I kicked off 2016 by starting The Winds of War and War and Remembrance by Herman Wouk, with the idea of finishing by today, his 101st birthday (which he is alive to celebrate). Alas, I’m only 80-odd hours into the 101 hour audiobook (the numerical coincidence wasn’t lost on me) the two-volume novel comprises. The books are thought provoking and revealing and I’ll have a lot to say about them later, when I’ve actually finished, but I wanted to wish Mr. Wouk a happy birthday.
I’ve been a Wouk fan since high school. My favorite is City Boy, a book I love beyond measure and include in my personal top five. That one and Youngblood Hawke show his bent for humor, but his legacy is his war novels, espcially The Caine Mutiny, which won the Pulitzer Prize, and the two books about the Henry family and World War II. Through Wouk’s novels I’ve gained a lot of appreciation for the men who fought World War II, while also having a much richer and nuanced view of America during the war, which Wouk faithfully records without the “greatest generation” mythmaking.
I’ll blog more about the novels later, but a curious coincidence of the books is a major character named Byron Henry. Our own Byron is named for Henry Byron Robinson, his grandfather, who — like Byron in the book — served in the Pacific theater in World War II. My father in law, like both of my grandparents, never regaled people with war stories, but he was haunted by memories of it for the rest of his life. That is, until yesterday, when he died at the age of 93, taking his secrets with him.
By didn’t define himself by his war experience. He liked reading, music, birdwatching. and big cuddly dogs. Most of all, my wife says, “he enjoyed being a dad.” But she also says “he thought about [the war] every day, even if he never talked about it. It was obvious.” We don’t need myth-making but we do need to respect, as Wouk does, the courage and sacrifice those men made.