I met Doug Roberts at a critical moment, when I was young and beginning to think seriously about what I was going to do with my life. The fact that he was a fictitious lieutenant on a fictitious ship in a war that
had ended two years before I was born was of little consequence, because in the pages of Thomas Heggen’s novel Mr. Roberts I discovered a part of my soul that ultimately took me “down to the sea in ships.” Mr. Roberts allowed me to escape from the bleak urban canyons of the inner city and took me to the vast waters of the Pacific “planed to perfect smoothness, and in the emergent light . . . bronze-colored, and not yet blue.”
As I traveled the decks and compartments of the USS Reluctant and stood my first watches, I sensed the camaraderie of a crew, felt a sense of purpose no matter how mundane, and shared the deep frustration Doug Roberts felt in knowing the war was passing him by. That short novel set my course for life and gave me some of the instruments with which to navigate.