Under the Radar

Surviving a WWII U-boat Attack in 'So Close to Home'


This week marks the 74th anniversary of the May 19,1942 sinking of the freighter Heredia by a German U-boat in the Gulf of Mexico, forty miles off the coast of New Orleans. Michael J. Tougias and Alison O'Leary's new book So Close to Home combines the story of an American family's survival after being cast into the sea with the diary of the German U-boat Commander Erich Würdmann to give a unique perspective on the almost-forgotten threat of Nazi boats in American waters during World War II.

Ray "Sonny" Downs was eight years old when he almost drowned. He went on to become a college basketball start at the University of Texas (setting scoring records that even Kevin Durant couldn't surpass) and was drafted by the St. Louis Hawks, but passed on pro sports to pursue a career in insurance in finance. He talks about his WWII experience in the video below.


So Close to Home tells the story from both sides. The U-boat commander's diaries give the German and military version of the story and the members of the Downs family share their survival tale.


Tougias specializes in writing tales of the sea: he also co-wrote The Finest Hours, which was made into the excellent 2016 movie starring Chris Pine, Casey Affleck and Eric Bana (out on Blu-ray and DVD on May 24th). The story he tells in So Close to Home deserves its own movie.

so close to home

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