The Bode Testament: Author's Interview
Sandy Shanks and Tim Lanzendoerfer

Read an Interview with the Author

Q: Can you start off by giving a little summary of your work and why we're doing this interview?
A: A few years ago, in 1998, I had the honor of being the first guest on Tim Lanzendoerfer's magnificent website. Engaged in on-going research for my recently published work, The Bode Testament, what followed was a series of discussions between Tim and myself that aided the development of the work --- a story about the Battle of Savo Island, August 9, 1942, the U. S. Navy's worst naval defeat on the high seas.
The work is one of historical fiction for one very simple reason: Bode died. On April 19, shortly after mailing a letter to Admiral Arthur Hepburn and sixteen days after that admiral's interrogation of him, Bode returned to his quarters, went into the head and shot himself with a Colt .45. On April 20th, at Balboa Naval Hospital, he succumbed. Taking upon myself the resuscitation of his career, it became necessary to keep him alive. Bode will face a trial. Thus, historical fiction. In his jacket is the parenthetical note, "Not a war casualty." I am not so sure. 1077 sailors died at Savo that dreadful day. It is to be considered that Captain Howard D. Bode, on April 20, 1942, became the 1078th victim. He is guilty, history cries, and there is the proof of it (his suicide). The Hepburn Report censured only Bode, despite the errors of those adorned with flag epaulets, for our worst naval defeat, and censured him for only one misdeed --- failure to take the lead. The Naval War College Analysis and Captain's Board, both in 1950, confirmed this and added a few more charges. As did Morison, the official Navy biographer, and all other esteemed author/ historians since, to include Richard Newcomb, Richard Frank, the Warners, and Bruce Loxton.
It, perhaps, should be considered that these writers dissected Captain Bode and isolated him during those five horrible moments, from 0145 to 0150, that began while he was in his cabin getting some much needed rest while Long Lance torpedoes were already heading his way.
The Bode Testament is unique in one respect. It closely examines the life and times of one Captain Howard D. Bode. From his diplomatic duties in the hottest capitals in Europe in the thirties --- London, Rome, Berlin, Paris etc. --- to his stint as head of the Foreign Intelligence division in the Office of Naval Intelligence, the Pentagon. This man was no fool. In September, 1941, while at ONI, he, along with his boss, Captain Alan Kirk, wanted to pass on a warning, the infamous Bomb Plot Message, to Admiral Kimmel in Hawaii. Admiral Richmond Kelly Turner said, "No," then both Bode and Kirk were "detached." Bode's next assignment was command of a battleship. This guy was a comer. Unfortunately, that ship was the Oklahoma, and Bode witnessed its destruction at Pearl Harbor with the Bomb Plot message impregnated on his soul. Attending to duties ashore, he was absent when his ship was attacked.
On May 31, 1942, while dining with Admiral C. Muirhead-Gould, the base commander at Sydney Harbor, his ship is attacked by a Japanese midget sub. In a span of six months his ships are attacked twice without his presence, and, in each case, the fault lies elsewhere.
In Chris Coulthard-Clark's Action Stations: Coral Sea we see a whole different Bode than is seen at Savo. He was a part of Crace's Chase, and he performed bravely and intelligently.
Most seamen did not like him, as if that were a qualification for command. On the other hand, I read the words of his yeoman, Frank J. Westley, who depicted a lonely man, sometimes wanting only to talk to somebody. "When it came to ship handling and combat, I am proud he was my skipper," Seaman William R. Grady, onboard the Chicago on August 9, 1942. Well, this all fine, but what about Savo. Moreover, what are these charges that have been heaped upon this hapless captain. They are: a. Failure to take the lead following the departure of Admiral Crutchley on the Australia. b. Failure to warn the Northern Force of Mikawa's approach. c. Failure to take command of his destroyers. And d. The most damaging, his inexplicable course westward, away from the action --- cowardice before the enemy.
Ignoring the possibility that when Bode exited his cabin that morning he left behind his courage and intelligence, to refute these charges and forty-five years of history's interpretation of this ignominious defeat (Morison [1949] to Loxton [1994]) would require a book. You know, guess what ...
It is called The Bode Testament, and it can be found on either the Barnes & Noble site or Amazon site on the Net. Here is a clue. Noting the times above which have been provided by the Naval War College Analysis of 1950, the Chokai, Admiral Mikawa's flag ship, opened fire on the Astoria, while the Kako did the same, and the Aoba began its torment of the Quincy at 0150!
He was not a well liked man, "lacking the milk of human kindness." He was not a man to whom one made suggestions. But he, in the opinion of this author, does not deserve the condemnation of history.
He was destined for flag rank, but "it was not to be. Life held for him the full measure of tragedy," Newcomb in Savo, published in 1961

Q: I note that your book has been given favorable reviews on, notably by Mac Gregory, whom I had the pleasure and the honor of talking to and learning from. If anyone's opinion on this matter counts, then it should very much be his.
A: Yes, I consider his remarks highly and have thanked him. You know, he was there.

