The Gun Club Tackles
A Mystery Of WWII
A Son Learns About His Father — Whom He Never Knew — By Researching And Writing A Book About The Battle That Took His Life
By Karen Weil
Modern Times Magazine
Nov. 10, 2017 — Robert Fowler never knew his father, who was killed in combat four months before his son was born. That would be enough sorrow for one lifetime.
As an extra emotional burden, Fowler grew up knowing that his father (also named Robert) died during a grueling, if lesser known, World War II battle.
Fowler’s self-published book, The Gun Club: U.S.S. Duncan at Cape Esperance, was released to commemorate the battle’s 75th anniversary last month and received good reviews from the military community.
The Duncan was the first Allied warship to penetrate a Japanese battle-line. The battle took place on late in the evening of Oct. 11, 1942 in the South Pacific. The ship was part of a fleet tasked with stopping Japanese forces from re-supplying Guadalcanal.
On Oct. 12, 1942, the Duncan sank six miles north of Savo Island and dozens died.
The late Mr. Fowler, a Harvard graduate, joined the Navy in 1941 before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He was a 21-year-old torpedo officer at the time of his death.
Christopher C. Wright, editor of Warships International, describes The Gun Club as “an outstanding example of historical writing.”
A documentary filmmaker and screenwriter who lives in Southern California, the younger Fowler said that he wants readers to “feel like they’re on the ship. The stories are very personal [and] you feel the humanity of the crew.”
In one passage Fowler writes, “Growing up without a father, I was aware there was a mystery surrounding his death. Both of my grandfathers and assorted uncles had dug into it after the war, but their questions never got answered to anybody’s satisfaction. My mother was convinced that the Navy was covering something up.”
In another passage, Fowler writes about his grandfather asking the ship’s captain, Edmund “Whitey” Taylor, about what happened.
“At 2,500 yards, Lieutenant Fowler directed the firing of the first torpedo, which scored a hit,” Taylor told him. “That was the first [Japanese] warship sunk by a torpedo, I’m told. Shellfire from a second [Japanese] cruiser destroyed the Duncan’s bridge, and killed a lot of officers and men. Lieutenant Fowler was mortally wounded. They say we got three cruisers and three destroyers. The Duncan was the only ship lost.”
Fowler’s grandfather left behind numerous newspaper articles regarding the tragic battle, and his mother talked about her husband’s experience often.
The younger Fowler served as an Army M.P. in South Korea, earned a political science degree from Middlebury College and even worked as a researcher for none other than venerated newsman Harry Reasoner at CBS. His career also included producing an off-Broadway play and screenwriting.
In 1991, Fowler’s mother Patricia was invited to a 50th anniversary event in Florida for the surviving Duncan crew. She and her son attended, but Fowler realized that none of the veterans there seemed to know [exactly] what happened.
“The battle occurred in the dead of night, after all,” he said. “It all happened extremely fast.”
While talking to veterans during subsequent reunions, Fowler learned that ship logs from this battle existed.
Sources told Fowler that when they read Herman Wouk’s The Caine Mutiny, they thought it was about the Duncan – Fowler “realized there was a book here.”
His research took about 20 years. Fowler used the ship log as a guide and asked people what they remembered — “and everybody remembered a little something about everything.”
Fowler described Cape Esperance as “one of the least studied battles – but it was important, because it was actually planned. I was writing a microcosm of every Navy ship at that point.”
He pointed that in 1942, the Navy learned to fight in a new era — for example, enlisted men had to learn about radar.
As he began his research, Fowler believed Taylor, who would later become a vice admiral, was responsible for the disaster.
However, that changed when Fowler learned what the orders were: firing torpedoes to sink Japanese ships.
The Duncan was charging towards the Japanese Fleet, and they believed the U.S. destroyers would follow, Fowler said.
Fowler said he discovered that the Duncan wound up between two fleets, and inadvertently was sunk by the U.S. fleet, although the Japanese also fired upon it.
Married over 30 years to movie still photographer Suzanne Hanover, Fowler said he leads “a quiet lifestyle” and hopes that family members of Duncan veterans will read the book.
To learn more about The Gun Club: U.S.S. Duncan at Cape Esperance, visit http://thegunclubbook.com/
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