Victor “Pug” Henry
Victor “Pug” Henry, a career naval officer serving as a captain at the outbreak of World War II. Deprived of a battleship command when the Japanese sink his ship at Pearl Harbor, Henry commands the USS Northampton, a light cruiser in the Pacific fleet, and participates in the Battle of Midway. He returns to shore duty, where his close association with President Franklin D. Roosevelt leads to his assignments in various posts both in Washington, D.C., and abroad, handling sensitive political and military matters. He travels to Russia to assist Harry Hopkins in negotiating Lend-Lease matters with Joseph Stalin before returning to sea as a rear admiral in charge of a battleship division. His division participates in the historic battle of Leyte Gulf in the Philippines. During these turbulent years, Henry struggles to salvage his marriage to his wife of a quarter century and to deal with his growing feelings of love for his younger British friend, Pamela Tudsbury. Eventually, the Henrys are divorced, and Victor marries Pamela shortly before becoming naval aide to President Harry Truman.
Rhoda Henry, who has been married to Victor Henry for more than twenty-five years but is growing increasingly disenchanted with the marriage as she passes her fiftieth year. While her husband is at sea or abroad serving during World War II, Rhoda keeps house in Washington, D.C., participating in the limited social life there. For some time she agonizes over her relationship with businessman Palmer Kirby, with whom she has had an affair. She then meets Colonel Harrison Peters, whom she marries after divorcing Victor Henry.
Natalie Jastrow, an American Jew, thirty years old, living in Siena, Italy. Although she is married to Byron Henry, she stays with her uncle, noted historian Aaron Jastrow, who refuses to leave Siena despite advice to evacuate before the Nazis make it impossible to leave. Natalie finally persuades her uncle to leave, but because he is well known and she has her child with her, they are easily identified. She makes repeated attempts to engineer a return for all three to U.S. custody, but she finds herself being taken further into the Nazi circle. First, they are detained in Italy, then they land in Germany, and eventually they are assigned to the Germans’ model concentration camp at Thieresenstadt. There, Natalie is coerced into working to trick representatives of the International Red Cross regarding the Nazis’ real program for Jews. She is separated from her son and transferred to Auschwitz, but she is rescued when Germany surrenders. After recuperating in Paris, she is reunited with Byron.
Pamela Tudsbury, who works as an assistant to her father, a noted journalist, and later as assistant to Lord Bourne-Wilke of the British Air Corps. A woman of thirty, Pamela has fallen in love with fifty-year-old Victor Henry. She witnesses the fall of Singapore and is in North Africa when her father is killed. Unable to marry Victor, she becomes a military assistant in the British war effort. Her postings take her to both Moscow and Washington, D.C., where she meets Victor to renew her relationship. She is engaged briefly to Lord Bourne-Wilke, but his death from war injuries frees her just as Victor is divorced. She moves to Washington, where she realizes her ambition of becoming Mrs. Victor Henry.
Byron Henry, the second son of Victor Henry and a submariner in the Pacific fleet. Although he is married to Natalie Jastrow, he is separated from her and tries repeatedly to get reassigned to the European theater so that he can help her escape the Nazis. Aboard ship, he proves to be a highly competent officer, becoming executive officer and eventually commander of a boat. Prolonged separation from his wife and repeated trips to his widowed sister-in-law’s home test his fidelity, but he remains committed to his wife. After hostilities end, he is able to go to Europe to locate his missing child and reunite his family in Paris.
Aaron Jastrow, a noted historian in his sixties. He believes that his status as an American will protect him from the Nazis’ attempt to round up all Jews in Europe. He relies on a former student of his, Werner Beck, to protect him, only to learn that Beck is attempting to get him to collaborate with the Nazis. He is shipped to various detention areas and at Thieresenstadt is beaten into submission and made to work for his captors. When he is no longer of use to the Nazis, he is shipped to Auschwitz and sent to the gas chamber.
Warren Henry, Victor Henry’s eldest son, a career naval officer. Warren’s assignment aboard the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise places him in the thick of the action at the Battle of Midway. He distinguishes himself in combat but is killed in the final sortie of the...