John Domagalski
Author Interview with John Domagalski
How did you become a writer?

It was somewhat like putting two different interests together. I have always liked history. It was my favorite subject in high school and college, so much so that I took high level college classes just based on interest. Writing has always been a strength of mine. I can’t say there was ever any formal training in my past, but I liked to write things and seemed to be good at it. One day I decided to put those two interests together and wrote a magazine article. It took off from there.

What made you want to write about World War II?

I have always been interested in World War II. I started reading about it at a young age, I remember long before high school. The war will likely forever stand as the greatest conflict in human history. Even today it is of great interest among readers of all age groups – young and old alike. The range of topics is limitless – overall, strategy, specific battles, and the stories of people. I like to look for the little-know and long forgotten stories. The war was fought by people and it’s their stories I want to tell. 

Tell us about your new book Escape from Java: The Extraordinary World War II Story of the USS Marblehead?

The book tells the story of the old American warship Marblehead. She was part of the Asiatic Fleet and was thrown onto the front lines in the opening days of the war. The ship was badly damaged by Japanese bombers. Her sailors then faced a desperate struggle, actually two different struggles. First was to keep the ship from sinking and then to escape the area as the Japanese were advancing fast on multiple fronts. The second part actually breaks into two stories – getting the Marblehead out of harm’s way and then there is the story of a group of her wounded sailors who were left behind on Java. Both are profound stories filled with drama and heroic actions.

Explain the setting?

The story takes place in the Pacific during the grim early days of the war for the United States. Much of the focus during this time has been on what happened at Pearl Harbor, but thousands of miles west across the Pacific there was a group of American ships called the Asiatic Fleet based in the Philippines. The ships were old – obsolete in many cases. The sailors were outnumbered and outgunned by the Japanese in almost every category of weapons. Yet here they are, these brave men on the front lines, alongside the British, Dutch, and Australians, trying the stop the Japanese advance in the Dutch East Indies. Today the area is mostly the country of Indonesia. 

How do you hope the story resonates with your readers?

I want readers to feel and understand the desperate situation facing the sailors aboard Marblehead. It is truly a story of people doing their best in a bad situation.

How much research did you do for the project?

Lots of research. The war was fought about 80 years ago, so there really aren’t too many people left to talk to about their experiences. We are pretty much now left with the historical record. The National Archives in College Park, MD houses most of the World War II era naval documents – battle reports, deck logs, interviews, and the like. These are the key documents written at the time by the people directly involved. Newspaper and magazine articles along with books are also great sources of information. It’s really like putting together a puzzle. You have all of these pieces of information, and you then have to put them all together into a story. And because you’re writing nonfiction, it all has to be accurate.
John Domagalski Copyright 2022
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