Presentation Details

The Second International Conference on New Directions in the Humanities

Vet Deconstructed: A Journey from War to Peace

Professor Gerald McCarthy.

The loss of his first born infant son becomes a father's point of awakening and recovery. This is the story of a father's need to understand his own past; his childhood in a working class Italian/American community; the death of his mother and grandfather; his abusive stepmother and his own father's neglect; his enlistment in the Marines at seventeen; his service in Vietnam and his desertion after the war; his time in military prison and Naval mental ward; and his eventual discharge to an uneasy peace.
I will read a selection from my anti-memoir, Vet Deconstructed-A Journey from war to Peace. A selection:
I was a deserter. I ran away from a war the summer I came home from it. I ran and ran and kept on running. I ran like a long distance runner--pacing myself, taking my time. I ran from my Italian/American family and I ran from my childhood in a small upstate New York town known for its shoes and IBM. I ran from the shoe factory workers and from the smells of sauce cooking on stovetops and the fried smells of zucchini flowers in summer or artichokes cooked in hot olive oil, and the smells of outside cookouts of chicken or lamb cooked over open fires. I ran away from home. Soon there was only distance and dream. And I was a chairman of dreams. Call me traitor, turncoat, coward, liar, thief. I have been all of these things and something more — a sleepwalker. No, not that Rip Van Winkle stuff—although that's about how long I've been dreaming—twenty odd years and more. I was forty-five years old when my first born son died. I remember holding his tiny body in my arms and staring at the doctors who had hurt him. And I began to come awake. My eyes were open. And I could see all the way back to how it started. Some force outside of me pulled me up a turbulent shaft of wind. And there in the intensive care unit I began to stir. I began to see the deaths were linked somehow, linked not just by death alone but like a long line of cut-out figures — each one tied to the next in a kind of intricate dance.


Professor Gerald McCarthy  (United States)
Professor of English
St. Thomas Aquinas College

Author of two collections of poetry: War Story and Shoetown. Poems, essays and fiction have appeared in Both Sides Now, Carrying the Darkness-The Poetry of the Vietnam War, Beloit Poetry Journal, America, Ploughshares, Mid-American Review, Ohio Review, TriQuarterly, Nimrod, Rattle, Poet Lore,etal.

  • War
  • Recovery

(30 min. Conference Paper, English)