Do we need another book about World War II? If it is as engaging as The Jersey Brothers, the answer is a resounding yes.
Sally Mott Freeman, a longtime speechwriter and PR executive, spent 10 years researching this epic war story of her father and his two brothers. The three men grew up in middle-class comfort in Eatontown; all joined the Navy. When the war broke out, they took divergent paths, each tracing a different aspect of the bloody conflict.
The oldest brother, Benny, became a gunnery officer on the USS Enterprise, one of only three Pacific-based aircraft carriers that escaped the devastation of Pearl Harbor. Bill, the author’s father, became an intelligence officer and was assigned to run the Map Room, the secret White House lair where President Franklin D. Roosevelt followed the progress of the war. Youngest brother Barton became an officer in the supply corps. Barton’s job was expected to be a safe posting, but early in the war, he was among the tens of thousands of Americans taken prisoner when the Philippines fell to Japan.
Drawing on military papers, letters, unpublished memoirs and interviews, Freeman documents the experiences of the three brothers as the war inches along, recreating in remarkable detail scenes and dialogue based on her exhaustive research. Throughout the 608-page book—due May 9 from Simon & Schuster—Bill and Benny desperately try to learn the fate of their imprisoned brother. Even with Bill’s access to intelligence, the task proves daunting.
Freeman began her research in 2005 on a tour of the Philippines with a group of former POWs. Since all three brothers had died by that time, it was essential that she locate survivors who knew the men. “The more I dug, the more I found, and the more I realized I wanted to populate the book with the stories of these people,” says Freeman, a first-time author who lives in Bethesda, Maryland.
The results are gripping. We are privy to Bill’s White House interactions with FDR, Eleanor Roosevelt and Winston Churchill. At one point, Bill briefs the “pink-fleshed” Churchill as the prime minister enjoys a bath in the Rose Bedroom. We are onboard the Enterprise for Bill and Benny’s brief but painful mid-war reunion. And we witness the extreme brutality, deprivation and slave labor of the prison camps. Especially gut-wrenching are the hours of terror endured by the POWs aboard unmarked Japanese merchant ships as they come under friendly fire from U.S. aircraft. Freeman also reveals how plans to free the American POWs were derailed by squabbling in the highest ranks of the military.
The Jersey Brothers is an important addition to the historical record; it’s also a spellbinding cliffhanger. Will Benny and Bill finally manage to rescue their beleaguered little brother?