I was asked recently, Why did you pick a junior enlisted man’s point of view for Preston Katt? Early on, I thought of weaving a story from the CO of USS Callahan’s point of view. As I plotted the story, two things I intended to include were the CO’s decision to ram the mini-sub inside Pearl Harbor, and, second, his decision to try to absorb the torpedo, which was intended for an aircraft carrier, with his destroyer and to sacrifice not only himself but the hundreds of his crew. But I decided to focus on the junior enlisted man watching the CO do those things. The first incident was on December 7th, and Seaman Second Katt was so overwhelmed with what he was seeing, he barely appreciated what his CO had done. Five months later at Midway, however, he knew exactly what the CO did to place his ship in the path of the Japanese torpedo.
I began the book with a cosmic view of Pearl Harbor and drilled down to a specific spot under a pier on the Pearl Harbor naval base to two seamen with base and earthy focus. I meant this to foreshadow the distance between a seaman second and the CO of a destroyer. But at Midway, that cosmic distance between the lowest ranking seaman and the highest-ranking officer was bridged when, side-by-side, they witnessed the death of a mighty warship, and it touched their humanity in a way that made them, for a few moments, equals. I decided it had to be from the seaman second’s point of view to tell that story.
I carried that theme of cosmic distances through the book. At one point, women in Grossman’s Grocery store are talking about Guadalcanal. One of them calls it “That Gwada Canal.” And Preston feels that distance between what he knows of the place and the women’s understanding, or lack of understanding, of it. I also wanted to portray how attached a man can become to a ship, and some times to a commanding officer. Early in plotting the story I concluded a seaman second perspective was vital to the story I wanted to tell.