Crossing The Line: A Blue Jacket's World War Ii Odyssey

  • Manufacturer: Naval Institute Press
Crossing the Line is a classic coming-of-age account, it achieves the rarest possible right tone for looking back on the self at an earlier stage, less sophisticated, less knowledgeable, but with the essential characteristics in place without apology or impatience.
Alvin Kernan, seeing no prospects in his native Wyoming, enlisted in the U.S. Navy in the spring of 1941. As a seaman on the U.S.S. Enterprise, he saw the destruction and smelled the fires still burning as the aircraft carrier returned to Pearl Harbor from maneuvers on the day after Japan's surprise attack. Years later he would see and smell much the same thing in Japanese harbors. In the time between, Kernan had some exceptional adventures, which are chronicled in Crossing the Line. This reflective memoir is utterly unpretentious in providing an engaging view of ordinary Americans at war. Leaving the grand historical themes for other writers, Kernan tells us what it was really like for the sailors in the fleet, during fierce combat as well as during some lively recreation.

Customer Reviews

A real page-turner!, July 24, 2005
By R. W. Russell ""

. When you think of an east coast university professor who specializes in the humanities--Shakespearean literature, in this case--you probably won't be visualizing someone who started adulthood by engaging in vicious aerial gunnery duels with Japanese fighters and otherwise living the stressful, profane, hazardous life of an enlisted sailor on three World War II aircraft carriers, one of which was sunk while he was aboard. Such is the case, though, with retired Yale professor Alvin B. Kernan, author of "Crossing the Line," one of the most interesting and often gripping sagas of navy life that I've read.
. The book came as a surprise to me, on two counts. One, I knew that Kernan had been an aviation ordnanceman on the USS Enterprise during the Battle of Midway, and later an aerial gunner. But I had very little notion of the depth of his wartime experiences, not only as an aircrewman but also in escaping the sinking of the USS Hornet in the Guadalcanal battles and in a harrowing deployment aboard the escort carrier USS Suwanee (CVE-27). Suffice to say in this short review that Kernan earned a Navy Cross, a DFC, and five air medals from inside the turret of a TBF Avenger!
. And two, I had previously read Kernan's fictitious account of the Battle of Midway, "Love and Glory," which I thought was interesting but flawed in a number of regards (see my review on Amazon). For that reason, I was a little dubious about reading "Crossing the Line." Would this be another "interesting but flawed" piece of work that would cause me to keep my red pen handy while I read it? No. Crossing the Line is simply outstanding. Anyone with an interest in WWII naval air action will also want to read this book. I highly recommend it. Yes, there are a couple of minor nits that a very knowledgeable historian might want to pick, but they are so insignificant as to be unworthy of mentioning here. "Crossing the Line" will not disappoint you. In fact, you'll probably find it hard to put down.
. (Reviewed by R. W. Russell, Battle of Midway Roundtable,

A wonderful memoir of the life of a young Navy sailor during, March 5, 2001
By J. Taylor

Alvin Kernan's "Crossing the Line: A Bluejacket's World War II Odyssey" is a wonderful memoir of the life of a young Navy sailor during World War II. Written in a humorous and sophisticated writing style, it provides the reader with a strong sense of what it was like for a young boy to leave his home and spend four years growing up in the midst of a war at sea. I am sure that Kernan's experience parallels that of my grandfather, who left rural Arkansas for the first time ever as a young 17-year old to take part in large Pacific invasions. If only young people today could understand the sacrifice and hard work that these young men faced. Kernan vividly makes his youth come to life with "Crossing the Line." A must read for avid readers of Navy and World War II subjects.

A wonderful little book, December 30, 2005
By Michael T Kennedy

Alvin Kernan was a 17-year-old from a poor family when he enlisted in the Navy in 1941. He was assigned to the carrier Enterprise and was aboard on Dec 7, 1941. He served aboard carriers most of the war, including a tour aboard the Hornet and he was aboard when she was sunk. He spent most of the time with the torpedo squadrons and gives a vivid account of the Battle of Midway. Most war histories are written by or about the leaders and it is unusual to find someone who was there for all the battles but who was seeing it all from the bottom up. After the war, he went to college on the GI Bill (as did I) and eventually ended his career as dean of the graduate school at Princeton. This is a vivid and knowledgeable account of the carrier war from one who was there and is a skilled writer. Anyone interested in the navy in World War II should read this book.

A little-known modern classic, December 23, 1999
By Daniel Akst

The modesty and intelligence of this amazing book are equalled only by the gripping story it tells. One of the best memoirs of youth, war and manhood I have ever seen.

One of The Best, February 14, 2006
By William McClellan

Alvin Kernan has written one of the best books on WW2 I have ever read, and I've read a lot of them. His descriptions of his wartime experiences are crisp, vivid, and relevant.

If any of us are ever tempted to generalize in a negative way about sailors in the U.S. Navy, I suggest they read this book all the way to the end. What Kernan went on to do after the war is just as impressive as what he did while he served Uncle Sam.

An autobiographical treasure, May 8, 2008
By David Kolb

Dr. Kernan's four years overseas, which encompasses the full length of the War in the Pacific during 1941-45 is an autobiographical treasure that is as true a war story as any can be. This book takes us not on a pleasure cruise, but a voyage into a long-forgotten world of young, Depression-era ranchers and shoe clerks turned aviation ordinancemen and pilots. These we meet, however briefly, snaking up the stairs in a long line at the New Congress Hotel whorehouse in old Honolulu, in a below-decks poker game on a rusting, inflammable escort carrier, or seen for a fleeting moment, unconscious in the gaping seas as the result of a slight but deadly flight miscalculation, sinking beneath the waves, impossible to save, gone. Those voices of the past, their thoughts, fears and dreams, are recorded here with a painful honesty and without much sentiment for, as the author admits, he never really intended it for general publication at first. Those of us who appreciate history poured straight up will be forever in his debt that he changed his mind.

Absolutely Wonderful, December 19, 2007
By Terrence Feenstra "Story Lover"

War, of course, is the antithesis of wonderful, and yet Alvin Kernan's memoir is so vividly and beautifully written that I wish to have been at his side during that time. The other reviews give a sense of Mr. Kernan's story, but I want to spend my praise on his writing: clear, direct, unadorned prose, which nevertheless conveys an absolute sense of place. If you want to learn to write well, you will read this book repeatedly. If you teach writing (not making up), consider Crossing The Line as a textbook.

Highest recommendation. You can order new copies online at

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