Q: Let me give you, before I go on and before they get lost, a number of questions which I think I would like answered. First, how long has this book been in the making?
A: Four and a half years of toil.

Q: What triggered the idea of you writing a book about Captain Bode?
A: Newcomb's Work, "Savo: The Incredible Naval Debacle off Guadalcanal", read in 1961. It troubled me. It was recalled thirty-five years later when I decided on a new hobby. An avid reader, I wanted to attempt to write a book. Savo is singular in its secrecy, results militarily, and abject conclusions regarding culpability.

Q: You say it's historical fiction: how much is fiction, how much is for real?
A: The work is very heavily documented, endnotes, bibliography, related unpublished works, correspondence, plus a disclaimer at the end that tells the reader that Bode died so that anything after April 20, 1943, is pure fiction. My publisher "ordered" me to use endnotes. I had them as footnotes for read ease. Publishers reign. And, to be honest, I didn't like it. Made it harder for the reader.

Q: What has been the best part for you to write about?
A: Chapter 14 is my best chapter. It was worked on for months. In this Chapter Bode "attempts" to kill himself. It was difficult to envision that. It took a great effort on my part. Although I have to admit I looked forward to putting Turner, Crutchley, McCain, and Fletcher on the stand. It didn't turn out the way I originally intended though.

Q: Has the thesis with which you began the book changed in the process of writing?
A: Yes! It is important you emphasize that in print! When I first began my work, Fletcher was going to be hanged by his fingernails while Crutchley and Turner watched while they were burning in literacy hell. Then I learned that in the Solomons at 1800 on August 9th darkness had already descended. I can still hear the mental "uh, oh". Damn Morison and Newcomb, Fletcher didn't withdraw. Thanks to Loxton's work, I found out. There he was on the morning of August 9th off the island of San Cristobal still in support of the Marines but out of range of land-based Japanese aircraft out of Rabaul, and he was in compliance of operations orders according to John Lundstrom. Then I learned of the careers of Turner and Crutchley, totally exhausted men according to Marine Corps General Vandegrift, following Savo. I could not denigrate these men. I am first an American, secondarily, an author. My work reflects this change. And this is good. Early for the reader it is apparent that Bode is my hero, and it is obviously early who the bad guys are. Well, that's not the way it turns out.

Q: Are you a fulltime writer, or do you also do things my mother would say are "good jobs"?
A: I am a furniture salesman with a dream, working full-time, and hoping that will end soon so that I can write.

Q: Tell me about the way you wrote the book: did you research the entire book and then start to write, or step by step? When did you write: at night, in your free time?
A: I wrote and researched during the day until I was unable to spell "is". Having spent most of today since the forenoon reaching to people who might be interested in "Bode", I am rapidly approaching that point now.

Q: Can you detail a bit of the effort that went into the book?
A: Late in 1999, I was deeply involved in the text, when I ran upon an anomaly. The torpedo that crushed the Chicago's bow, was it from starboard or from port? The early works and the Chicago's log indicate port. But I saw something, forget now what it was, that indicated differently. I cursed. I should know this by now. Turns out is was the starboard side, verified by the Hepburn Report and photographs. A revelation! When Bode first got to the bridge, there was a warning that torpedoes were spotted to starboard. He first turned to starboard to bomb them, but these torpedoes were unseen by the bridge. Seconds later, torpedoes to port were seen by the bridge. The seen took precedence over the unseen, and Bode turned to port. Woe be if there were torpedoes to starboard; he had just turned his broadside to them. The Long Lances that nailed the Chicago came from starboard, courtesy of the Kako.

Q: Which is your favorite chapter?
A: Chapter 14, closely followed by Chapter 29 - disclosure of the fictional "silver bullet".

Q: Any further plans for books?
A: I am two chapters away from completing my second work, one of contemporary fiction. Busy with "Bode" I haven't touched it in weeks, the trials of an unproven impoverished author..

Q: Did you ever consider writing a historic study, rather than a work of fiction?
A: Are you kidding? My kudos to those like John Lundstrom, Bruce Loxton, Richard Frank, Chris Coulthard-Clark etc., with their works which include annexes and indices and what not. Tom Clancy-like I intend to write fictional novels that depict a strong America with its faults, but not be hampered by what can be categorized as an English assignment.

Q: Can one obtain signed copies from you?
A: I can be reached at and checks payable to Sandy Shanks can be sent to 2116 E. Mardina St, W. Covina, CA 91791, and a signed copy along with a brief personal note will be mailed promptly. Sorry, I just checked my receipts, and it cost $14.50 to mail a copy overseas. So, if I am sending the copy abroad, the cost will be $45.