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Book Review: The Immortals

January 17, 2022

The back of the dust jacket has the following text:

In 1943, German U-boats lurked in the icy waters of the North Atlantic, anxious to bring down allied ships.

On board the Dorchester, at 3:30 in the afternoon, signals flashed from the Tampa up ahead. Through the snow, the bright flashing code was clear: “We are being followed. Submarines estimated in our vicinity. Inform all ships to close up tightly and stay closed for the night.” . . .

All four chaplains descended into the lower holds. By then, the troops knew something was going on; the announcement had blared over the loudspeakers. It was vague. The ship was entering into troubled waters, where U-boats were known to prowl; they were to put on their life jackets and clothes just to be safe. Tensions were rising

Okay, got it. The chaplains are the immortals. And the book is about how they handled the sinking of the Dorchester. The book is based on a true story. And to emphasize the message the front of the book includes the text,

The World War II story of five fearless heroes, the sinking of the Dorchester, and an awe-inspiring rescue

Okay. I think I’ve got the picture.

This book was a Christmas present from a friend of the family. It was a good choice. I love historical stories. And I was very much looking forward to finding out more about the Dorchester and why it’s sinking made news.

So, half way through the book why was I frustrated with the book? Disappointed, even.

Because the promise on the dust jacket wasn’t being delivered on. Half-way through the 265 page book the four chaplains weren’t even on the ship yet. That didn’t happen until page 142. So, what were those early pages about? During them we met the four chaplains. We learned about their upbringing. We learned why each of them became a chaplain. We also learned about the fifth hero in our (still future) story, Charles Walter David Jr, a young black man who was a big part of the rescue effort. We also met the captain of the German U-boat who would (again) EVENTUALLY sink the Dorchester.

The sinking of the Dorchester was the worst loss of life during a ship sinking. Over 900 men were on the Dorchester when it was sunk by a single torpedo. Six hundred and seventy-four died, either during the initial attack, or by being exposed to the harsh North Atlantic weather. The rescue was hampered by a lack of quick response from the support ships. They were hunting the U-boat.

The story of the attack and the sinking of the Dorchester occupies only a few dozen pages. The before and after make up the bulk of the story. And it’s a good story.

So, why the disappointment?

Because the author, or the editor, made a promise and then failed to fulfill it.

Once I figured out that I was reading a different book than was advertised on the cover, I actually enjoyed it. The story is meticulously researched and well told. The author, Steven T. Collis, avoids the temptation of exaggeration. He cites the dialogue he has support for and leaves it to the reader to fill in the blanks, only helping them along with, “The person might have been thinking. . .”

And not being familiar with the story, I was able to enjoy learning a piece of history from the war and reading the story of five true heroes.

What I liked

We each should be inspired when we learn about men and women who literally gave their lives for others. And the five men in this story all had multiple opportunities to save themselves. Instead they put their fellow men first. The author not only describes the actions that we remember these men for, but what led them to that fateful day. He also describes their families, their friends and their circumstances. He truly paints an inspiring story. Although one built upon tragedy.

What I Didn’t

As I said, the book was a different book than described on the cover. Would I have read it without a cover that hyped the actual sinking and instead did a more accurate job of explaining the contents? Absolutely. It was a really good book.

What It Means To You

You can go to Google or Wikipedia and find the details of the story of the Dorchester. But, you will not get the whole story. You won’t get to know the chaplains. You won’t get to know Charles Walter David Jr, the way you will by reading this excellent book. If you enjoy true stories of World War II, you’ll absolutely enjoy this book.

My Rating

Three out of four stars

Stay safe

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. Pre-order Miscellany II, an anthology including his latest short story, “The Mercy System” here

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