Recounts the stories of the USS Block Island CVE 21 and CVE 106 and their crews, many of whom served on both ships in the Atlantic and Pacific theatres
In Valor and Courage: The Story of the USS Block Island Escort Carriers in World War II Benjamin Hruska explores the history and commemoration of the USS Block Island—or, more properly, the Block Islands, as two escort carriers bore that name during WWII. The first, CVE 21, bears the distinction of having been the only American aircraft carrier sunk in the Atlantic Theatre after being torpedoed by a German U-boat off the coast of North Africa.
Of the CVE 21’s 957 crew members, six sailors were killed and eighteen injured in the strike, and four of the Block Island’s fighter pilots were lost later in the day searching for a safe place to land their planes. When the CVE 106 was commissioned to replace its predecessor, Captain Massie Hughes successfully persuaded the Navy to keep the CVE 21’s crew together in manning the new ship. After resurrection as the CVE 106, the Block Island was assigned to the Pacific theater where it fought until the end of the war. The saga of these two ships and the crew that navigated two very different theaters of war offers a unique lens on naval strategy and engineering as it evolved during WWII, especially as pertains to the escort carrier class—generally underappreciated both in naval studies and in public memory.
Using archival materials, dozens of oral histories, primary sources, and official records, Hruska traces the life of the Block Island from the CVE 21’s construction through its missions in the Atlantic, its work as an antisubmarine hunter, its destruction, and the lasting impact of those experiences on its crew. Hruska’s study juxtaposes traditional military history with an examination of the acts of remembrance and commemoration by veterans who served on the escort carriers, how those practices evolved over time, and how the meanings of personal wartime experiences and memories gradually shifted throughout that process.
Benjamin J. Hruska is a public historian who teaches at Basis Prescott Charter School in Prescott, Arizona. He is author of Interpreting Naval History at Museums and Historic Sites and contributor to Beyond Combat: Australian Military Activity Away from the Battlefield and Volunteering around the Block: Revisiting Block Island’s Manissean Heritage.
“In Valor and Courage, Dr. Benjamin Hruska tackles a daunting task—the full story of two WWII escort aircraft carriers bearing the same name. Thus, ‘Fighting Block Island’ became a byword for the ‘baby flattops’ that fought Germany in the Atlantic and Japan in the Pacific. But far more than ships and aircraft, Valor and Courage properly focuses on the men of both vessels who remain an inspiration for their current heirs operating nuclear-powered descendants and supersonic jets.” —Barrett Tillman, author of On Wave and Wing: The 100-Year Quest to Perfect the Aircraft Carrier
“Valor and Courage is a captivating microhistory that weaves together personal narratives from crew members about their experience aboard Naval escort carriers in both the Atlantic and the Pacific campaigns of WWII. By compiling crew members’ accounts of daily life and the dramatic events of Naval battle within the context of interwar Naval industry and technology and the importance of aircraft carrier escorts during WWII, Hruska’s book documents the memory of these Naval veterans that is often difficult to locate in terrestrial cultural landscapes. Public historians, military historians and scholars of memory will appreciate Hruska’s exploration of the complications of memorializing events that happened at sea.” —Melissa Bingmann, Associate Professor and Public Historian, West Virginia University