Ever since I was a kid, I have been fascinated by World War Two. Many a day was spent in the Townley Branch of the Union Public library, sitting on the floor while reading a whole book, then check a stack out to bring home. My favorite subject became ships and naval battles, especially the US Navy and the war in the Pacific. Of all the famous ships that fought there, none captured my imagination more than CV-5, U.S.S. Yorktown.
No Higher Honor opens with the dive-bombing attack that left the Yorktown dead in the water, and the Japanese thinking they had sunk one U.S. carrier. The books switches gears in Chapter two, becoming a chronological history of the carrier and more importantly, the stories of the men who served on her. We learn about sailors such as Pete Montavalo, John Underwood, James Liner and the famous Jimmy Thach. Nesmith does a good job of interweaving their stories with that of the ship, from Pre-war days to Pearl Harbor and onto Midway.
Nesmith takes us back to December 7, 1941, with Yorktown in Norfolk, ready to undergo a major refit. That refit was hurriedly canceled, and the carrier and crew headed through the Panama Canal to the Pacific. After joining the Pacific fleet, Yorktown participated in raids on the Marshalls and Gilberts. There’s an interesting side story about a few pilots who landed their plans on Guadalcanal long before that island became a household name, and were able to get back to Australia on a sailboat lent to them from Plantation owners in the Solomon islands.
The spring of ’42 found Yorktown in the company of the Lady Lex in the Coral Sea, where they engaged in the first carrier vs. carrier battle. The outcome was mixed…the Japanese were thwarted from their invasion plans of Port Moresby and lost a light carrier, but the Americans lost Lexington, and Yorktown was badly damaged. Needing three months in the yard, the Yorktown got about three days, and then was off to intercept the Japanese fleet off Midway, tying back into the story began in Chapter One.
It is during the Battle of Midway that Nesmith is at his best. We follow the characters we’ve become involved with as they try fight their carrier through the Japanese attacks on the Yorktown, which is now much more than just a ship: she has become their home.
While the outcome of the battle never changes, and Yorktown still slips beneath the waves, this book is a nice addition to the volumes already written about the Battle of Midway, U.S. carrier operations in the Pacific, and to the men who served on the U.S.S. Yorktown – of whom Captain Elliot Buckmaster said after the Battle of the Coral Sea, “I can have no higher honor than to have commanded them in battle.”