Michael J. Tougias, bestselling author and co-author of 24 books, offers a dramatic presentation based on his co-authored book So Close to Home. Tougias will use slides of the attack, the survivors, and the rescue to make this "an edge-of-your seat" multi-media program.
In May of 1942, a German U-boat commanded by 29-year-old Erich Wurdemann (Iron Cross and coveted Knight's Cross recipient) cruised along the coast of Florida, sinking ships off the Coast. But this submarine was the first to pass the Florida Keys, enter the Gulf of Mexico and go all the way to the mouth of the Mississippi River. Wurdemann had his sights set on the freighter Heredia with 59 souls on board.
Most of the crew were merchant seamen, but there were also a handful of civilians including the Down's family. The family was comprised of the parents, Ray Sr. and Ina, along with their two children, eight year old Ray Jr., nick-named "Sonny," and eleven year old Lucille.
Fast asleep in their berth the Down's family had no notice that two torpedoes were heading their way. When the ship exploded all four members of the family were separated from each other. More than half the crew and passengers aboard the Heredia perished, but incredibly, after 15 hours in the ocean - facing sharks, hypothermia, drowning, and dehydration- all the members of the Down's family survived and were reunited.
Ray Downs Jr. aka "Sonny" is now 82 years old but he remembers every detail of the voyage, the attack, and his family's miraculous survival story. Tougias also had access to the U-boat commander Erich Wurdemann's War Diary, and the presentation will include a discussion of the challenges faced aboard the sub, and some of the other daring raids the commander made off the coast of America. SO CLOSE TO HOME is a survival story and history book rolled into one, similar to Laura Hillenbrand's Unbroken. "I enjoy doing these programs," says Tougias, "because I like to transport the audience into the heart of the action so that they ask themselves 'what would I have done.' It's like watching a movie with the author giving behind the scene details." The presentation is suitable for all ages. The Instructor for this couse will be presenting live from a remote location.
Tougias, known for his fast paced writing style and character-driven stories, has written several true survival thrillers, including The Finest Hours, which is now a Disney movie. His other sea saga's, include Rescue of the Bounty, Overboard!, Fatal Forecast, A Storm Too Soon, and Ten Hours Until Dawn. On a lighter note, the author penned the award-winning memoir There's A Porcupine In My Outhouse: Misadventures of a Mountain-man Wannabe. His latest book is Above & Beyond: JFK and America's Most Dangerous Spy Mission.