Books: The Wouk Mutiny

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The Greatest Experience. Though he was making $200 a week during the depths of The Depression, squiring showgirls around town and living in a swank apartment at Manhattan's Essex House, Wouk began to feel that "gags were not the answer to the riddle of existence." He talked to his grandfather, and put his probings into a diary (he still keeps it, so far has filled 20 volumes—6,000 pages). When Pearl Harbor came, Wouk enlisted in the Navy. At midshipman's school he graduated in the top 20 in a class of 500, further distinguished himself by writing a paper on "The Responsibilities of Naval Leadership" in verse and in the meter of a French ballade. At school and throughout his Navy career, Wouk held fast to Jewish law and custom. On the Liberty ship taking him to the Pacific in 1942, Wouk often ate nothing but bread and potatoes, because the ship's menu was dominated by pork. One day he posted a satirical poem on the bulletin board:

Of all God's creatures small and big We owe most to our friend, the pig . . . Yeoman, record this in the log:

Twenty-one-gun salute—the hog!

A senior officer saw the verse and issued an order: "Give this man something he can eat."

For Wouk, the wartime Navy was "the greatest experience of my life ... I had known two worlds, the wise guys of Broadway and the wise guys of Columbia—two small worlds that sometimes take themselves for the whole world. In the Navy, I found out more than I ever had about people and about the United States. I had always been a word boy, and suddenly I had to cope with the peculiar, marvelous world of the machine."

In Love with the Boss. Unlike the Caine, the destroyer-minesweeper Zane, to which Wouk was assigned, swept mines aplenty—off the Marshalls, Kwajalein, Eniwetok, the Marianas, Guam, Saipan, Tinian. In two years Wouk was successively assistant communications officer, communications officer, ship's first lieutenant and navigator. Later he was reassigned to another minesweeper, the Southard, saw action in six Pacific campaigns. He rose to executive officer, had been recommended to become captain of his ship when it was wrecked in a typhoon at Okinawa.

One night late in 1944, when the Zane put in at San Pedro for repairs, Lieut. Wouk and a few fellow officers went out on the town. After all the bars had closed, one of the men remembered a birthday party being given for the boss of a file clerk he knew. "So we all barged in. I made a date with one of the file clerks for lunch the next day. All through lunch the girl raved about her boss, this beautiful, witty, talented creature. Naturally I went back to her office to take a second look, and I made a date with the boss."

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