Neptune's Inferno

Posted: Monday, May 13, 2013 by Travis Cody in

I've read a lot of books about World War II.  I've shared passages from those books, as well as my own observations in this space.  I try to be respectful of the service and sacrifices of those who fought in the war and of those who waited at home for the return of their loved ones...or who received the devastating news that their father or husband or son or brother was never coming home.

I'd like to share another passage with you.  I just finished reading a book called Neptune's Inferno:  The US Navy at Guadalcanal, written by James D Hornfischer, released in March 2012.  This book tells the story of the cruisers and destroyers that stood off the Imperial Japanese Navy during the six months it took to finally secure the island.

Marines get pages of well deserved ink for their bravery on Guadalcanal.  Nearly 1600 Marines were killed in action taking the island.  But we must also remember that the US Navy lost over 5,000 sailors killed in action during the battle for Guadalcanal.  Over 160,000 tons of allied warships were sunk.   Neptune's Inferno gives the Navy its due credit in an honest appraisal of the decisions of senior admirals, task force commanders, and ship's captains.  It pulls few punches in recounting horrific sea battles.  I highly recommend the book.

The passage I want to share is the account of Mr Robert Graff, who in 1942 was an ensign aboard the cruiser USS Atlanta.  The ship was irreparably damaged by friendly fire on 13 November 1942 during night action off Guadalcanal, and later sank.  Mr Graff returned to Guadalcanal in 1998 with his son and grandson.  They hired a boat to take them out to the place where Atlanta rests in Savo Sound, commonly known as Iron Bottom Sound because of the number of warships that sank in those waters.

Mr Graff asked the captain of the dive boat to shut down the engines so he could have silence.  The author Mr Hornfischer recounts the moment as told to him by Mr Graff.

He addressed it (a eulogy) to his former shipmates, whom he could sense all around him.  He said that he had come out with his family to honor them and that they were good people and would always be remembered...He wondered whether life had turned out as they all had hoped it would, and said he feared there might not be much to show for everybody's efforts.  "We were the youthful hope of the nation and the promise of mankind.  Taking the world as we found it, in our way and in our time, we tried to remake the world - more hope, more possibility, a much larger community for happiness.  That is what, years ago, brought us to Guadalcanal."

The three men...threw their leis onto the water, and then pushed the raft overboard with a copy of the text of the speech.  "And we just stood there and everybody cried watching these float on the surface of the water away from the ship on the current.  And then I remember when it was time to go, and the captain started the engine.  I impulsively removed the Navy cap I brought with me and flung it into the water with the flowers.  And I sat down in the corner of the upper deck and cried a little more.

"Finally we got back to shore, and that was that."

And that was that.

It is the nature of time that these veterans leave us.  I wish them all the peace they earned for their twilight years.


  1. Sounds like a very good book. I used to read much more about World War II in particular, and about the navy. It has been some years since I've had much chance to. I'm reading a fiction series called the Destroyerment about a WWII destroyer transported to an alien world.

  1. Anonymous says:

    I'm with you on wishing them peace. They deserve it. I wish someone had thought of the Honor Flight Program sooner. It sounds like a very dignified program. We just had a group of WW2 veterans make the flight. Your book sounds very interesting. I just got done with Darkest Hour: The True Story of Lark Force R Rabaul. GGG

  1. Jean(ie) says:

    Hubby said that sound is called, "Iron bottom sound" because of all those ships in it. Sad. Hubby is a huge military history buff. Showed him your review. He's checking his kindle to see if he's read this book, if not, he's going to get it.