It’s a lazy Sunday afternoon on this twelfth of December, 1937. The American gunboat USS Panay plows the slow-moving waters of the Yangtze off Nanking. The Panay patrols China’s rivers to protect American interests in the chaos that engulfs the Middle Kingdom. Today, the Japanese army has fought to the gates of Nanking.
The Japanese bomb explodes dead center atop the Panay’s wheelhouse. Fire, shrapnel, and wood splinters rip into the commanding officer and all others on watch. The second bomb smashes into the quarterdeck. The Japanese aircraft press their assault. Forty-five minutes later, the Panay’s bow dips under the Yangtze’s surface and slowly settles on the riverbed.