Author: Andy Andrews.
Publisher: Thomas Nelson, Publisher 2010.
This book has a couple of unusual things going for it. It was first published in 2005, under the name “Island of Saints” and nobody bought it. And, then there is the fact that it is published as fiction, but is largely true. All the numbers, history, dates, items unearthed and photographs are real. And the main characters, though given different names, did exist, and, in fact, some are still alive, though most of the story takes place during World War II. At the end of the book there is a “where are they now” section.
It is an interesting book in and of itself. To add to that interest, for those of us living in the area, is the fact that, in World War II, many German submarines patrolled the Gulf of Mexico, seeking out and destroying American ships. Between 56 and 62 merchant ships were sunk in the Gulf, a good number of them right off our shores. One of our favorite fishing spots, the Baja California, is a ship that was sunk by a U-boat during the war as it traveled from New Orleans to Key West. Eventually, more than 800 vessels were sunk by U-boats in American waters, many within sight of people on the beach.
Andy Andrews is an inspirational writer and has written a number of books with both a historical background and, woven into the story, an inspirational message. This book is no exception. Though based on fact there will be no doubt in your mind that it is, indeed a story, not just a recitation of facts, but a very real and touching story about people and their lives. Actually I will give you most of the facts right here in this review. All the rest is about the people involved and how these facts affected their lives.
The author begins his story at his home on an island near the Florida/Alabama state line. He is in the process of digging out a dead wax myrtle tree when his shovel hits something hard which turns out to be a large rusty can. Upon investigation he finds an old, rotten chamois wrapped around eight silver buttons, a ring, some medals and several photographs. He soon discovers that the first picture appears to be of a uniformed German sailor, of indeterminate age, wearing the very buttons he has found. Also there is a picture of a man, seemingly the same man, out of uniform, with a woman and a very young child in a wagon. But the third picture is the most interesting as it appears to be of a group of German military men lined up on a boat, as for inspection, including the man in the two other pictures with, most important, Adolph Hitler. If finding these items in one’s back yard would not peak one’s curiosity, nothing would. After careful inspection of all the items he becomes convinced that they are indeed German and he immediately heads for his computer to see if he can figure out how they could possibly have turned up in his back yard. It is there that he learns that between 1942 and 1943, over 20 German U-boats cruised the waters of the Gulf of Mexico and succeeded in sending those American vessels I have mentioned, to the bottom. Thirty-nine of them were off the shores of Texas, Louisiana and Florida.
What he learns there compels him to seek input from the locals who are still alive, and had lived in the area in 1942- 43. From them he discovers the story of a young American bride who had lost her husband to a German bomber and how she came to connect to, and become friendly with, a young wounded Navy officer from one of those German U-boats. We learn how this was only possible because there was forgiveness offered by those who had suffered at the hands of others. “Sometimes we attach our entire lives to the moment we were hurt and allow it to define and consume our very existence.” Only forgiveness can free the forgiver from being overwhelmed by the past.
There is much to be learned from this book. Most of us are not aware of how close WWII came to our very shorelines. Many of us are unaware that some of the German sailors came ashore or were provided supplies by Americans who were only interested in the money to be made from such ventures. We assume that all Germans were “Nazis” and out to kill us, but in this book we will learn that there were more who were everyday people, just like we are, who were forced to serve their country by Adolph Hitler, whether they wanted to or not. At the same time we see the people, and their everyday lives and loves, both here and in Germany. We were not all pure and they were not all evil.
For further information on the subject of U-boats in our waters, including a number of photographs, you might like to read “Images of America, Florida’s Shipwrecks” by Michael Barnette, available at local bookstores.
Diane Bostick has lived on Marco Island since 1987. She was the Founder and President of Ft. Myers chapter of the Association of Children with Learning Disabilities, President of Jr. Welfare League, Ft. Myers Chapter, and served on the board of Art League of Marco Island. She is an avid reader, fly fisherwoman, tennis player and crafter.