Nonfiction Works

“A major contribution to the preservation of the lore and heritage of the Outer Banks.” — David Stick

“The voices ring with authenticity.” — Paul Clancy, Norfolk Virginian-Pilot

How much would you give to talk quietly for just one hour with your great-grandmother? Most likely, almost anything.


But Time rushes by like a hurricane-driven tide, cutting us off from those who went before. It bears away the old voices and the old ways. Bears away what we loved, and what we realize, too late, we still desperately need.

This book’s a bridge to that past. In a series of interviews conducted in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, eight elderly people recount their lives on a string of isolated islands off the North Carolina coast…The Outer Banks. These survivors tell of childhood, courting, marriage, and children; of hurricanes, depressions, wars, and death; faith, doubt, love, and fear. They watched the Wright brothers fly; saw U-boats torpedo ships offshore; dealt with blindness and heartbreak and shipwreck.

Now, near the ends of their voyages, they linger for a little while to tell us of The Way Things Were. And they’ll tell us more — if we’ll listen. With a little urging, they’ll share their thoughts on the ultimate questions; good and evil, youth and age, triumph and suffering.

From the first word, they cast a spell.

David Poyer is a Naval Academy graduate, retired naval officer, and Distinguished Visiting Writer at USNA. His novels have been required reading in the Literature of the Sea course there, along with those of Joseph Conrad and Herman Melville.

Poyer has spent thousands of hours researching articles for Shipmate, the U.S. Naval Academy’s magazine, of which he is the contributing editor.

Extensively footnoted, these extraordinary stories of adventure and courage span American history from the Civil War to the War on Terror. This book sheds light on corners of history that still affect us today. For example, our huge prison population can be traced to Richmond P. Hobson, the force behind today’s draconian drug sentences. Merian C. Cooper was both an air ace in World War One and the director of the classic film KING KONG. Philo McGiffin, a prankster at the Academy, became a high-ranking officer in the Imperial Chinese Navy, surveying many of the islands China claims today. Other graduates held bridges under fire, sacrificed their lives to save shipmates, shot down snipers with pistols, rescued fellow aviators on enemy territory, advised presidents, led Iraqi militias . . . and much, much more. But Poyer tries not to engage in hero worship. Some of his subjects weren’t good fathers, sons, or family men. Others didn’t always act as nobly later in life as they once had. Still, for at least one shining moment, each of the men and women profiled stood on the mountaintop, and made the difficult choice: To risk it all, for flag, country, honor, and those they led into battle.

After being wounded and awarded the Bronze Star for valor as a Marine infantry platoon commander in Vietnam, Arnold Punaro thought he’d left the battlefield behind. Instead, he redeployed onto the battlefield of Washington politics.

For almost fifty years, he’s toiled at the intersection of the political and defense establishments, working with such luminaries as Sam Nunn, John Glenn, John McCain, Colin Powell, Robert Gates, Ash Carter, and many others. Today Democrats, Republicans, and career public officials agree on one thing: few individuals possess the military experience, governmental expertise, and personal integrity of Arnold Punaro.

Partnered with best-selling writer David Poyer, Punaro offers revelations about the most contentious issues of the past and sage advice for the future. From his military service, to his role formulating and overseeing all major defense and intelligence legislation, Punaro reveals how decisions are really made inside the Beltway, providing insights into the actions of presidents since Jimmy Carter and Secretaries of Defense back to James Schlesinger. Unsparing in his criticisms of both parties, whose partisanship is leading our country over a precipice, Punaro presents radical proposals for much-needed reform to save the country for which so many have given their lives.