The New York Times bestselling master of military historical fiction tells the story of Pearl Harbor as only he can in the first novel of a gripping new series set in World War II’s Pacific theater.
In 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt watches uneasily as the world heads rapidly down a dangerous path. The Japanese have waged an aggressive campaign against China, and they now begin to expand their ambitions to other parts of Asia. As their expansion efforts grow bolder, their enemies know that Japan’s ultimate goal is total conquest over the region, especially when the Japanese align themselves with Hitler’s Germany and Mussolini’s Italy, who wage their own war of conquest across Europe.
Meanwhile, the British stand nearly alone against Hitler, and there is pressure in Washington to transfer America’s powerful fleet of warships from Hawaii to the Atlantic to join the fight against German U-boats that are devastating shipping. But despite deep concerns about weakening the Pacific fleet, no one believes that the main base at Pearl Harbor is under any real threat.
Told through the eyes of widely diverse characters, this story looks at all sides of the drama and puts the reader squarely in the middle. In Washington, Secretary of State Cordell Hull must balance his own concerns between President Roosevelt and the Japanese ambassador, Kichisaburo Nomura, who is little more than a puppet of his own government. In Japan, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto wins skeptical approval for his outrageous plans in the Pacific, yet he understands more than anyone that an attack on Pearl Harbor will start a war that Japan cannot win. In Hawaii, Commander Joseph Rochefort’s job as an accomplished intelligence officer is to decode radio signals and detect the location of the Japanese fleet, but when the airwaves suddenly go silent, no one has any idea why. And from a small Depression-ravaged town, nineteen-year-old Tommy Biggs sees the Navy as his chance to escape and happily accepts his assignment, every sailor’s dream: the battleship USS
With you-are-there immediacy, Shaara opens up the mysteries of just how Japan—a small, deeply militarist nation—could launch one of history’s most devastating surprise attacks. In this story of innocence, heroism, sacrifice, and unfathomable blindness, Shaara’s gift for storytelling uses these familiar wartime themes to shine a light on the personal, the painful, the tragic, and the thrilling—and on a crucial part of history we must never forget.
“An exciting war story . . . [a] deeply researched, nonjudgmental account of Pearl Harbor.”—
“The run-up to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor . . . is depicted in a thrilling you-are-there re-creation. . . . Fans of military fiction will find much to enjoy.”—
Praise for Jeff Shaara
“Shaara [is the] master of the war novel.”
—Chicago Tribune, on The Steel Wave
“Shaara is apparently giving the people what they want—and what they need.”
—The Wall Street Journal, on The Rising Tide
“[Shaara] writes with considerable sensitivity and skill.”—
The Seattle Times, on The Last Full Measure
“Shaara’s historical accuracy is faultless, and he tells a good story.”
—Historical Novels Review, on A Chain of Thunder
“An outstanding writer.”
—Huntington News, on A Blaze of Glory
“Whether you’re a military veteran or currently serving in the armed forces, or you’re a history buff or just enjoy a well-told tale, check out Jeff Shaara. Nobody tells war stories any better.”
—The Sacramento Bee, on The Final Storm
Jeff Shaara is the
New York Times bestselling author of
The Frozen Hours, The Fateful Lightning,
The Smoke at Dawn,
A Chain of Thunder,
A Blaze of Glory,
The Final Storm, No Less Than Victory, The Steel Wave, The Rising Tide, To the Last Man, The Glorious Cause, Rise to Rebellion, and
Gone for Soldiers, as well as
Gods and Generals and
The Last Full Measure—two novels that complete the Civil War trilogy that began with his father’s Pulitzer Prize–winning classic,
The Killer Angels. Shaara was born into a family of Italian immigrants in New Brunswick, New Jersey. He grew up in Tallahassee, Florida, and graduated from Florida State University. He lives in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania.
Palatka, Florida—Saturday, December 14, 1940
He knew he could hammer the ball when it left Russo’s hand. The stripe of tape spun slowly, a lazy fastball, too lazy, floating toward him like a fat melon. He cocked the bat, then sprung forward, the bat meeting the ball, a hard thump, the ball now speeding away, rising. He began his run to first base, still watching the ball, hearing the shouts from the others, one voice, Clyde, the first baseman, “Holy mackerel. But it ain’t staying fair. Too bad.”
He touched first, curled toward second, his eye on the ball again, a quick turn in his gut. Beside him, Clyde said, “It’s gonna hit your house.”
Biggs watched it drop, a sharp punch through the kitchen window. The others turned to him now, and Russo said, “Holy crap. You busted it to hell. Your folks home? Geez, Tommy, I ain’t seen you hit one that far since high school.”
Biggs looked at Russo. “You never pitched me a fat one like that. I was gonna kill it.”
Russo turned again toward the Biggs house. “You killed it. Too bad it was foul.”
Biggs didn’t care about the game anymore, walked slowly off the field, past third base and the run-down lean-to that passed for the dugout. No one called him back, all of them silently grateful it was him and not any one of them.
He didn’t turn back, couldn’t hide the quiver in his voice. “I gotta make sure nobody’s hurt.”
His eyes stayed on the jagged hole punched in the window, and he moved with measured steps, in no rush to meet the wrath that would surely come from his father. At nineteen, Biggs knew there would be no belt, and his father had rarely used fists on his son. But there was anger in the man’s words, the deathly glare from his eyes. No matter how old Biggs might be, his father’s eyes showed a brutal viciousness, punishment enough for any offense.
Even before he graduated high school, Biggs had grown taller than his father, with broader shoulders, stronger arms. As he grew older, not one of his friends doubted that a nineteen-year-old with Biggs’s athletic strengths could handle any of his father’s mouthy brutishness. But Biggs knew that no matter the physical difference between them, his father was always to be obeyed. Or feared. His anger would often erupt for no apparent reason, a terrifying viciousness sometimes directed at Biggs’s mother, the man’s sharp voice carrying through the entire neighborhood.
