The Mathews Men: Seven Brothers and the War Against Hitler’s U-boats, by William Geroux, will be published April 19, 2016,
by Viking/Penguin/Random House. The book tells the story of the U.S. Merchant Marine’s heroics and sacrifices in World War II,
through the experiences of merchant mariners from Mathews County, Virginia, a rural outpost on the Chesapeake Bay. Mathews had
been a cradle of sea captains and other merchant mariners since before the American Revolution. When America entered World
War II in December 1941, Mathews mariners were scattered on ships across the world’s oceans. Those in the Atlantic theater of
the war immediately became prime targets for German U-boats trying to choke off the Allied supply line. The U.S. Navy initially
lacked the forces and inclination to protect the unarmed merchant ships, even in U.S. waters, and the toll exacted by the German
submarines was staggering. Mathews mariners faced U-boats in the North and South Atlantic, the Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico, the
Mediterranean, and Indian Ocean, and even the icy Barents Sea in the Arctic Circle. Some died terrible deaths. Others survived
torpedo explosions, flaming oil slicks, storms, shark attacks, and harrowing lifeboat odysseys—only to ship out again as soon as
they’d returned to safety. Nearly every family in tiny Mathews (population 7,500) had a personal stake in the U-boat war, and
none had a greater stake than the family of Capt. Jesse and Henrietta Hodges and their seven sons. The Hodges family would
experience the war in all its horrors and triumphs. Through the experiences of the Mathews men, the book tells the broader
story of the Merchant Marine’s critical role in winning the war. Merchant mariners hauled the supplies that kept the Allies
fighting. In the process, they suffered a higher casualty rate than any branch of the U.S. military except the Marines.
But after the war they were forgotten by the government and the public, and denied veterans benefits for decades.
The Mathews Men finally gives them their due.