Author: The War Came Home With Him: A Daughter’s Memoir
Publisher: University of Minnesota Press
Date of Publication: September 1, 2015
Date of Review: September 22, 2015
“The War Came Home With Him: A Daughter’s Memoir” is a throat-clenching biography of a POW during the Korean War and an autobiography of his daughter, who poignantly tells her own story growing up with a man tragically changed forever after being a POW. Catherine Madison deftly gives a voice to her father, Doc—something he was never able to do for himself—in a way that honors him profoundly. “The War Came Home With Him” is painfully honest, not just in the details of life as a POW, but in the undeniable ramifications such immense trauma has on those few who manage to survive. Madison’s honesty enshrines Doc’s integrity, despite the obvious mistakes he make once home from war.
“My story of Korea—let it rest there…I imagine I have changed but do not know how nor have any inclinations of such,” Doc wrote to his wife after being release from the POW camps, but before returning to the States. It didn’t take long for the changes to become obvious. Fits of hyper vigilance, anger, paranoia, dissociations and sadness became the routine for Doc, with his family on the receiving end. For example, Madison’s mother urged her to invite her friends over to celebrate their high school graduation, but Madison declined. In her words: “I could not risk my father blowing up in front of everybody.”
It would have be exceedingly easy for Madison to portray her father as a villain, a man taking out his pain on his children, but the author digs deeper in search of a greater understand of the man she and her brothers called “Colonel Surgeon Father God.” What she uncovers, largely after his death, is a story so painful it is easier to understand the result: war comes home with its soldiers, sailors, and airmen.
Madison never makes excuses for her father, she doesn’t justify the time he punched her, or the countless times he let her down. Instead, she juxtaposes her story of growing up with his story in Korea, then later stationed in Japan as a surgeon treating Vietnam casualties. At times, Madison’s story feels whiny compared with her father’s horrific time as a POW, but this only adds to the meta-perspective of a narrative so intertwined, it’s hard to distinguish between victim and abuser. As a memoir, Madison avoids making categorical statements about all service members, focusing on her personal experiences and those of her father.
We often try to drill war down to numbers, military operations, and politics. Quantifiable things like causalities, time, and area determine the traditional scale of a war, but tallying only provides a narrow estimate of the ramifications of war. Policy changes are also popularly discussed, such as the New Deal, McCarthy era policies, and The Patriot Act. Biographies of generals and poignant stories of soldiers. line libraries, but there is a gap in our accounts of war, the effects on the family.
As portrayed in “The War Came Home With Him,” the true casualties of war are immensely larger than reported when we consider the families forever changed. “The War Came Home With Him” is a reminder to the reader that “collateral damage” in war is costly, hurting families the most.
I highly recommend “The War Came Home with Him” to anyone interested in reading about the experiences of POWs, the Korean War, war-grief, trauma, and the impact on war and families. Actually, I recommend this book to anyone interested in non-fiction. Madison’s writing is so compelling; I read the entire book in a couple of sittings, not wanting to put it down for even a minute.
Thank you, Net Galley and University of Minnesota Press for providing me with an Advanced Reader Copy!