printed copy

Sailing into the Abyss: A True Story of Extreme Heroism on the High Seas

William R. Benedetto, Howard B. Thorsen

ISBN 0806526343
Publish Date 3/1/2005
Format Hardcover
Categories Citadel, Military
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Praise for William R. Benedetto’s Sailing Into The Abyss

“A harrowing tale of life at sea that is as exciting as any fictional thriller” —Philip Margolin, New York Times bestselling author

“Riveting…This vivid account of the voyage and destruction of the SS Badger State will go down as one of the great adventure stories of our time.” —Bevin Alexander, author of Korea: The First War We Lost and How Wars are Won

“William Benedetto’s Sailing into the Abyss may most properly be included amongst the elite sagas of man against the sea…Superbly written, spellbinding, engrossing.” —From the foreword by Howard B. Thorsen, Vice Admiral, USCG, Retired

“This is a superb book. William R. Benedetto knows and understands the sea and its glories and terrors.” —Bruce L. Felknor, editor of The U.S. Merchant Marine at War, 1775–1945

“Exceptionally valuable and interesting…I will enthusiastically recommend it and encourage our midshipmen to read it.”—Joseph Stewart, Vice Admiral, USMS; Superintendent, U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, Kings Point, NY

"William Benedetto captures the gallantry of skipper Captain Charles T. Wilson and the marvelous crew of the SS Badger State. I highly recommend Sailing into the Abyss for all who love going to the sea in ships.” —Pierce J. Johnson, RADM, USNR (Ret) President & CEO, U.S. Navy Memorial Foundation

Shortly before Christmas, 1969, the Merchant Marine vessel SS Badger State weighed anchor near Seattle and departed for Da Nang, Vietnam. Onboard was a dangerous cargo of bombs being sent to support American troops fighting overseas. But what began as an unremarkable voyage soon went drastically—and terrifyingly—off course. Within days, the Badger State sank, dooming twenty-six of its forty men to a watery grave—and leaving everyone connected with the ship with the haunting question: What really caused the deadliest sea disaster of the Vietnam War?

William R. Benedetto began researching that question while serving in the Coast Guard’s Marine Investigation Unit. The assignment developed into a highly personal mission, as he spent years piecing together a full-scale account of this unique maritime event. The result of his work is Sailing into the Abyss, a riveting epic of a seafaring misadventure—the first book ever written on the sinking of the SS Badger State.

Using eyewitness accounts, official documents, and rarely seen photos, Sailing into the Abyss presents a minute-by-minute narrative, as viewed through the eyes of the ship’s few survivors. Among them is Captain Charles Wilson, who shares his painful memories of the voyage and the difficult decisions he had to make in confronting a series of catastrophic events. Well into their voyage, Wilson and his crew discovered that the weather report calling for clear skies was wrong—dead wrong. When two colossal storms converged on their vessel, the bombs began to come loose in their cargo holds. A mighty wall of water rolled the Badger State fifty-two degrees to port. And then the unthinkable happened—an explosion rocked the ship, blasting a hole through its hull and forcing Wilson to sound the abandon ship signal. To add to the crew’s danger, another bomb sank their fragile lifeboat. On their own amid the punishing waves, the men were defenseless when huge, normally harmless albatrosses inexplicably turned vicious and attacked them as they floated helplessly in the freezing waters of the North Pacific.

The sinking of the Badger State was one of the most shocking episodes in recent American history, and yet it has not been examined in full . . .until now. Richly detailed and featuring compassionate portrayals of compelling, real-life characters, Sailing into the Abyss finally gives much-deserved recognition to the heroism of those who survived the tragedy—and those who did not. It is a fascinating look at the human drama behind a military catastrophe, celebrating the triumph of the spirit in the face of adversity.

William R. Benedetto joined the U.S. Coast Guard in 1946 and spent the following twenty-eight years in maritime activities. He served aboard search-and-rescue cutters; rescued fishing vessels; handled port security on the Great Lakes; and served as Shipping Commissioner in such active ports as New Orleans, San Pedro, and Portland. He later became an attorney and an avid student of merchant marine history, particularly the story of the Badger State. His articles have appeared in Harper’s Magazine and USCG Magazine. He lives in Wilsonville, Oregon, near Portland. Please visit his Web site,

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