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Monday, October 29, 2007

Silent Generation No Longer Silent: A Blessing, Not a Lack of Patriotism

BEYOND PELELIU
By Peter Baird
Ravenhawk Books, 2006

Reviewed by John Kane for the Denver Post (Permission given to reprint by the reviewer.)

In September 1944, 45,000 U.S. marines and soldiers attacked the tiny Japanese held island of Peleliu in the Palau Islands. The attack served no useful military purpose and was based on faulty intelligence that the island was lightly defended and its capture would take just days. More than 13,000 Japanese troops fought with suicidal intensity for over a month; fewer than 2,000 of them survived. Eighteen hundred American troops were killed and another 8,000 wounded.

BEYOND PELELIU is the fictional story of one American who returned. More than that, it is the story of how the carnage of war resonates through generations to affect the son he barely knew, and his son’s eventual relationships with his own wife and children. Peter Baird’s powerful and sensitive tale exposes how the Greatest Generation and its successor, the Silent Generation, were affected by a war from which even those who returned in body never really came home.

Tom McQuade is a surgical resident in Boston married to an exotic woman, Virginia, with a newborn son, David, when Pearl Harbor ends their idyllic life. Drafted and made a captain in the Army Medical Corps, Tom goes ashore at Peleliu. He returns to his family crippled in body and spirit. With his hand shattered, his promise as a surgeon becomes a bitter memory.

To Virginia’s consternation, Tom refuses to discuss what happened at Peleliu, but it has changed him irrevocably. His anger and frustration lead to drinking and an inevitable divorce. Virginia and David move on with their lives.

Forty years later, David is a successful trial lawyer in San Francisco. Like his father he is a warrior, but his battlefield is the courtroom and it, too, is strewn with casualties.

After Virginia dies and Tom has entered the early stages of dementia, father and son reconnect. For the first time, the jaded lawyer with a briefcase full of courtroom triumphs and failed relationships learns the awful secret of what happened to his father on Peleliu and experiences the liberating force of truth.

What became of the sons of the Greatest Generation? Although the Silent Generation did not go to war, many of its members were indelibly shaped by the effect of war on parents who tried to pick up the pieces of shattered lives and couldn’t. All boys develop an ideal father – a hero who rescues them, a template for their own development into men. Those whose fathers go to war create particularly potent ideals for the absent parent, who rarely measures up if he indeed returns. Until a boy comes to grips with the reality of who his father is, without the need to idealize and the consequent betrayal of that ideal, he cannot become a man. David McQuade’s reconciliation with Tom enables both men to become fully realized.

BEYOND PELELIU goes far beyond the faulty intelligence of a disastrous battle and the psychological carnage that afflicted a father and son. It is the story of redemption that comes from embracing the truth that lies at a parent’s core. It is also the story of practicing a profession with external success, but devoid of meaning. Only by embracing truth in all circumstances can David become more than the shell of a man. Indeed, only by embracing the truth can he himself become a hero.

Baird’s style is spare and clean, expressed in short paragraphs blissfully free of adverbs and adjectives. His prose is characterized by strong nouns and active verbs reminiscent of Ernest Hemingway and Raymond Carver. His attention to detail in describing every scene and event make the development of each character natural, credible and consistent with the plot. His use of dialogue is masterful.

It is not surprising that Baird, a prominent trial lawyer, describes the work of lawyers with such authenticity, but the medical aspects and the battle scenes are equally well done. The demons of war infuse them all. There is not a dull passage in the narrative; it moves like a rocket to its thudding and entirely human conclusion.

Readers of any generation will understand themselves better and share in the experience of real and memorable characters. In BEYOND PELELIU Baird speaks to and for the Silent Generation. We can be grateful that it is silent no more.

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