved one in the present day "merchant marine." It's an eye-opening look into a career and lifestyle of which many people are most likely unaware.
Mathews County, Virginia was the home to many men who would serve on American merchant ships. These ships were not initially escorted, so each had to fend for themselves against the U-boats. These ships sailed from Maine to the Caribbean, Cuba, and other ports, delivering and picking up vital war supplies. Unfortunately, these merchant ships had no way to defend themselves, so the losses to the U-boats were heavy at the outset. As time passed, the Americans finally realized the need to protect the merchant ships. A convoy system was developed, and eventually, air cover was also provided. Ship losses dropped while the sinking of U-boats increased.
This book does a fine job of describing one of the lesser-known aspects of the war. The brave men from Mathews not only sailed the coast of the United States, they also served on ships bound for Murmansk to deliver vital supplies to the Russians. These men also sailed in the Indian and Arctic oceans as well as the Gulf of Mexico. They faced dangers from exposure, shark attacks, and death by machine gunning from surfaced U-Boats.
The Merchant Marine provided a vitally important service to the Allied cause, and the men from Mathews County, Virginia saw first-hand what the dangers of sailing on a merchant ship, alone and unprotected were like. Yet they did sail, and they tried their hardest to make sure the cargo they were carrying made it through. Highly recommended.