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Book Review – Stay the Rising Sun

The True Story of USS Lexington, Her Valiant Crew, and Changing the Course of WWII; by Phil Keith; Zenith Press; 272 pages; 28 illustrations

 

Phil Keith’s Stay the Rising Sun provides an intimate portrait of the aircraft carrier USS Lexington (CV 2), her role in developing United States naval aviation, and her short, eventful life during World War II. Lexington was by most accounts a happy ship, and a famous one, both during her lifetime in service and after, and a worthy subject for a for a fresh look.

The majority of the book is devoted to Lexington’s short but eventful six-month life at war. The ship’s wartime actions are concisely described, and more importantly, illuminated through the depictions of individual experiences of those who served aboard her and flew from her wooden flight deck.

The fruit of the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922, Lexington and her sister ship Saratoga (CV 3) were built on the partially completed hulls of battlecruisers outlawed under the new agreement between the five major powers that had won World War I. Lexington and Saratoga were large ships, and fast, with turbo-electric drive and large enough flight decks and hangars to operate large groups of aircraft. They had the speed and capacity that the U.S. Navy’s first carrier, USS Langley (CV 1) didn’t, and so became in many ways floating laboratories of naval aviation, perfecting the techniques, procedures, tactics, and strategies that the Navy would employ when World War II began.

Stay the Rising Sun

Stay the Rising Sun: The True Story of USS Lexington, Her Valiant Crew, and Changing the Course of WWII; by Phil Keith; Zenith Press; 272 pages; 28 illustrations

Keith describes the development of the two sisters, the thinking behind them, and the trial and error forging of the core of U.S. naval aviation. He details the ship’s participation in the Navy’s big Fleet Problems and introduces the reader to the captains and admirals who experimented, learned, and perfected their skills aboard her in the years before war came.

The majority of the book is devoted to Lexington’s short but eventful six-month life at war. The ship’s wartime actions are concisely described, and more importantly, illuminated through the depictions of individual experiences of those who served aboard her and flew from her wooden flight deck.

Certainly the author owes a debt here to Stanley Johnston’s classic book about Lexington, Queen of the Flattops, written in 1942, as well as many other secondary sources. But Keith goes on to tell Johnston’s own individual story as well as many others. Keith usually employs conventional historical narrative with block quotes from personal accounts or books that are used to add color. But Keith also sometimes creates whole scenes through a combination of known facts and his own imaginative retelling of the event. Overall the two techniques are both effective and affecting. Indeed Stay the Rising Sun is a good example of what can be achieved by a talented writer drawing from secondary reference sources and oral histories and injecting fresh drama and perspective into them in order to bring a historical narrative to life.

In Stay the Rising Sun, Keith has done justice to the achievements of a ship and especially those who served aboard her in the desperate early days of the Pacific War.