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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

06 May
Book cover: Stay the Rising Sun: The True Story of USS Lexington, Her Valiant Crew, and Changing the Course of WWII

Book cover: Stay the Rising Sun: The True Story of USS Lexington, Her Valiant Crew, and Changing the Course of WWII

Stay the Rising Sun: The True Story of USS Lexington, Her Valiant Crew, and Changing the Course of WWII
PHIL KEITH
Zenith Press
234 Pp. $30.00/Hardcover
ISBN-13: 978-0760347416

The War against Japan and America’s naval war in the Pacific both enjoy a vast and deep historiography. This body of work and scholarship includes well-researched literature from authorities on the subject including, but not limited to: Walter Lord, Samuel Eliot Morison, Dan van der Vat, John Toland, and Ronald H. Spector, and most recently, Ian W. Toll and James D. Hornfischer. While these eminent historians have contributed solid research through well-respected, lauded narrative, this assembled literature has lacked in-depth history of the officers and men and their heroism aboard the USS Lexington during the Battle of the Coral Sea. To the aforementioned list we should include historian and former U.S. Navy officer Phil Keith, for his work in Stay the Rising Sun: The True Story of USS Lexington, Her Valiant Crew, and Changing the Course of WWII.

Keith’s theory and assertion that the Battle of the Coral Sea, and not the naval Battle of Midway or land battle on Guadalcanal, was the turning point in the War against Japan. Keith’s premise is not without merit, or allies; he has other historians on his side. Naval historian Dan van der Vat, in The Pacific Campaign: The U.S.-Japanese Naval War 1941-1945, writes: “Coral Sea was a tactical defeat for the Americans, because as the weaker side they lost more men, ships, and aircraft. But it was a strategic defeat for the Japanese, who felt obliged, for the first time since they had opened their Southern front, to halt a major advance and to change their plans.” van der Vat adds: “… the victors [Japan] behaved as if they had been beaten, and therefore they were beaten.” Finally: “There is thus a powerful case for arguing that the Coral Sea, not the much bigger and more dramatic clash exactly four weeks later at Midway, was the real turning point of the Pacific Campaign.”

Operation “MO,” the Imperial Japanese Navy’s plan to take Port Moresby and ultimately Australia, was reversed as a result of heroism from the officers and men aboard the USS Lexington and USS Yorktown at Coral Sea. Numerous Medals of Honor and Navy Crosses were awarded to U.S. Navy personnel (ship-duty personnel and pilots) assigned to the USS Lexington during the war’s first battle between aircraft carriers. Japanese aircraft carriers Shokaku and Zuikaku exorbitant loss of aircraft and crews at Coral Sea preempted those ships from participating in the subsequent Battle of Midway, thus tilting the intelligence-benefitted epic further in favor of the U.S. Navy. Keith strengthens his theory.

In Stay the Rising Sun, Keith superbly chronicles the ship’s pre-war history, highlighting the mid-production transformation from CC-1 battle cruiser to CV-2 flat-top, or aircraft carrier, in July of 1921. This new contribution to the literature will appeal to those interested in America’s war against Japan, history of WWII-era naval battles and U.S. Navy leadership during the War in the Pacific.

I enjoyed reading Keith’s new book…. I’m sure you will too.

Scott Lyons

 

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