No Ordinary Joes
The Extraordinary True Story of Four Submariners in World War II
By Larry Colton
(Broadway Books, Paperback, 9780307888457, 424pp.)
Publication Date: October 4, 2011
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On April 23, 1943, the seventy-man crew of the USS Grenadier scrambled to save their submarine—and themselves—after a Japanese aerial torpedo sent it crashing to the ocean floor. Miraculously, the men were able to bring the sub back to the surface, only to be captured by the Japanese.
No Ordinary Joes tells the harrowing story of four of the Grenadier’s crew: Bob Palmer of Medford, Oregon; Chuck Vervalin of Dundee, New York; Tim McCoy of Dallas, Texas; and Gordy Cox of Yakima, Washington. All were enlistees from families that struggled through the Great Depression. The lure of service and duty to country were not their primary motivations—they were more compelled by the promise of a job that provided “three hots and a cot” and a steady paycheck. On the day they were captured, all four were still teenagers.
Together, the men faced unimaginable brutality at the hands of their captors in a prisoner of war camp. With no training in how to respond in the face of relentless interrogations and with less than a cup of rice per day for sustenance, each man created his own strategy for survival. When the liberation finally came, all four anticipated a triumphant homecoming to waiting families, loved ones, and wives, but instead were forced to find a new kind of strength as they struggled to resume their lives in a world that had given them up for dead, and with the aftershocks of an experience that haunted and colored the rest of their days.
Author Larry Colton brings the lives of these four “ordinary” heroes into brilliant focus. Theirs is a story of tragedy and courage, romance and war, loss and endurance, failure and redemption. With a scope both panoramic and disarmingly intimate, No Ordinary Joes is a powerful look at the atrocities of war, the reality of its aftermath, and the restorative power of love.
Since his days as a pitcher for the Philadelphia Phillies, LARRY COLTON has taught high school, worked for Nike, and written four books. His articles have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Boston Globe, Sports Illustrated, Ladies’ Home Journal, Esquire, and elsewhere. His three previous books are Idol Time, Goat Brothers (a main selection for the Book of the Month Club), and Counting Coup, which in 2000 won the Frankfurt eBook Award (FeBA) for nonfiction.
Bob Palmer, Chuck Vervalin, Tim McCoy and Gordy Cox were teenagers when the Japanese sank their submarine in World War II.Â No Ordinary Joes tells the story of their subsequent imprisonment, survival and loves. More at NPR.org
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"[I] am reading No Ordinary Joes. Should have had a medical checkup before I started it. Colton makes us fall in love with these guys, then puts our hearts in harm's way. It's lovely and ghastly and extremely powerful. His best yet."
--Katherine Dunn, National Book Award finalist, author of Geek Love
“No Ordinary Joes is a marvelous treatment of a special time in American history, as well as an up close and personal look at the devastating impact that war can have on the personal lives of those involved in it. Let's have a twenty-one gun salute for Larry Colton!”
--John T. (Jack) Ramsay, Former Navy Ensign, Underwater Demolition Team #30
Basketball Analyst, ESPN TV and Radio
“Larry Colton’s Ordinary Joes are just like us, yet they endure what we could never imagine, and are ennobled in ways they themselves might not claim. Intimate and epic, unblinking and even-handed, Colton’s engrossing story strips sentimentality and cliché from our notion of hero.”
--Ron Shelton, award-winning screenwriter and director of Bull Durham, White Men Can’t Jump and Tin Cup