A Sailor's Story
by Sam Glanzman
Marvel Comics, 1987, 60 pages
A Sailor's Story, Book Two: Winds, Dreams, and Dragons
by Sam Glanzman
Marvel Comics, 1989, 63 pages
Sam Glanzman, a prolific comic book artist most famous for his war stories,
wrote and illustrated two graphic novels entitled A Sailor's Story about his
experiences aboard the destroyer U.S.S. Stevens (DD-479) from early 1943 to late
1945. Between 1970 and 1977, he wrote and illustrated 65 comic stories of four
to five pages each about the wartime adventures of Stevens. The time period
during WWII covered by the two graphic novels overlaps, but each book has
different stories and can be read apart from the other one. Only Book Two covers
Japan's kamikaze attacks with a four-page section at the beginning and another
four-page section at the end. These sections, which focus on the Battle of
Okinawa, do not mention Stevens since the destroyer only had contact with
kamikazes while serving in the Philippines. Possibly the publisher encouraged
the author to include these sections in order to broaden the appeal of the book, since many U.S. Navy veterans
had faced kamikaze attacks.
A Sailor's Story contains various personal stories about Stevens' crew with
an effective mixture of seriousness and humor. For example, Buck is portrayed as
an eccentric character who would crow each morning after climbing to the top of
the forward stack and would think some Japanese spy was on board disguised as a
seaman. However, after he appeared to have gone over the edge when trying to lop
off someone's head with a long knife, the Captain transferred him to a hospital ship
to get a medical discharge. The author portrays Buck in a sympathetic manner
with the explanation that he had served eight years in the Navy and had been
trapped in the capsized Oklahoma for 14 hours when the battleship had been sunk
during Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor.
In addition to depicting individual Stevens' crewmen, Glanzman uses his
stories to explain the destroyer's layout, including her armament, and the
wartime functions of the ship. A two-page detailed cutaway side view of Stevens
clearly shows locations of the ship's main compartments and guns. The author
explains in a natural way the Navy jargon used by the crew. Overall, these two
graphic novels provide a real education about a WWII destroyer.
The first graphic novel, published in 1987, covers the period from December
1942 when Glanzman left home to join the Navy to November 1945 when he returned
home to find out that his beloved black Labrador named Beauty had died while he
had been away. This book does not try to be a chronological history of Stevens,
and the period after December 1944 has few details regarding the destroyer's
actions other than a long list of places visited. Stevens' deck originally had a
float plane that could be catapulted off and then recovered after landing next
to the destroyer. The crewmen hated the scout plane that had been installed as a
Navy experiment, and they were glad when the plane and catapult soon were
removed and replaced with additional armament typical of other destroyers.
Book Two begins in late 1943 and continues on to August 1945. Starting in
February 1944, this graphic novel has a monthly Travel Log of U.S.S. Stevens to
summarize the ship's actions and movements. These Travel Logs do not detract from
the personal stories about crewmen who remain the focus of Glanzman's writing.
Stevens' most intense battle action took place on the way to Lingayen Gulf on
January 12, 1945, when the destroyer's gunners shot down four attacking Japanese
aircraft. The comic depicts in four successive frames how on that date Stevens
destroyed two twin-engine bombers, a Tojo fighter, and a Judy dive bomber.
The four-page section on kamikaze attacks in the front of Book Two
graphically depicts death and destruction of shot-up planes and the ships into
which they crashed. The author uses the term kikusui pilots instead of kamikaze
pilots. Kikusui, meaning floating chrysanthemum in Japanese, was the Japanese name
for the ten mass kamikaze attacks that took place during the Battle of Okinawa.
The four-page section on kamikaze attacks in the back of Book Two also shows the
same type of death and destruction, but the drawings only use red (for blood),
black, and white colors. The words tell the history of the many destroyers and
other ships sunk by kamikaze aircraft during the Battle of Okinawa such as the
following passage about the destroyer U.S.S. Bush (DD-529):
… lost April 6th: U.S.S. Bush with 87 men dead.
5-inch thunderbolts and steady firehose streams of white-hot tracers were
pumped into the attacking planes. For two days they had swarmed over the ship.
On the third day, just 30 feet above the water, a Kamikaze rushed in with the
speed of a locomotive. It smashed into the ship's starboard side between stacks
no. 1 and 2. The explosion hurled a 4,000 pound section of the engine room's
blower 50 feet into the air. A second suicider hit, nearly cutting the ship in
half. Topside bluejackets died in the inferno; below decks, others died drowning
in the inrushing waters. In agony the ship struggled to remain afloat. A third
plane plummeted in, erupting with a crimson flash . . . ending the agony.
Wallowing in flood water and flame, the ship broke apart and sank.
The two volumes of A Sailor's Story realistically portray life
aboard a destroyer during WWII. Sam Glanzman's first-rate comic drawings and
engaging text vividly depict the lives of U.S.S. Stevens' crewmen and various
events, whether heroic, humorous, or embarrassing, that they experienced.