I found a book in the Casa Italia Veterans Museum called Descent into Darkness a Pearl Harbor 1941 Navy Diver’s Memoir written by Commander Edward C. Raymer, USN (Ret.)

If you are interested in World War II history, the real and often grisly story of what our men and women experienced, read this book. I learned once again that the government doesn’t tell us everything. Through history and people’s experiences we learn a great deal about things that were never discussed at the time of the event.

Raymer talks about his dive experience in California after he enlisted in the Navy prior to World War II. Days after the attack on Pearl Harbor he is transferred to Hawaii to help with salvage efforts of the ships that were hit. He describes in great detail the dives the crew took, the problems they encountered due to lack of diving equipment, and the salvage efforts of both men and equipment. The divers dove in blackness as oil surrounded them which had leaked from the ships. They had to navigate their way through debris of all kinds, including human remains. It is a miracle they didn’t lose more men than they did.

I often wondered why the Navy didn’t bring up the remains of the men who died on the USS Arizona. When I read the story I understood why. It is very sad and I will not explain it here. You’ll have to read the book.

Raymer served a brief time in Guadalcanal doing salvage work before returning to Pearl Harbor. His memoir ends in early 1944 when he’s transferred to deep sea diving school in California. He does talk about discrepancies between what historians have reported and what the experiences were. He wrote his memoir 50 years after the experience and consulted various National Archives records from the Navy, various histories, and spoke to others. These things are described in the ending of his book.

One major idea I took away from this is that based on what some historians wrote about things he discussed, shows that we each have a different perspective on things. We each have a different experience even if it is in the same moment in time and event. This applies not only to war but also life in general. This major idea is one we will be exploring more in 2014 through the genealogy department programming. I have already been in discussions with several people regarding some ideas. Will we open some cans of worms? Probably. But sharing ideas, experiences, stories, and ideas is how we learn and grow and write history. One of my goals through this process is to help people tell THEIR stories and donate them to the Casa Italia collection. Through a collection of experiences, I believe a new chapter will be written on many aspects of Italians in Chicago.

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