Author delves into World War II story of the USS Helena
John Domagalski tells the little-known stories only World War II veterans can tell.
The Lake in the Hills author recently released his new book, “Sunk in Kula Gulf: The Final Voyage of the USS Helena and the Incredible Story of Her Survivors in World War II.”
Two years in the making, the book includes stories relayed by veterans during about 20 interviews. Domagalski, 43, spent two years writing and researching the book through looking at historic records from World War II, many of which he found at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.
In some cases, he relied on the journals of late veterans and pieced all of the information together like a puzzle.
“It was one of those stories that had slipped away into history,” Domagalski said.
“We’re losing World War II veterans daily,” he said. “These are people who have stories to tell, but they’re slowly slipping away. ... In many cases, these are stories they never really told before. They rose to the occasion. They fought the war, and they came back and went on with their lives.
“In many cases, they never really told their families or friends what really happened.”
Domagalski’s fascination with history began as a child while building model ships and reading books about World War II.
His first book, released in 2010, “Lost at Guadalcanal: The Final Battles of the Astoria and Chicago as Described by Survivors and in Official Reports,” follows two American warships through one of the U.S. Navy’s greatest naval defeats.
“I don’t know what it is that attracted me to World War II,” he said. “My interest always took me to the nautical side of things.”
His second novel describes the sinking of the warship the USS Helena in the South Pacific in 1943. Some of the Helena men were saved that night. But about 200 sailors who survived the sinking were missed during the rescue mission, Domagalski said.
They spent two and a half days lost at sea before 165 of them made it to a Japanese island behind the front line, he said. They hid out on the island for about a week before they were saved, Domagalski said.
“It’s one of those forgotten stories from World War II,” he said.
“Now that these folks are in the twilight of their lives, I’ve found they want their stories to be heard,” he said. “I’ve found it very rewarding to talk to these folks.”