Ted Mason reported to USS CALIFORNIA as a radioman in the U.S. Naval Reserve at a time (1940) when life on battleships, in their waning days as the backbone of the fleet, revolved around conducting drills, competing in athletic rivalries with other battleships, and keeping the ship in spit-and-polish condition. It’s rare to find a narrative focusing on the experiences of a junior petty officer in the pre-war Navy, but what makes Mason’s book so gripping is his description of events on board USS CALIFORNIA during the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor.
Assigned to the maintop during General Quarters, he had a bird’s eye view of the attack, which he survived by jumping overboard when the order was given to abandon ship; had his General Quarters station not been outside, he likely would have died, as did his best friend (another radioman) and the chief petty officer who mentored Mason (and who ultimately saved Mason’s life by assigning him to the mainmast). Although the book opens with a chapter on the 40 hours or so prior to the Japanese attack, Mason then takes the reader back in time to his Navy schools and sea duty experiences prior to December 1941, and does not return to the morning of the attack until end of the book. This was highly effective in holding the reader’s interest.
Battleship Sailor provides a valuable glimpse of life as a bluejacket in the west coast Navy in the months leading up to U.S. involvement in WWII. It should appeal not only to anyone interested in learning more about shipboard life in the days of teak decks but also to those who wish to read a first-hand account of the attack on Pearl Harbor.