Title Reviewed:
A Handful of Emeralds: On Patrol with the Hanna in the Postwar Pacific

Author Reviewed:
Joseph C. Meredith

Timothy R. Crumrin


Indiana Magazine of History, Volume 94, Issue 4, pp 375-376

Article Type:
Book Review

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A Handful of Emeralds: On Patrol with the Hanna in the Postwar Pacific. By Joseph C. Meredith. (Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 1997. Pp. xii, 216. Maps, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. $32.95.)

This tidy, often lyrical, memoir of life aboard the destroyer escort Hanna as it plied the relatively uncharted islands of the "South Seas" is published by the Naval Institute Press. Joseph C. Meredith, who joined the navy in 1943 and subsequently served during the Korean War and as a liaison to NATO forces, has written a stylish evocation of a brief tour of duty in the Pacific.

Captain Meredith and the Hanna were assigned to "conduct surveillance and reconnaissance" of the Carolines, Marianas, Volcanos, and Bonins during 1953 and 1954 (p. 2). Along the way they charted the seas, took part in search and rescue missions, and kept an eye out for fishermen poaching in restricted waters.

But this is no dry recitation of sea duty, no mere travelogue. Meredith's sense of history enlivens this gentle book. Obviously already smitten with the romance of the Pacific, Meredith cast a careful eye over the tiny islands he visited. The lore-tinged pieces of coral, barren rock, and often incandescent greenery were more than stopping places to him. He sensed that they were not mere backwaters, but places connected, albeit tenuously, to a larger world that came and went from the islands as its wonts and political considerations necessitated. Although scrabbled over by a succession of missionaries, imperialists, hardbitten seamen, and traders, the islands remained. The author provides vivid thumbnail sketches of the places, people, and history of many of the islands.

Such is the case with the Bonins, once called the "Japanese islands of mystery" (p. 54). Meredith recounts the history of Chichi Jima. He describes the 1839 British-sponsored settlement eventually led by the American Nathaniel Savory, the annexation of the island by the Japanese after the Meiji Restoration, the execution of downed American pilots during the war, the American occupation, and its return to Japan (a move fought by Savory's descendants). Similar stories are told about the other islands and their histories, involving explorers, missionaries, and rascals such as "His Majesty OKeefe" of Yap.

That Meredith still holds affection for the people he met is obvious. The book is filled with reminiscences of the gentle, amicable natives. Sprinkled along the way are delightful anecdotes such as that of a "barefoot baseball game" on Lukunor between a missionary-trained native team and the Hanna's crew (p. 128), sailing lore such as "A ship is perfectly safe [from grounding], as a rule, over anything darker than dark green [water]" (p. 99).

Like most memoirs, A Handful of Emeralds can seem selective and idyllic at times. Some may hope for a harder edge, perhaps the casting of a harsher eye on superpower posturing or the drudgery of day-to-day naval life, but it is the pleasure of the memoirist to tell the reader what he wishes. Those are small prices to pay for a fine work like this. One hopes that Meredith has more such books to follow.

TIMOTHY R. CRUMRIN is a historian at Conner Prairie Museum, Fishers, Indiana, and on the adjunct faculty at St. Mary-of-the-Woods College, St. Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana, His article "Holding a Course: Professor John J. Schlicher's Dismissal from Indiana State Normal" appeared in the March, 1992, issue of the Indiana Magazine of History.

Published by theĀ Indiana University Department of History.