As he grew older, Biggs finally began to understand just why his father seemed so angry. For so many of the men in the small community, the jobs had gone away, the lumber plant nearly shut down, one more casualty of the Depression. Some of those jobs had moved farther west, to another plant out in the Florida Panhandle. Men like Clarence Biggs seemed to live on hope and on pledges from the local politicians of the great efforts they were making to bring in more plants, factories, jobs for all. In every tavern, men repeated the optimism they heard from the newspaper—that the town would survive, even prosper, that Florida’s celebrated boom of the 1920s would return, and with that, opportunity for all.
But in this neighborhood of ragged homes with clapboard walls, of vacant fields of sand and sandspurs, there was very little to be hopeful about. No matter what the men in the fancy suits promised them, Clarence Biggs had stopped paying attention to what Palatka was trying to be. What was here, now, were broken men. They knew what poor was, their pride as empty as their hope. Like most of them, Clarence had settled for work where he could find it. Every day, he spent long hours at a seafood plant near the St. Johns River. There was nothing elegant about scaling and gutting fish, the pay not enough to buy the fish he cleaned, and the stench he carried home on his clothes reminded them all that Clarence was too weary and too defeated to be embarrassed.
Biggs reached the front door, stood for a long minute, glanced back to the weed-infested vacant lot that was the ball field. His friends were gathered, watching him, and he waved them away, thought, Just play the damn game. He lowered his head now, let out a breath. No, I guess they can’t do that. The only ball we’ve got is in Mom’s kitchen.
The doorknob was flimsy, barely catching, and he turned it slowly, pushed the door open, heard the familiar squeal. He slipped inside, was surprised to see his father standing, arms crossed, near the opening to the small kitchen. Tommy saw the ball now in the man’s hand, and his father held it out toward him.
“What kind of damned ball is this?”
He knew he was being baited, knew this would go however his father wanted.
“Only ball we got. The masking tape holds it together. Herman’s father had a roll.”
“Herman hit the ball through the kitchen window? Maybe one of those other jerks you play with? Maybe it was Babe Ruth, stopped by to play a couple innings.”
“No. It was me.”
“You? You actually hit the ball out of those weeds?”
“Yeah. Me. I’m sorry, Pop.” He saw his mother, coming slowly out of their bedroom, standing quietly behind her husband. “I’m sorry, Mom. Didn’t mean to bust your window. Hope nobody’s hurt or anything.”
She stared at him, shook her head slowly, a hint of anger in her tired eyes. She motioned toward the kitchen. “I had a head of cabbage chopped up in the sink. Making slaw for dinner.”
His father poked a finger toward him. “And thanks to you, that cabbage is in the trash. Full of busted glass.” Tommy looked downward, and his father said, “So, Mr. DiMaggio, unless you wanna chew your way through that mess, we got nothing else to eat tonight. Can’t make soup out of this damned baseball. And let me tell you one more thing, slugger. Somebody’s gotta fix that window, and right now. We got mosquitoes enough in this damn house.”
“Yes, sir. You want I should go to the neighbor’s, see if somebody can offer us something for dinner?”
His mother shook her head. “Done it already, Thomas. Mrs. King had some collard greens she was taking out of their patch. Mighty nice of her to help us out.”
He waited, as though there might be more, something else he could say. He was used to the despair in both of them, saw it again now. But his father surprised him, tossed him the makeshift baseball.
“Put some more tape on it. It’s coming apart. Maybe you can find some big-time ball scout to come watch you, sign you to some big deal with the Yankees. I bet they don’t wrap their balls with tape.”
“Hand me the yardstick. And thanks for helping me out.”
Russo held it up to him. “Hey, I threw the ball. I’m a little bit to blame. You get all the busted glass outta there?”
Biggs scanned the edge of the window frame. “Yeah, best as I can tell. Okay, it’s . . . sixteen by . . . twenty. But we gotta tack it on over the whole thing, so let’s cut the board four inches bigger each way.”
“You’re the boss, Tommy.”
He stepped down from the makeshift ladder, an old wooden crate. “I ain’t the boss of much of nothing. I don’t even know what I’m doing here. Tried to get a job over at the hardware store. Nothing there. I could sweep the floor at the damn barber shop. No pay, just a free haircut. My father lets me know every damn day how much work he has to do to feed us. Mostly me. I’m stuck, Ray. No other word for it.”
Russo drew a pencil line on the old piece of clapboard, picked up the rusty hand saw, hesitated. Biggs reached for the saw, said, “You want me to cut it? It oughta be my job anyway.”
Russo handed him the saw, said, “I got something to tell you. Kinda important. I was gonna tell you after the game today. I wanted you to know before any of the others.” He paused. “I joined the navy.”
Biggs waited for the joke, but Russo’s expression didn’t change.
“The United States Navy? You mean like, the ocean and stuff?”
Russo smiled now. “That’s the one. There was a recruiter set up in the city, at the post office. I got on the pay phone to my dad, talked it over. He said to go ahead. He said it made him proud. You know, he was a sailor back in the Great War. Said he fired those big damn guns. He talked about all that when I was a kid. I never give it much thought until I tried finding work, just like you. There’s nothing around here, Tommy. Nothing at all. But now, I’m set to make twenty-one bucks a month, guaranteed. Think what you could buy with that.”
Biggs stared at his friend, said, “What the hell? You mean all this? You really leaving? When?”
Russo seemed to inflate, pride on his face. “I damn sure do mean it. They say I’ll take the train out of Jacksonville, heading up to some place in Illinois, north of Chicago. I leave in a few weeks.”