(photo above, Linda Hardin with author John Wukovits) Courtesy of Local Town Pages-Franklin, by Marjorie Turner Hollman When Franklin resident Linda Hardin picked up the phone one day in April, 2010, she had no idea that the call would lead her on a journey of discovery of her uncle, a young man who had died during WWII. Hardin noted recently that, “I knew my uncle had died heroically and that he’d gotten a purple heart. But I didn’t realize how little I really knew about him.”
The call was from John Wukovits, author of numerous other books of WWII, especially concerning the Pacific. Wukovits was researching a book about the crew of the destroyer escort USS Samuel B. Roberts. The ship had encountered a huge Japanese attack fleet and rather than flee, the Samuel B. Roberts and several other escort ships turned and faced the enemy. It was a “David and Goliath feat” in Wukovits’ words. Although the Samuel B. Roberts and some other boats were sunk, their efforts succeeded in forcing the Japanese to flee.
About half the ship’s crew survived, but Hardin’s uncle was not among them. However, his story was not one of simple sacrifice in the midst of battle. Hardin’s uncle, Charles Natter, survived the sinking and had gotten into a life raft and safety. Seeing his shipmates struggling on a flimsy piece of wreckage, he used his lifeguarding skills to swim repeatedly from the sturdy raft and retrieved between five and eight of his shipmates.
Hardin learned all of this, and more, after she went looking for information her family might have saved about her uncle. The book, “For Crew and Country, The inspirational True Story of Bravery and Sacrifice aboard the USS Samuel B. Roberts,” by John Wukovits, has just been published by St. Martin’s Press and Hardin has already read it cover to cover.
“I went home to Pennsylvania the weekend after I spoke to John,” Hardin explained. “I brought back six boxes of all kinds of stuff. The most amazing find was the more than sixty letters from my uncle Charles from when he was in boot camp and all the letters he wrote to his family. He was an eighteen year old boy writing home to his parents. When I called John to tell him what I’d found, he was beside himself.”
The author came to Franklin in October of 2010 and took over four hundred images of the material that Hardin had uncovered. He made her uncle, Charles Natter, one of the central figures in the book, along with one other enlisted man, and two officers from the USS Samuel B. Roberts.
Wokovits was able to track down people who had grown up with Hardin’s uncle and thus the book paints a rich portrait of this young man. “I feel like John has brought my uncle, who I never met, to life,” Hardin said. “I read all his letters, but it wasn’t until John took all these little stories of him and his shipmates and pulled them together that I finally understood what happened. My uncle made repeated trips from his raft to save his shipmates struggling to hold onto flimsy pieces of wreckage. The captain told him to stop but he didn’t. Charles watched his best friend get taken down by the sharks, and then the sharks took him down as well.”
As Hardin looked through the stack of letters, she opened a box of letters of condolences to her grandmother. “Probably the thing that has always moved me the most is that he died in October of 1944, but wasn’t reported missing in action till November, and then it took almost a year to declare him dead.” Hardin pointed to smeared ink on the envelope of one of the letters. “I can see my grandmother’s tears on these letters.”
Hardin continued that, “This book put it all together. My Dad, Charles’ brother, would have been so proud of this book. I have the feeling that all these things might have been thrown out if John hadn’t come looking for them. He gave our family this legacy.”
For Crew and Country, the Inspirational True Story of the USS Samuel B. Roberts, by John Wukovits, is available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble Bookstores. John K. Wukovits is a military expert specializing in the Pacific Theater of World War II. He is the author of many books, including Eisenhower: A Biography; One Square Mile of Hell: The Battle for Tarawa; and American Commando: Evans Carlson, His WWII Marine Raiders, and America’s First Special Forces Mission. He has also written numerous articles for such publications as WWII History, Naval History, and World War II. He lives in Trenton, Michigan.
Marjorie Turner Hollman is a personal historian who loves the outdoors, and has completed two guides to Easy Walking trails in Massachusetts, “Easy Walks in Massachusetts 2nd edition,” and “More Easy Walks in Massachusetts.” A native Floridian, she came north for college and snow! New England Regional Chair for the Association of Personal Historians, she is a Certified Legacy Planner with LegacyStories.org, and is the producer of numerous veterans interviews for the Bellingham/Mendon Veteran’s History Project. http://www.marjorieturner.com