Book Review: Brothers of War, by Lew Holt

Prepared by .

"Remember Pearl Harbor." This sentiment mobilized a nation after the deadly attack of the American fleet at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1943. This year marks the 70th Anniversary of that attack. In the book, Brothers of War, the author, Lew Holt, helps us to remember Pearl Harbor through a remarkable collection of letters from 1941 through 2003. Holt's brother, William (Bill) Harrison Holt was at Pearl Harbor aboard the light cruiser, USS Phoenix (later the ARA Belgrano). Bill survived Pearl Harbor but died in 1945 of tuberculosis, contracted during the war. The significance of the book for genealogists is the exchange of letters between Bill and his mother and others. Especially poignant is Bill's journey through illness, without the support of his family, except through letters. Back in the day, travel and communication was not as it is now. Researchers will also appreciate the ups and downs of correspondence as the author begins his inquiry into the fate of the Phoenix during and after the war, subsequently contacting many of those who knew his brother on land and at sea, as well as those who were aboard the Phoenix and shared their insight and experience, whether they knew his brother or not.

The book takes it's title, "Brothers of War," from his communications and relationships developed during the course of writing the book, not only with those aboard the Phoenix, but with four men -- two who figured in the fate of the Phoenix after it was sold to the Argentine navy and later sank by a British nuclear submarine during the 1983 Falklands War, and two Japanese aviators who participated in the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the war in the Pacific. The book is also about serendipity, a phenomenon dear to the heart of a genealogist: the book had its beginnings in a conversation overheard by chance, but it does not end there. It was a chance, almost "overheard" conversation online that led the author to an equally remarkable American in Japan who facilitated his contact with the Japanese aviators. In all genealogists will relate to the author's effort to rebuild the historical context of his brother's life, some 45 years after his death. The book is historically significant for the personal insight into the times in letters between Bill and his family, and for the stories told by Bill and others about that fateful day at Pearl Harbor, including the first-hand experience of two Japanese aviators who were there. While the book does not have footnotes, end notes or references; for the type of book it is, they are not needed: the context, contributor, and date of each letter is included, in addition the author's narrative clarifying their significance. While it is sometimes difficult to separate the author's narrative from the letters (except those of his brother's, which are in script font), the reader can pick it up within a few lines. Overall, this is a remarkable work, illustrating the value of researching the historical context of an ancestor's life, and providing yet another example of ways to share one's family history.

Brothers of War: The Story of William Harrison Holt, by Lew Holt. Salem, OR. 2008.

The book is also available on the author's website at

<< Genealogy Book Reviews

click to view original photo