Book Review- “Bringing Mulligan Home”

May 11, 2013

I swear I have not abandoned this blog, but I’ve had a lot of other stuff on my mind the last six months. The job has been hell, but I think I’m OK now. Nobody is really safe here, but I think I’m fairly safe and can relax and do my job and they won’t screw with me.

I saw a book, “Bringing Mulligan Home” by Dale Maharidge in airport bookstores a couple times, and it looked very interesting. A reporter tells how his father had a picture of himself and another man, both Marines in Okinawa, in his basement machine shop, and aside from hearing his father sometimes scream “I didn’t kill him! It wasn’t my fault!” the picture was a mystery to him. After his father dies he sets out to learn what really happened to his father in the battle of Okinawa and what really happened to Mulligan.

I have been pretty broke and spending $30 for a hardcover book seemed an extravagance, but I saw it again a couple days ago and just bought it. The book seems to me to about far more than World War II but about what our experiences do to us.

The image of WWII veterans has been mostly that they came home proud heroes and became wise, pipe-smoking suburban fathers. At the time the movie “The Best Years of Our Lives” dealt with the issue of “adjustment” but superficially, and there was an official documentary about soldiers in a psychiatric hospital. I saw another book about returning veterans a couple years ago that talked about PTSD and employment problems in WWII veterans but I didn’t buy it and don’t remember the title.

Maharidge’s father worked as a machinist and also had a shop at home where he did additional work. He was mostly a normal 50’s and 60’s father but had an explosive temper that made life very difficult for his wife and kids. He tracked down other men in his father’s unit and found they had varying degrees of psychological and physical problems. Some were deeply affected, others said they weren’t very bothered by their experiences.

Beyond injuries from bullets and shrapnel, the Marines Maharidge talked to suffered sometimes from PTSD and sometimes from blast concussions. His father developed and explosive temper, which some relatives assured him his father had not had before the war. Another had a happy-go-lucky personality but lost his ability to concentrate, couldn’t finish engineering school and ended up working as a janitor in an auto plant. One had a nervous breakdown for a few months in the 60’s but eventually recovered with help from his wife.

Maharidge blames all his father’s problems on the war, but I think there is more to it. His father came from a poor, difficult background and had suffered a lot of deprivation and stress before he was in the war. I think all these things make it harder to deal with stress later. The number of men he interviews hardly make for a statistical sample, but coming from a comfortable background before the war and having supportive wives and relatives after seem to lead to better outcomes.

He makes on interesting note at the end. His father’s anger made his childhood difficult but he credits his father for trying hard to be a good father and providing him with happy experiences. He shows a manuscript to his younger brother, who tells him that when he was young and exhibiting bad behavior, their father came into his room at night and said “I could kill you.” After that he couldn’t sleep and was terrified their father would kill him, and even as an adult has trouble sleeping. I’m sure his younger brother has a much darker view of their childhood and their father than he does.

We come into the world with certain characteristics, under certain conditions, and then the experiences of life mold us further. Ideally we are supposed to come from a good environment and go from victory to victory. If we don’t we are supposed to overcome our disadvantages and setbacks and be the heroes of our own lives. To say anything else is un-American. I think this attitude shames many people. Bad circumstances and bad experiences are a very difficult thing to overcome.

I don’t discount the amount of malicious intent out there, but I think the typical person is coping with circumstances the best they can. Hold on to your humanity, hold on to the good things in life no matter how small they are.