“The valor and contributions of the U.S. Merchant Marines to victory in WWII has seldom been acknowledged…Geroux presents an unflinching, inspiring, and long delayed tribute to the sacrifice of these men.”—Booklist (starred review)
"an unflinching, inspiring, and long delayed tribute to the sacrifice of these men" Kirkus
"William Geroux has written a classic American tale, a gripping story of courageous everyday heroes facing death in World War II." - James Bradley, author of Flags of Our Fathers
“Vividly drawn and emotionally gripping, THE MATHEWS MEN shines a light on the mostly forgotten but astonishing role the US Merchant Marine played in winning World War Two. It brings back to life a breed of men who repeatedly risked all for their country. It chronicles the sagas of families that stoically endured heartrending loses. It honors a community that pulled together to support its sons as they set out--again and again--on deadly seas. And it reminds us how much we owe to the legions of ordinary Americans who quite literally saved the civilized world in the 1940s.”—Daniel James Brown, author of The Boys in the Boat
“Often overlooked and unsung, the men of the U.S. Merchant Marine risked all against stealthy German U-boats whether within sight of East Coast cities or on the Arctic run to Murmansk. Mr. Geroux has superbly chronicled the gripping and deeply personal story of brothers in blood as well as in mission.”—Walter R. Borneman, author of The Admirals: Nimitz, Halsey, Leahy, and King—The Five-star Admirals Who Won the War at Sea
“The German U-Boat war against American merchant men was deadly and dramatic—in World War II, the U.S. Merchant Marine had twice the fatality rate of the U.S. Navy. William Geroux has unearthed a fascinating tale of one small coastal town caught in the thick of the fight, and he tells it with a sharp reporter’s eye and a real feel for the heroic men who went down to the sea in ships.” —Evan Thomas, author of Being Nixon and Sea of Thunder
“William Geroux’s THE MATHEWS MEN harkens to the war heroics of Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken and the British detective drama “Foyle’s War.” A little-known story about the brutal sacrifices made by Merchant Marines—and the tiny bayside community they left behind in Mathews County, Virginia—Geroux’s book is a gripping account of hard-drinking and even harder-working seamen, and a fresh take on World War II history. Loaded with offbeat characters trying to survive against astonishingly impossible odds, Geroux gives these unheralded heroes their belated due in an account that is as meticulously researched as it is even-handed and poignant.”—Beth Macy, author of the New York Times bestselling Factory Man: How One Furniture Maker Battled Offshoring, Stayed Local - and Helped Save an American Town
“When a reporter who writes as elegantly as Geroux unearths such a dramatic and untold story, he must feel as if he’s hit the motherlode. With The Mathews Men, Geroux gives us a rollicking read that plunges you into the middle of the ocean and seduces you into caring for the story’s heroic seafarers. This is both a terrific and terrifying blow-by-blow of the actions of the sailors of the U.S. Merchant Marine as the dodged deadly U-Boats during the course of World War II and who, as Lincoln put it, too often made the ultimate sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.”— Bob Drury and Tom Clavin, co-authors of Halsey’s Typhoon and The Heart of Everything That Is
One of the last unheralded heroic stories of World War II: the U-boat assault off the American coast against the men of the U.S. Merchant Marine who were supplying the European war, and one community’s monumental contribution to that effort
Mathews County, Virginia, is a remote outpost on the Chesapeake Bay with little to offer except unspoiled scenery—but it sent an unusually large concentration of sea captains to fight in World War II. The Mathews Men tells that heroic story through the experiences of one extraordinary family whose seven sons (and their neighbors), U.S. merchant mariners all, suddenly found themselves squarely in the cross-hairs of the U-boats bearing down on the coastal United States in 1942.
From the late 1930s to 1945, virtually all the fuel, food and munitions that sustained the Allies in Europe traveled not via the Navy but in merchant ships. After Pearl Harbor, those unprotected ships instantly became the U-boats’ prime targets. And they were easy targets—the Navy lacked the inclination or resources to defend them until the beginning of 1943. Hitler was determined that his U-boats should sink every American ship they could find, sometimes within sight of tourist beaches, and to kill as many mariners as possible, in order to frighten their shipmates into staying ashore.
As the war progressed, men from Mathews sailed the North and South Atlantic, the Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico, the Mediterranean, the Indian Ocean, and even the icy Barents Sea in the Arctic Circle, where they braved the dreaded Murmansk Run. Through their experiences we have eyewitnesses to every danger zone, in every kind of ship. Some died horrific deaths. Others fought to survive torpedo explosions, flaming oil slicks, storms, shark attacks, mine blasts, and harrowing lifeboat odysseys—only to ship out again on the next boat as soon as they'd returned to safety.
The Mathews Men shows us the war far beyond traditional battlefields—often the U.S. merchant mariners’ life-and-death struggles took place just off the U.S. coast—but also takes us to the landing beaches at D-Day and to the Pacific. “When final victory is ours,” General Dwight D. Eisenhower had predicted, “there is no organization that will share its credit more deservedly than the Merchant Marine.” Here, finally, is the heroic story of those merchant seamen, recast as the human story of the men from Mathews.
William Geroux wrote for the Richmond Times-Dispatch for twenty-five years. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Associated Press, and various regional magazines. He also has worked for Maersk, the largest container-shipping company in the world.