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A Young Sailor at War

The World War II Letters of William R. Catton Jr.

Books, History, Military History, Recent Releases

DescriptionAn intimate look into a young sailor’s experience through his letters home

While a number of published collections of World War II letters are available to readers, few rise to the level of war literature. But A Young Sailor at War: The World War II Letters of William R. Catton Jr. is remarkable for the narrative skill, exuberance, and candor of its letter writer, and for his youthful but thoughtful commentary. Edited by his son Theodore, Catton’s letters give us a truly intimate look into an essential piece of history.

William R. Catton Jr. volunteered for navy service on his 17th birthday and served as a plane handler on board the aircraft carrier USS Ticonderoga from August 1944 through the end of WWII. He learned how to rebuild an aircraft engine and fire a .50-caliber machine gun before he was 18 and made two voyages across the Pacific and saw a year of combat before he was 20. He was wounded in a devastating kamikaze attack in January 1945, and he was on deck to watch the sunrise on Mount Fuji when the Ticonderoga entered Tokyo Bay after the Japanese surrender eight months later.

Bill was a prolific correspondent who displayed a wide-eyed sense of adventure and a self-conscious pride in being a witness to history. Upon returning home, his sea stories mostly went untold, his Purple Heart medal went into a box of mementos never to be shown, while his letters from the war—carefully saved by his mother—went unread until after his death, when his son began to examine them.

Interestingly, Bill Catton went on to become a sociologist well known for his work on the environment and human ecology.

EditorTheodore Catton is an award-winning author of books about the American West. A freelance historian, he specializes in studies for the National Park Service. He was a Fulbright scholar in Christchurch, New Zealand, where he researched the history of the New Zealand national parks.

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