If I were to draw a Venn diagram describing “The Jersey Brothers” there would be four circles intersecting with a larger circle that would be the war in the Pacific. While the war is in the forefront of the Mott-Cross family, it is merely the backdrop for all that takes place as three brothers and a mother fight for country and survival. Do not get fooled thinking that The Jersey Brothers is the navy version of “Saving Private Ryan”. The Jersey Brothers reads like a well-crafted novel, but is a fact-based account of brothers Benny, Bill and Barton along with their mother Helen and their struggles that was 70 years in the making.
Sally Mott Freeman, daughter of brother Bill, researched and wrote The Jersey Brothers over ten years. She wisely leaves out observations of family relationships until the end in her epilogue. Using the information from Navy records, letters, diaries, accounts from fellow Navy Prisoners of War and until 10 years ago an unopened box of documents, letters and photos belonging to her Uncle, Barton Cross, The Jersey Brothers is a very compelling read. The facts surrounding the battles in the Pacific and the behind the battlefront activity is a history buff’s dream. From Pearl Harbour to Hiroshima and the end of World War II in Japan, Mott Freeman tells a brave story that leaves you pulling for an ending that everyone has fought for, but this is a war story.
The loyalty of the three men is tested by not being not only being able to know where the others are, but also by a loyalty to their mother who is suffering under the cloud of Navy protocol, privacy and the Navy’s number one priority of winning the War in the Pacific. While there are the personal accounts of suffering, depression and injury, the war goes on and The Jersey Brothers provides an account of actions by leaders in the White House, the Army and the Navy. Readers are given the backroom deliberations and arguments at sea and on land, the destruction of American battleships and the loss of tens of thousands of American soldiers. Reading of the Pacific War was a new experience for me – my knowledge was very limited, I started reading The Jersey Brothers as the 100th Anniversary of Battle of Vimy Ridge of The Great War was being commemorated in Canada and France.
Through many pages, I found myself hoping for that happy ending, only to be emotionally dragged through setbacks and disappointments. While in real life these events may need us to sit back and rest before moving forward, Mott Freeman drives us forward onto the next pages. Whether it’s Helen and her correspondence to government officials, her comfort in her garden or how her sons endure the ups and downs of the war, The Jersey Brothers is about the bond of family and the efforts each take to keep the ties alive through distance and desperation.
The Jersey Brothers takes us back, as a reminder that if at all possible a war on that scale, or any scale should never be fought again.
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