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A People at War headerNational Archives and Records Administration
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Introduction
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Prelude to War
Prelude to War
Flying Tigers
The U.S.S. Reuben James
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New Roles
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Women Who Served
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The War in the Pacific
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The War in Europe
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Science Pitches In

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The War is Over
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U-boat victim sinkingFor some American sailors, World War II began before December 7, 1941. During the latter part of 1941, U.S. Navy ships provided escorts for convoys bound for Great Britain carrying war materials from our "Arsenal of Democracy." Because German U-boats (submarines) considered all ships in the convoys fair game, it was only a matter of time before we became involved in a "shooting war."

Disaster struck in the early morning hours of October 31, 1941. While escorting convoy HX-156, the American destroyer U.S.S. Reuben James was torpedoed and sunk with the loss of 115 of 160 crewmen, including all officers. Although not the first U.S. Navy ship torpedoed before the war, the Reuben James was the first one lost. After the news of the sinking reached America, many concerned people wrote letters to the Navy to find out the fate of friends or loved ones. Sadly, most of the country ignored the sinking. One who did not was folk singer Woody Guthrie, who wrote his now famous song immediately after the incident:

Tell me, what were their names?
Tell me, what were their names?
Did you have a friend on the good Reuben James?

 

 

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