County historian publishes new book on World War II

DACUSVILLE — Local historian Elbert Watson has published a new book about World War II.
Watson, who lives in Dacusville, wrote the new book, entitled “Heroes All: Amazing Stories of World War II,” as a tribute to his father, a WWII veteran who had been transferred to California in August 1945 to await orders to ship out to Japan just as the war ended.
This connection led Watson to focus on the Pacific theater, detailing both little and well-known stories of the war.
“(My father) was never in combat — he fought rattlesnakes down in Texas,” Watson said with a laugh. “But it still left a great impression on me that he could have been part of all that.”
Watson, whose professional background includes publishing military history, has previously written four books, but this is the first time he has produced a book on World War II. In the highly pictorial tome he focuses on the war’s progress across the Pacific following the bombing of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese in December 1941.
“The Pacific has always fascinated me, because we had to march all the way across the Pacific, but we only had to march a shorter distance across Europe once we invaded Normandy,” he said.
Well aware of the possible fate that awaited his father had he been part of the invading force, Watson takes the reader on breath-taking missions carried out with split-second timing deep within Japanese-held territory.
Many of the stories in the book began as pieces Watson originally had written for a military magazine during his time living in Indianapolis.
One chapter deals with President George H.W. Bush’s saga as a young Navy pilot, who was shot down twice and whom Watson interviewed at the White House in 1992.
The book features a photo of Bush being rescued by the U.S. Navy submarine Finback after he was shot down in September 1944.
“The Japanese were coming to this island to pick him up,” Watson said. “They got within a few hundred yards, and suddenly a United States submarine surfaced and plucked him from the water. That picture is in the book.
“It’s amazing to think of how that singular event could have literally changed the course of history.”
The front cover of the book features a photo of a smiling Alex Vraciu, one of the top U.S. Navy air aces during WWII, shortly after his landing on the deck of the carrier Lexington after shooting down six Japanese planes in nine minutes. Watson dedicates the book to Vraciu, whom he calls a “Hellcat” of an ace.
Another chapter reveals the incredible story of Soochow, a small dog that was adopted by the 4th Marine Division in China prior to the war, and who, along with his fellow Marines, was captured and imprisoned by the Japanese in 1942. Soochow survived three years imprisonment and is buried on Guadalcanal Street at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego, Calif.
One of the most compelling chapters in the book tells of the four chaplains who gave their life jackets to young soldiers, then perished as their troopship sank.
Though the book is especially suited to the general reader, it does pose several questions which the serious student of World War II history may find intriguing. For instance, if America had lost the battle of Midway in June 1942, would there have been a Normandy invasion two years later?
There are 15 chapters in all, dealing with such subjects as Doolittle’s Raid; the intercept and shooting down of Admiral Yamamoto’s airplane; the compelling story of Bert Shepard, who lost a leg in combat but pitched one year in the Major Leagues; and Simon Buckner, the son of a Confederate general who led the invasion forces on Okinawa; and much more.
Heroes All contains 15 chapters and a comprehensive bibliography. It is priced at $20 and is available at local bookstores and the Pickens County Museum Gift Shop.
Should you wish further information, Watson can be reached at (864) 442-1770.