Click on video to hear Ray "Sonny" Downs tell part of his survival story.
So Close to Home
The Downs family needed a break. Both parents were working hard to cobble togther a good life for their family during the lean post-Depression years in San Antonio, Texas. When Ray was offered a job in his chosen field, they all willingly -- and with a great sense of adventure -- pulled up stakes and moved to South America.
They didn't know much about the beginnings of Germany's unrest, occupying France and stretching its tentacles toward Great Britain, nor about the powerful U-boats that began to prowl and prey on ships in the Atlantic and North Sea.
When the Downses boarded the coffee- and banana-laden ship Heredia to return home after a year in Colombia and Costa Rica, the country was at war. Isolationist policies resulted in terrible losses of ships and lives to U-boats stalking along the Atlantic coast -- but no one was saying much about it.
The mastermind behind the U-boat offensive was Admiral Karl Donitz, who struggled to make the Fuhrer understand the importance of striking first. Hitler had faith in ground campaigns and viewed the Navy as a primarily defensive force. Did they know how close they were to decimating US-British supply lines in 1942?
"The only thing that ever really frightened me during the war was the U-boat peril."
-- Winston Churchill
Meanwhile, German sailors gladly tolerated horrible conditions aboard U-boats rather than suffering on the Eastern Front, working and living cheek-by-jowl with 50 men and the stench of insufficient sanitary facilities, rotting food and little fresh air for weeks or months at a time. At least they had great success and camaradarie that came from picking off defenseless ships, one after the other.
Using the U-boat captains' own words from their War Diaries, So Close to Home follows the paths of two succesful predators in the waters off Florida and in the Gulf of Mexico, including the mouth of the Mississippi River.
At 2 a.m. on May 19, 1942 the Downs family learned the hard reality of the U-boat war when a torpedo ripped into the Heredia, sending them into the dark water of the Gulf ...
Advance Praise for So Close to Home
Meticulously-researched, Tougias and O'Leary take you where few historians dare, into the dark sea with an American family floundering to stay alive and onto the steel planked deck of the U-boat Commander who put them there. This is priceless history, a fresh story in a modern era, two-hundred fast-paced pages of “you-are-there.”
New York Times bestselling author of "A Higher Call"
"They don't come any better than Michael J. Tougias. His latest - So Close to Home - is a truly gripping, deeply affecting saga of undersea warfare and an extraordinary American family caught in the crosshairs of history."
New York Times best-selling author of The Longest Winter and The Few
Inns and Adventures: A History and Explorer's Guide to New Hampshire, Vermont and the Berkshires
Have you ever wandered in the woods and wondered who'd been there before? This travelogue is designed to inspire the hesitant, educate the newcomer, and challenge the intrepid. Use it to find great hikes, explore off the grid, try new things and appreciate the diverse history of New England's past.
Whether you're an armchair traveler or avid explorer you'll find something new and interesting in these pages.