Red Sky in the Morning : A Novel of World War ll
During World War II, Ensign Peter Maxwell is preparing himself for amphibious landing duty overseas. However, his orders are changed, and he is told to report to the U.S. Naval Training Station in San Diego for duty as a choir director and trainer. While there, he and three of his buddies form a quartet called the Fantail Four and become the best of friends. When Peter decides he isn’t doing enough in the war, he seeks a ship looking for officers. He finds a posting for a ship needing four officers, quite rare. He persuades his buddies to sign on with him.
Once granted transfers, they discover that the Liberty Hill Victory is an ammunitions ship with a crew of unskilled and in some cases illiterate African American sailors. The captain of the ship is a monomaniac racial bigot who has only disdain and loathing for his crew. Peter knows the crew’s survival will depend on cooperation, communication and camaraderie. Sometime before shipping out, Peter takes his horn to an all-black club where he meets Sarge, an ex-detective. Sarge and Peter form a friendship that night that will transcend race. They are destined to meet in the future aboard the Liberty, when a body is discovered and Peter asks Sarge for help. Is it murder?
I was pleased to see the true story of the Port Chicago explosion included in this novel. As it is an often overlooked horrific accident, including the event adds dramatic suspense and tension. Patrick Culhane based his story on the real ship USS Red Oak Victory. He points out that the language and social themes in the novel are reflective of the period. This is a well thought-out and realistic story of life aboard a naval vessel during military segregation. Highly recommended.