by Charles Ferry
Mifflin, 1983, 232 pages
Hildy, who enlisted in the Navy right after graduation from
high school in a small Minnesotan town, and Nick, who was drafted just before
he planned to enter Princeton University, become close friends as part of the
three-man crew of the lead plane of a squadron of Navy TBF Avenger torpedo
bombers. Raspberry One tells the stories of Hildy and Nick in three
parts: good times prior to shipping off to the Pacific on the aircraft carrier
USS Shiloh, fighting at Iwo Jima and Okinawa, and recovery in a Brooklyn
hospital from wounds caused by kamikaze attacks. This novel for young teens
realistically depicts Pacific battle action, the relationship between Hildy and
Nick, and their emotional difficulties when wounded and during recovery.
However, their relationships with two young women, which play a key role in the
book's first and third parts, seem somewhat artificial.
The book's convincing battle scenes come from Charles
Ferry's own experiences as a radioman-gunner on a TBF torpedo bomber during
World War II. The book flap states that writing the book helped him understand
his own experience in the war. Ferry has written several other young adult
novels, including Binge (1992), which vividly describes the tragic
consequences of teenage alcoholism. Although Raspberry One contains some
technical naval and aircraft terminology that may be difficult for young teens,
the author explains the meaning of difficult terms and acronyms, and the back
of the book also has a four-page glossary.
Part One begins with a social visit by the 48 young men of
Torpedo Squadron 43 (VT-43), stationed temporarily at Mount Quonset Naval Air
Station, to a reception held by the faculty and students of Wickford College,
an exclusive women's school in Providence, Rhode Island. Nick and Hildy meet
and fall in love with two students, Franny and Diane, respectively. The
foursome spend their free time together for the next three months before the
carrier Shiloh leaves Quonset Point in December 1944. The two couples'
relationships both develop very quickly with no conflict, except Nick wonders a
little bit whether his Catholic background may clash in the future with Diane's
Jewish upbringing after they agree to get married. Hildy and Diane also grow
close during their time together. She gives him a silver ID bracelet for his
birthday with the engraved words of "To H from D, 12-8-44, with L."
She also paints a stylish insignia decal of a red raspberry for his plane,
which has the code name of Raspberry One, "Raspberry" referring to
his squadron's code name and "One" signifying the squadron's lead
The novel's middle part describes Pacific battle action of Shiloh
and her air group. Easygoing and confident Hildy, turret gunner on Raspberry
One, develops a reputation as the squadron's best gunner. Nick, radioman and
tail gunner, feels fearful as he approaches his first mission to hit Iwo Jima.
Their squadron successfully carries out three weeks of bombing missions and
combat air patrol (CAP) at Iwo Jima with no casualties. The next major
operation of Raspberry Squadron's sixteen TBF Avengers is a torpedo strike
against the Japanese battleship Yamato at anchor in Kure. However, Yamato
and twelve destroyers moored at Kure open fire on the TBFs when they break
through the clouds, and Japanese fighters also engage the attacking American
squadron. The mission turns into a slaughter of the American torpedo bomber
squadron with the best record in the task force until then. Only the three men
of Raspberry One manage to escape and return to Shiloh, but the plane's
pilot, squadron leader Lt. Comm. Scott, gets hit by enemy gunfire while leaving
Kure and dies right after landing on the carrier's deck.
Although Nick and Hildy return unharmed to Shiloh, a
kamikaze plane soon after smashes onto the flight deck and its bomb penetrates
to the hangar deck. Flying shrapnel severs Nick's right hand and lacerates
Hildy's face. Three more kamikazes hit the carrier within ninety seconds, and
the burning carrier is in danger of sinking. During the chaos after the hits,
Hildy goes below deck and saves about 300 men trapped in the mess compartment,
but he seriously injures his knee during the rescue. Damage control and repair
parties manage to bring fires under control and keep the ship from sinking.
Casualties total 714 men killed and missing and 265 men wounded, numbers almost
identical to those of the actual carrier USS Franklin, which was hit by
two bombs from a Japanese dive bomber on March 19, 1945, the same date
kamikazes strike Shiloh in the novel. Also, just like Franklin in
real life, Shiloh makes it back under her own power to Brooklyn Navy
Yard for repairs.
Part Three in the book covers the time spent by Nick and
Hildy in a Brooklyn naval hospital as they recover from their wounds. This part
depicts with sensitivity their struggles to come to grips with being disabled.
Nick faces the future with optimism, and Franny encourages him with her
frequent visits to the hospital. She even becomes a Red Cross volunteer to
provide support for seriously wounded veterans at the hospital. Hildy, in
contrast to Nick, becomes depressed and never really regains his previous
cheerful personality. His knee ligament surgery fails, so the doctor plans
further work on him at Great Lakes Naval Hospital north of Chicago. Diane never
comes to visit him in the Brooklyn hospital, but she sees him one more time to
say goodbye before he leaves New York and to give him a painting of Raspberry
One climbing through broken clouds.
Although four kamikaze planes change forever the lives of
Nick and Hildy and references to kamikaze appear frequently throughout this
novel, the author provides almost no details regarding Japan's suicide planes.
Some information regarding Japanese kamikaze does not agree with actual
history. For example, the book's first page mentions that in September 1944
Japan already had launched a kamikaze offensive, even though the Japanese Navy
did not establish the first kamikaze squadron until late October 1944. One day in the fall of 1944,
Diane says that she read in the newspapers that more
carriers are required in the Pacific because kamikazes are sinking so many of
them, but in actuality the military had a news blackout on Japanese suicide
attacks and their results until April 1945.
Charles Ferry, who fought in WWII as a TBF radioman-gunner
just like Nick, realistically depicts the emotions of two young Americans who
fought in the Pacific War. Raspberry One focuses on the bonds formed
between Nick and Hildy and how they changed during and after battle, but the
novel also provides young teens with a realistic description of activities
carried out by a WWII aircraft carrier's air group. Adults may also enjoy this
novel, especially the last part where Nick and Hildy recover in the hospital,
but the depiction of their romantic relationships with the two Wickford College
students lack depth and conflict.