PREFACE-I have read tons of books in my life, and have written many reviews on this blog and several others. In all the reviews I have written, I have never had such a hard time to write one. But then again, I have also never read a book like this, that had such a profound impact on me. I have read many books that I had a hard time putting down. This book was one that when I did put it down, I didn’t want to pick it up again. Not because I didn’t want to keep reading it, but rather because I didn’t want it to end.
So like I said, I had a hard time coming up with the proper words to describe my review of this book. Everything I started to write felt like I wasn’t doing it justice. Yes the book is that good, so let’s get that out-of-the-way now. My words in this review truly do not do it justice. Anyone that has heard me talk about this on my show at stewandthenunn.com or in person, understand how emotional I get when describing this book. I just hope that emotion and my support of this book are evident in the words that follow.
When I first heard about the book, Second to the Last to Leave, USS Arizona 12.7.41 The Lauren F. Bruner Story from one of its co-authors, Ed McGrath I was interested but really didn’t know what to expect. I figured it would be a book about a sailor’s experience in the attack on Pearl Harbor. Since there are not many survivors left, I expected it to be good and enlightening but nowhere near as good as it was. I had the blessed opportunity to talk to Ed many times, along with interviewing him and Lauren on my radio show, but even all of that could not prepare me for this book.
This book is masterfully written with seamless transitions from first to third person and back and forth multiple times. Between the smoothness of the transitions and the content itself, the reader can easily get lost in the book and forget that Lauren is not sitting in his kitchen telling you the story himself. While I read this book, I actually felt like he was talking to me and nobody else. I have never had this perception in any book that I have ever read, and it is one of the key characteristics of the book.
The book is essentially broken down into three main parts; Lauren’s background, upbringing and life in Hawaii until through the morning of the attack, the horrifying attack, and the personally horrifying life after the attack. I am sorry, but to be honest the word “horrifying” doesn’t even begin to describe what really goes in parts two and three of this book. If there could be one word to describe true hell on earth, then that would fit best. However the only one I can think of using is “horrifying”.
I never planned for the first couple hundred pages that covered this part of Lauren’s life to be so intriguing. Learning about the experiences of his childhood and even his early Navy career helped shape the view of Lauren and what made him the person he was, up to the morning of Dec 7th anyway. However, the insight of life in the Navy and life in the Hawaii territory in the late 30s and early 40s was something I had never heard really talked about, primarily I am sure, because that time is overshadowed by the attack itself.
In reading the first part of this book, I was eagerly looking forward to reading about the attack, but I had no idea what was coming. Lauren’s memory of the attack over seven chapters is astounding, and truly impressive. I wish I had a memory even half as good as his. Ed and Craig held nothing back and were able to masterfully document what truly had to be shocking words, descriptions and imagery coming from Lauren after being silenced in his memory for over seven decades. As a combat veteran of two wars I was surprised and impressed at how Lauren could put into print, the concept we refer to as “time stand still” moments during intense combat moments. In the seven chapters of the attack, Lauren is able to take seconds and minutes of timeframes and break those down into paragraphs of text. The reader is amazingly given a glimpse into how the mind works and the perspective someone has in seconds and milliseconds during an extreme situation. It is hard to describe, but I am confident that anyone who has ever served in combat anywhere will be able to relate to these perspectives. Anyone that hasn’t served in combat will probably be educated and hopefully be made aware of what this is like.
The book takes the reader onto the deck of the USS Arizona from the moment the first planes attacked throughout the entire attack until the Arizona settled on the floor of the harbor. For a long list of reasons, Lauren was put into unique areas and situations that gave him a perspective of not only the attack on the port, but also the specific attack and actions on and around the USS Arizona. You HAVE NEVER and WILL NEVER be exposed to this detailed information and first-person perspective. The USS Solace film footage of the actual explosion is terrible to see, but Lauren’s first-hand perspective of being in that explosion and trying to survive after it, along with what was happening on deck and around the ship is just mortifying and shocking to read. But it is something I think everyone should read to truly understand the impact of this attack. I can’t write much more about the attack chapters without giving away parts of the book, but just know this book will be the only thing you will ever read that can even give you distantly close idea to what it was like to be there, much less survive it
As I was reading through the attack chapters, I wasn’t sure what to expect in the chapters afterwards and felt that the attack chapters were the climax and the rest of the book would be more of a “life afterwards” slow decent from the peak of this book. I could not have been more wrong as the last part of this book, which starts from the moment that Lauren is the second to the last to leave, was an emotional roller-coaster for me. When I started this part of the book I truly did not put it down until I was done. I was a wreck, crying openly multiple times as I felt pain for Lauren of what he went through physically, and more importantly emotionally in his recovery. Because you get to know about Lauren and who he is as a person in the first part of the book, then you see what he witnesses and has to go through in the attack, by the time you get to his rescue and recovery, your heart cries for him. It makes everything you have in your life that you complain about seem absolutely worthless. Heck even now when I get a coffee and ask for a sleeve to put on the cup because it is hot, I think of Lauren and feel like a complete pansy. The final chapters of this book will take the reader to a place you never expected. Those chapters are just as powerful as the attack chapters in my opinion.
I have been to the memorial several times, purchased mementos in the gift shop, etc, but will never look at it the same again. I know the names now, I know their stories and I feel like I have a personal connection to this ship. Since reading this book (which I plan to read again), I went back and looked at all of my pictures from the memorial during previous vacations and those pictures truly have a new meaning to me.
Every dollar from this book goes to Lauren’s foundation, the Lauren F. Bruner USS Arizona Memorial Foundation. I truly believed that despite all of the great things Lauren has done in his life; this book and foundation are the reasons that God spared his life. Lauren is on a mission to honor and memorialize the legacies and lives of his shipmates in this book, along with the foundation which are focused 100% on this objective. It is obvious in the book at the start of every chapter where Lauren has a picture of a shipmate (and even an enemy) talking about where they are from, who their parents were, a little about them and how old they were on the day of the attack. Lauren is also personally signing at least the first 1000 copies of this book. When you think about a guy who was shot twice by Japanese planes (they don’t shoot small bullets), burned over 73% of his body during the explosion and then went on to serve in eight more major battle campaigns, and is 96 years old and the oldest of 5 surviving members (1,177 out of 1,512 died during the attack), then to get a personally signed book of the only first-hand experiences documented is a no-brainer.
I mean it when I say if you only ever read one book in your life, this would be the one to pick. I really believe that it will change your view and perspectives as it has not only mine, but also several close friends who have also recently read the book and feel as strong about this as I do.
When you check out the website for the Foundation you will find:
He (Lauren) has created the Lauren F. Bruner USS Arizona Memorial Foundation to honor his crew and his ship, and he invites you to join him in this endeavor. Listed below are the purposes upon which his foundation has been established:
To honor USS Arizonathrough education of the general public.
To help support the National Park Service in the maintenance of preservation of USS Arizona
To provide assistance, when needed, to Navy families throughout the State of Hawaii.
To provide assistance, when needed, to all Military families throughout the State of Hawaii.
To aid those in need.