Several years ago one of Westminster’s teenagers recommended to me The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors: The Extraordinary World War II Story of the U.S. Navy’s Finest Hour by James D. Hornfischer. What a read! From beginning to end a fast-paced and moving story of heroism.
Leyte Gulf was the largest naval engagement in history, and also the world’s last large-scale naval battle (or perhaps, more accurately, series of battles). Leyte was a desperate attempt by the Japanese to disrupt MacArthur’s Philippine invasion, and to keep the the Philippines and its vital natural resources under Japanese control.
The book focuses on one engagement of the Battle of Leyte – the two-and-a-half-hour fight off the island of Samar. There, a small American task group of six small carriers, three destroyers and four destroyer escorts were surprised by a vastly larger Japanese force of four battleships, six heavy cruisers, two light cruisers, and thirteen destroyers. Cdr. Ernest E. Evans turned his destroyer, the USS Johnston, into the middle of the oncoming fleet, wreaking havoc against the enemy – the first of many sacrificial and courageous actions that would save four of the American carriers – forcing the Japanese ships to withdraw.
As the large force moved toward them, Lt. Cdr. Robert Copeland told his crew: “This will be a fight against overwhelming odds from which survival cannot be expected. We will do what damage we can.”
The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors is a page turner. The author painstakingly interviewed survivors of the battle, leaving us another account of the sacrificial courage of America’s World War II military forces. That generation is quickly disappearing. I am grateful for books like this that keep before us their stories of courage, sacrifice and readiness to fight for friends and country.