A slip of paper, a mystery in an old war book

"Brave Ship, Brave Men"

"Brave Ship, Brave Men," by Arnold S. Lott, 1964

When you open a  book, it’s possible to get more than you bargained for.

I’m not talking about whether it’s a terrific read or not. We tend to pick up books our friends recommend or that we’ve seen good reviews on, so we usually have an idea about the content and aren’t disappointed.

I mean opening a book and finding something inside other than the printed word, something that isn’t supposed to be in between the covers, a snippet of intrigue.

It happened to me in the past year when my friend and neighbor George Myers, who shares my interest in war stories, gave me a nonfiction World War II book he had been thrilled to read, Brave Ship, Brave Men.

Written by a retired Navy lieutenant commander and WWII veteran, Arnold S. Lott, and published in 1964, it’s the story of the men aboard the USS Aaron Ward, which fought Japanese kamikaze pilots on May 3, 1945, while on picket station off Okinawa. www.ussaaronward.com It’s a beautifully written, riveting account, and I’d recommend it to anyone who wants to know about American sea duty in the war.

The hardcover edition George gave me has a torn cover that’s taped together in places, and the pages are a bit yellowed, but other than that it’s in fine shape. A small piece of paper was tucked in the middle of its 272 pages. It’s an old sales slip from a bookstore in Atlanta called Davison’s of Dixie, punched with the date Sept. 24, 1965.

I didn’t think anything of it and left the slip inside, just as George had done when he got the book in an eBay purchase three years ago.

But I took another look at the receipt when a name caught my eye at the back of the book, where there is a complete list of the officers and enlisted men who were aboard the  destroyer the day of the kamikaze attacks. The slip is made out in now-faded blue ink to Mrs. T.L. Wallace of the 700 block of Avery Street in Decatur, Ga.

The fifth name on the list of officers is Lt. T.L. Wallace, the Aaron Ward’s navigator.

Mrs. Wallace had bought the book brand new – for $4.12, on a charge — the first year it was out. Did she buy it as a gift for her husband, or for herself?  Maybe she wanted to read it so she could know what he experienced in the war. I don’t know the answer, because I couldn’t find any information on either of them in a quick records check. I’m guessing they are both gone, like the author, Lott, who died in 1992 at age 80.

If you know about the Wallaces, I’d like to hear from you.

OK, so this isn’t a  big deal. It’s just that when I hold the book, I think of Lt. Wallace holding it and reliving what had been an extraordinary event, or Mrs. Wallace reading about her husband, stunned at what he had gone through – but proud of him.

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