Category Archive 'Sloan Wilson'

11 Nov 2020

Sloan Wilson’s WWII Trilogy

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Sloan Wilson, now largely forgotten, was once famous for his 1955 novel The Man in the Gray-Flannel Suit, which captured, and did much to define, the 1950s ethos of corporate conformity.

I recently stumbled upon Kindle versions of his WWII Trilogy, which delivered somewhat fictionalized versions of his war-time experiences as a Coast Guard officer.

Most of us were not actually aware that, during the WWII Emergency, the Coast Guard sailed far beyond the coast, operating as an extension of the US Navy.

In the first book, Ice Brothers, the protagonist, just out of college and married at the outbreak of the war, having a recreational yachting family background, wangles himself a commission as an officer in the Coast Guard, and finds himself immediately appointed Executive Officer of a meagerly-armed fishing trawler destined to fight the ice, deliver supplies, and finally eliminate German weather stations on the Greenland coast. It’s a darn good story.

In book 2, Voyage to Somewhere, after shore leave and recovery following two years service on the Greenland coasts, the protagonist (now with a different name) is handed command of a brand-new, hastily constructed and far-from-fully-equipped freighter with a crew made up of 26 newly enlisted seamen, all with surnames beginning with W, tasked to sail from California to Hawaii then on to New Guinea and every small island in between.

Book 3, Pacific Interlude, the same Sloan Wilson-figure, again with another name, has his third command: a decrepit, rusty and leaky tanker loaded with high-octane aviation fuel for delivery to brand-new American bases on the Philippines. His chances of survival look slim.

Wilson’s alter ego knows perfectly well that he could easily escape this assignment, but just can’t bring himself to do it.

Did he really have to accept the likely death sentence of being assigned to the Y – 18? Like the woman who did not want to make love, a man who did not want to fight for life in a war could get constant headaches and backaches. If he complained enough to some doctor here in Brisbane, the word would be sent to the personnel officer in New Guinea and a replacement would arrive. Headquarters didn’t want skippers who are chronically ill. No one was forced to command a ship. So why not just beg off this crazy assignment?

He would not do that because he would not do that. Not much of an answer, but it was the truth. He remembered his father telling him that the Grants and his mother’s people, the Garricks, had fought in every American war and probably in the wars of England and Germany, where they came from, back through the centuries… “Wars never make much sense if you try to find fancy causes for them,” his father Charles had said. “No country is morally much superior to any other, if you think of history, the battles over religion and politics always seem ridiculous in retrospect. One fact remains: it’s the nature of any human society to expand until it collides with another. It then is repulsed or swallows the other. A nation without enough good fighting men is bound to be swallowed. In time of peace no one likes fighting men — they are a reproach to our morality. But when the bugle blows as it does and will in almost every generation, a nation stands or falls according to the strength of its fighting men. Nowadays industry and science have a lot to do with the fighting of wars, but they would be useless without the cutting edge of fighting men. Never be ashamed that all your people have been fighting men.”


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