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The Great Rescue

American Heroes, an Iconic Ship, and the Race to Save Europe in WWI

About the Book

Published in commemoration of the centennial of America’s entry into World War I, the story of the USS Leviathan, the legendary liner turned warship that ferried U.S. soldiers to Europe—a unique war history that offers a fresh, compelling look at this epic time.

When war broke out in Europe in August 1914, the new German luxury ocean liner SS Vaterland was interned in New York Harbor, where it remained docked for nearly three years—until the United States officially entered the fight to turn the tide of the war. Seized by authorities for the U.S. Navy once war was declared in April 2017, the liner was renamed the USS Leviathan by President Woodrow Wilson, and converted into an armed troop carrier that transported thousands of American Expeditionary Forces to the battlefields of France.

For German U-Boats hunting Allied ships in the treacherous waters of the Atlantic, no target was as prized as the Leviathan, carrying more than 10,000 Doughboys per crossing. But the Germans were not the only deadly force threatening the ship and its passengers. In 1918, a devastating influenza pandemic—the Spanish flu—spread throughout the globe, predominantly striking healthy young adults, including soldiers.

Peter Hernon tells the ship’s story across multiple voyages and through the experiences of a diverse cast of participants, including the ship’s captain, Henry Bryan; General John Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Force; Congressman Royal Johnson, who voted against the war but enlisted once the resolution passed; Freddie Stowers, a young black South Carolinian whose heroism was ignored because of his race; Irvin Cobb, a star war reporter for the Saturday Evening Post; and Elizabeth Weaver, an army nurse who saw the war’s horrors firsthand; as well as a host of famous supporting characters, including a young Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Thoroughly researched, dramatic, and fast-paced, The Great Rescue is a unique look at the Great War and the diverse lives it touched.

Educator and Librarian Resources

Critical Praise

“An intriguing work of World War I research resurrects the little-known history of a massive German luxury liner that was confiscated and retooled for the American war effort. In this lively look at the history of the Leviathan, once known as the SS Vaterland, the flagship of the Hamburg-American Line, Chicago Tribune editor Hernon (8.4, 1999, etc.), who was also an investigative reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, unearths a fresh aspect of America’s war effort.  . . . . A wise, elegant study to add to the World War I archives.” —Kirkus Reviews

“This fresh examination of the Great War will be appreciated by general readers and World War I buffs alike.” —Library Journal

Product Details

  • ISBN: 9780062433862
  • ISBN 10: 0062433865
  • Imprint: Harper
  • On Sale: 06/13/2017
  • Pages: 368
  • List Price: 34.99 CAD
  • BISAC1: HISTORY / United States / 20th Century
  • BISAC2: HISTORY / Military / United States
  • BISAC3: HISTORY / Military / World War I

The Great Rescue by Peter Hernon

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