Descent into Darkness by Edward C. Raymer is an exceptional piece of work that accounts the history and aftermath of the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941. Raymer’s purpose when writing Descent into Darkness was to mainly depict the story of what naval divers did during the recovery process after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the hazards endured and the sometimes nearly impossible hardships they overcame, and the innovative diving techniques implemented used to salvage as many damaged battleships and naval capabilities back to fleet.
The primary content also includes tense descriptions of diving after horrific circumstances, the human factors that are seldom known, and the grim tasks of recovering bodies in the worst of situations. His supplementary or secondary purpose was to tell the story of his diving operations at Guadalcanal and the humorous stories of the life and liberties of an enlisted sailor during a time of war. The book serves primarily as a narrative of memoirs by Raymond, who was a junior enlisted diver during World War II and rose to the ranks of Commander throughout his Navy career.
Raymer’s main argument or emphasis conveyed was of the many hazards that were presented to the salvage and rescue divers during the aftermath of the hectic attack. The general concept was of the intensive salvage operations that were conducted which equated to over 20,000 man-hours underwater. Several interesting facts are described by Raymer which the average person would have no idea about, such as the dangers of entering a room that was once sealed but contains rust due to the fact that the iron oxide components of rust deplete oxygen which would suffocate an unprepared diver upon entering.
The dangers of the job of a diver are clearly substantiated and validated in Raymer’s book, and successfully serve great justice to divers who worked in the harshest conditions. Raymer does an excellent job at not only describing the technical difficulties associated with being a Navy salvage and rescue diver during Pearl Harbor, but the human emotional issues that are so often overlooked.
Raymer articulates the scenarios in a sense that any person who had never served in the military would be able to empathize and conceptualize the obstacles presented to the divers. From the immediate hours following the Japanese assault to the days and months later in where an attack could come from any moment. Raymer was able to elucidate in explicit detail what the divers endured during the post-Pearl Harbor recovery operations, and successfully accomplished his goals of providing vivid insight.
Raymer’s account of working underwater, operating in pitch black environments, and maintaining communication in a time of developing technology were done so in an entertaining yet educational manner. His goals were to captivate and capture the readers attention by sharing the experiences of true historical accounts, a goal which is easily accomplished by most casual and scholarly readers. The book was written in a fashion where it was sophisticated yet easy to comprehend and understand by most individuals.
While articulate, Raymer aimed at providing a factual cut and dry depiction of what happened, essentially point blank memoirs that would have the most profound impact (evident considering the book is less than 220 pages including pictures). The framework used by Raymer was that mainly that of a narrative view. Historical context was included but Descent into Darkness is primarily his accounts of the challenges, shortfalls, and accomplishments of him and his fellow service members.
The book outlines the bravery of the divers, the unimaginable obstacles they endured, and the emotional state of mind during a declaration of war. Scenarios such as divers working their way through sharp jagged corridors of sunken battleships in pitch black lighting working to repair ships and recover bodies dominates the context of the Raymer’s book. Plain and simple, Raymer’s intent is to explain the hazards and dangers associated with the jobs required of the divers during a time of danger and less sophisticated technology.
It is unknown though whether Raymer decided to include his diving endeavors in Guadalcanal and his escapades as a “typical” military man on his off time as a personal choice or to simply expand the book to over 200 pages. Whatever the case may be, the content is enjoyable because military or not, the insight given into the typical traits a service member may possess during wartime during his more “liberating” moments is something almost any male reader can relate to, and something any female reader can laugh at.
Raymer’s escapades while off duty are amusing and true to most military standards today (well unofficially). The strengths of the book and its outline are several. Descent into Darkness was written in a manner so easily understandable by the most novices of readers, the salvage efforts and the work of the men on the front and back line could be appreciated by anyone. The accounts of personal fear and potential for danger are so plentiful and diverse that the reader is engaged in a stage of suspense throughout the book.
Raymer utilizes eye-opening visuals which aid in describing the technical and highly emotional scenarios embraced by the divers. I know personally there was an instance where I could not put the book down because Raymer describes an account where he was diving and discovered a large spider had crawled into his suit prior to diving underwater during a crucial mission. His fear of spiders was something similar to arachnophobia, and his story was so compelling. I asked myself “what would I do in his dire situation” as I know many other readers probably asked themselves.
The portions of the book that I would consider weaknesses were his stories of alcohol and women during his off time, which some readers may find detracting from the quality of the main intent. Many would consider it an excellent depiction of a typical enlisted man during a time of war, but some may view the content as something that should have been excluded. While I enjoyed the supplementary stories, it caught me by surprise which is why I feel that the matters such as alcohol, wild women, and childish antics could somewhat be at the discretion of the reader whether or not it was enjoyed.
The evidence of Raymer’s rescue and salvage stories are accurate and valid by historical accounts. The gruesome tasks performed by the divers were indeed performed in the manner described in the book, and almost none of the content could be subject to interpretation or debate besides his stories of women and alcohol. Raymer’s work is truly a valuable contribution to the story of the Pacific War and Pearl Harbor. The efforts of him and his fellow divers took nearly a year starting immediately after the Japanese attack on December 7th.
Raymer’s book tells a true story that is rarely depicted in Hollywood films and is truly an articulate piece of work deserving of its own blockbuster film. The sheer fear of working underwater in the most deplorable of conditions while possibly facing another attack from the skies during a time of global war is something that should have been published before the 20th century and was long overdue. Raymer’s work is a tribute to service members throughout the military (especially divers), a valuable asset to the history of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the subsequent recovery efforts, and the war in the pacific in general.