Using letters from J.P. Nunnally written long after World War II ended, the author tells an emotionally packed first-person story of a young man barely 16 years old who joined the Navy illegally. An example is in one of his first letters to his estranged son. He wrote:
“The gods of death, hell, and destruction must have had a heyday on D-day at Saipan. But the worst was yet to come from their emissaries – the green blow flies feasting off of almost 2,000 bodies floating in the water.”
Nunnally vividly describes his death-defying experiences as a coxswain piloting a landing craft that carried marines, soldiers and supplies on numerous invasions in the Pacific theatre,including Saipan, Tinian, Peleliu and Okinawa. By the time he was seventeen, he was a seasoned veteran. By the time he was nineteen, he was an alcoholic.
After the war, Nunnally came home, married, had a son and then dropped out of their life.Clearly, Nunnally suffered Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, but PTSD was not known back then. After forty years estrangement, the son reconciled with his father asked Nunnally to write about his experiences in the war aboard the USS Fuller.
The series of letters make up the bulk of “Sailor Man – The Troubled Life and Times of J.P. Nunnally, USN.” Some describing the violence of war in gory detail, some recounting whimsical search for booze, some in portraying the bravery of men charging into a horrific rain of gunfire and aerial bombardment day in-day out.
Author Del Staecker uses photos, maps, excerpts from official reports of the USS Fuller, and interviews withFuller crew members to add perspective and clarity to Nunnally’s narratives.
“Sailor Man” makes one cringe, cry, and laugh. It gives the reader a greater appreciation for the sailor, Marines and soldiers who weathered deadly maelstroms of destruction in taking fortified Pacific Islands needed to win the world’s greatest war. Most of all, if helps the reader understand how the trauma of war shattered the life of a brave young man long after the conflict is over.
Reviewed by: Joe Epley (2015)
Sailor Man is the illuminating account of James Preston Nunnally, told through letters he wrote to his adult son. J.P. was a teenager who lied about his age to enlist in the Navy, endured combat service in World War Two's Pacific Theater, and returned home. What sets Sailor Man apart, making it an invaluable addition to the canon of World War Two, is that it also reveals the lesser known dark side--the psychological trauma so many of these brave young men experienced as a result of their repeated encounters with the horror of war--what we now call (PTSD) Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. This book describes the personal cost of war paid by one man and his family, and it will break your heart--especially if you are a child of a combat veteran.