One hour after learning that his father had died of a heart attack at age 57, Rory Quirk was flying out of Vietnam with five fellow soldiers. Those five lay stacked, dead, in body bags at his feet. Quirk's Wars and Peace begins there. He little expects, as he flies toward home, that he is going, not just to bury his father, but to begin a fascinating journey back in time, on which he may unearth the meaning of his dad's legacy.
Quirk's father, James, was a lifelong soldier who, almost daily, wrote letters home to his wife Mary, detailing his presence and perspective at turning points in world history. He served under General George Patton during World War II, rubbed shoulders with General Douglas MacArthur during the Korean war, and played absentee father for the good of this nation.
With breathtaking description, James's correspondence speaks of the heady era in which he lived and fought. There are battle vignettes, proclamations of affection, and profound thoughts on war, love, and life. At times the events feel surreal, even for the man who is witnessing them. The whole drama of this thing is so intense, begins one note James wrote from Normandy, in July of 1944. Because it is so real and because the actors in the thing are so completely unconscious of the heroic role they play. Mary's letters back are equally poignant as she writes of joining her fellow war wives to work, raise children, and hold down the fort at the homefront. The enormity of it was dreadfully hard to take, she says of the D-Day invasion. I was so keyed up that I never went to bed at all . . . went to church to offer my own little aimless prayer for all the guys most especially my own. The touchstone of each letter is the underlying hope for a peaceful future when the couple will live a simple life raising their child together. That never really happened. By the time hisfather was no longer soldiering, Quirk was fighting battles of his own. Partintimate dialogue, part guided tour, Wars and Peace is an American treasure. Byadding family photos and personal narrative to his parents' riveting letters,Quirk freezes moments and icons in time, creating the ultimate living history andnearing, if not achieving, his personal goal of an elusive inner peace. Emily Abedon is a freelance writer in Charleston, South Carolina.