New York Times bestselling author is former Soldier, editor

| December 15, 2016 | 0 Comments

Karen A. Iwamoto
Staff Writer

HONOLULU — Although the nation wrapped up its commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, last week, a lesser-known attack on Dec. 7, 1941, remains mostly shrouded in mystery.

Author Stephen Harding (Photo by Mari Harding)

Author Stephen Harding (Photo by Mari Harding)

The SS Cynthia Olson, a World War I-era steamer under charter to the Army was en route from Washington state to Hawaii with a load of lumber to help build up the islands’ defenses when it came under fire from a Japanese I-26 submarine.

SS Cynthia Olson issued an SOS before its crew of 35 reportedly abandoned the ship in lifeboats. From there, they vanished from sight and, for the most part, memory.

With the world’s attention focused on the bombing of Pearl Harbor, where more than a thousand of service members lost their lives aboard the USS Arizona alone, the SS Cynthia Olson became a historical footnote.

What happened to the crew? Did the submarine attack occur before the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and if so, could that have altered the United States’ response to Pearl Harbor and changed history?

Author, military historian and former Soldier Stephen Harding, who was in Hawaii last week to meet members of the Greatest Generation, seeks to answer these questions in his latest book, “Dawn of Infamy: A Sunken Ship, a Vanished Crew and the Final Mystery of Pearl Harbor.”

Harding is no stranger to World War II history. He has written eight other books, including The Last Battle, a New York Times bestseller about U.S. and German soldiers who join forces to protect an Austrian castle from the SS, and The Castaway’s War: One Man’s Battle Against Imperial Japan, about an injured Navy officer who launches a one-man fight on a Japanese-occupied island in the Pacific.

Both are slated for the silver screen.

The latest book by author Stephen Harding.

The latest book by author Stephen Harding.

For Dawn of Infamy, he hunted down existing interviews with the I-26 captain, traced the history of the SS Cynthia Olson and delved into the archives of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, one of the local daily newspapers in Hawaii during World War II.

For the final piece of the puzzle, he found himself going further adrift.

“I had to get away from just military history,” he said. “I ended up doing a lot of research on the North Pacific Gyre, which is this huge circulating current in the Pacific. This is key to the mystery (of what happened to the crew).”

Ultimately, he said, his focus is on stories about individuals or groups that, through their actions, illuminate larger themes with universal appeal.

Much of his work focuses on the Pacific theater of World War II. He attributes his interest in that period to having a father and uncle who served in that region during World War II and to his own childhood in California, where relatives of his friends were Japanese-American veterans of the Army’s highly decorated 442nd Infantry Regiment.

Harding is himself a former Soldier, having served in the Army’s public affairs field during the Vietnam War. He was pulled into that field after a training injury left him bed-ridden with lots of time to read – and “at the military hospital, a lot of the reading material had to do with military history,” he added.

After his stint in the Army, he became a defense journalist, covering stories in Northern Ireland and Iraq. He was on the staff of Soldier, the official magazine of the Army, for almost two decades.

He currently lives in Virginia, where he is the editor of Military History magazine.

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