John F. Wukovits


February 3, 2016

Hell From the Heavens

On April 16, 1945, the crewmen of the USS Laffey were battle hardened and prepared. They had engaged in combat off the Normandy coast in June 1944. They had been involved in three prior assaults of enemy positions in the Pacific—at Leyte and Lingayen in the Philippines and at Iwo Jima. They had seen kamikazes purposely crash into other destroyers and cruisers in their unit and had seen firsthand the bloody results of those crazed tactics. But nothing could have prepared the crew for this moment—an eighty-minute ordeal in which the single small ship was targeted by no fewer than twenty-two Japanese suicide aircraft.

By the time the unprecedented attack on the Laffey was finished, thirty-two sailors lay dead, more than seventy were wounded, and the ship was grievously damaged. Although she lay shrouded in smoke and fire for hours, the  Laffey  somehow survived, and the gutted American warship limped from Okinawa’s shore for home, where the ship and crew would be feted as heroes.

Using scores of personal interviews with survivors, the memoirs of crew members, and the sailors' wartime correspondence, historian and author John Wukovits breathes life into the story of this nearly forgotten historic event. The US Navy described the kamikaze attack on the Laffey "as one of the great sea epics of the war." In Hell from the Heavens, the author makes the ordeal of the Laffey and her crew a story for the ages

About the speaker

I was born and raised in Akron, Ohio, then attended high school in Michigan after the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company transferred my father to the Detroit area. After attending Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit, Michigan, I enrolled at the University of Notre Dame, from where I received a bachelor's degree in history in 1967. I then studied American History for one year at Michigan State University, earning my master's degree in 1968. I have long been fascinated with the Pacific Theater of World War II. When still in grade school, I read a book about the Battle of the Coral Sea—and from then on I was hooked. As an adult, I have been blessed to be able to pursue that interest. I have researched World War II history for more than thirty years, focusing mainly on the Pacific Theater. In addition to nine books, I have written two chapters for a World War II book published by HarperCollins for the Library of Congress, as well as biographical essays on Admiral George Dewey and Admiral William Halsey that have been included in different collections. My writing has also appeared in more than twenty-five magazines, including WWII HISTORY, MILITARY HERITAGE, NAVAL HISTORY, and AMERICAN HISTORY. Along the way, I have interviewed close to 400 veterans of both theaters of the war. As part of my work, I have been fortunate to appear in various television productions. Oliver North interviewed me as his chief historian for an episode about Wake Island for his Oliver North's War Stories series on Fox Television. The History Channel asked me to be the main historical consultant and on-air commentator for the ten-part series, Pacific: The Lost Evidence, which is frequently rerun. BookTV has also aired some of my book presentations and signings. In June 2005 I retired after teaching junior high school History and Language Arts since 1968. Happily, I found teaching and writing very compatible—they both require the ability to condense complicated topics into something people can grasp. I am currently a member of three historical/writing organizations—the Organization of American Historians, the Society for Military History, and the Golf Writers' Association of America. Growing up in Akron, Ohio and having the chance to play the Firestone Country Club almost every summer day as a youth gave me a love for golf that has never diminished. In writing articles for GOLF Magazine, MICHIGAN GOLFER Magazine, and other publications, I have been able to meet and personally interview figures such as Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, and Gary Player. I have three daughters—Amy, Julie, and Karen—and four grandchildren, Matthew Dickerman, his younger sister, Megan Grace Dickerman; Emma Cristina Lastra and her younger sister, Kaitlyn Brennan Lastra. When I'm not writing or teaching, I like to golf, read, and jog.

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