Book: So Close to Home: A True Story of An American Family’s Fight for Survival During World War II

So Close to Home: A True Story of An American Family’s Fight For Survival During World War II is a surprising war story by Michael J. Tougais and Alison O’Leary. 


Book description: On May 19, 1942, a U-boat in the Gulf of Mexico stalked its prey fifty miles from New Orleans. Captained by twenty nine-year-old Iron Cross and King’s Cross recipient Erich Wurdemann, the submarine set its sights on the freighter Heredia with sixty-two souls on board.

Most aboard were merchant seamen, but there were also a handful of civilians, including the Downs family: Ray and Ina, and their two children, eight-year-old Sonny and eleven-year-old Lucille. Fast asleep in their berths, the Downs family had no idea that two torpedoes were heading their way. When the ship exploded, chaos ensued―and each family member had to find their own path to survival.

Including original, unpublished material from Commander Wurdemann’s war diary, the story provides balance and perspective by chronicling the daring mission of the U-boat―and its commander’s decision-making―in the Gulf of Mexico.

An inspiring historical narrative, So Close to Home tells the story of the Downs family as they struggle against sharks, hypothermia, drowning, and dehydration in their effort to survive the aftermath of this deadly attack off the American coast.

My thoughts: The title of the book doesn’t hint at the large dose of U-boat history included, so I was annoyed at first that the two German subs were getting more print than the family.

But, having studied some about U-boat history because of an uncle (Delbert Wilson), on the crew of the USS Maumee (AO-2), who survived fuel runs up and down the East Coast in 1942, a trip across to Casablanca to fuel small craft after Operation Torch (and even a fire after a hurricane), then the East Coast again in 1943, I was fascinated by how much the authors could learn about specific U-boats.

What a miracle that all four Downs family members survived this surprising episode of history! I especially enjoyed learning how the authors learned about the story and their research, also bringing the histories of the people involved up to date.

Remember the oil slick in 1992 in the Gulf of Mexico? Hardly anyone would, but it was seeping from the ship Heredia from which the Downs family escaped after being sunk by a U-boat in 1942. Among the reviews of this book is one by Todd Windyhill, son of the 3rd Officer on the Heredia, who tells some about his history, even surviving another torpedoing the next May.


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