Why They Call it “The Forgotten War” – Make Peace or Die Excerpt

The following is an excerpt from Make Peace or Die, a Life of Service, Leadership, and Nightmares. In it, my father relates his memories of recovery from his wound in a Navy Hospital and talks about why we call Korea “The Forgotten War.”

BETHESDA

1951–1952

“When I’m asleep, dreaming and lulled and warm,
They come, the homeless ones, the noiseless dead.
While the dim charging breakers of the storm
Bellow and drone and rumble overhead,
Out of the gloom they gather about my bed.
They whisper to my heart; their thoughts are mine.
“Why are you here with all your watches ended?
From Ypres to Frise we sought you in the Line.
In bitter safety I awake, unfriended;
And while the dawn begins with slashing rain
I think of the Battalion in the mud.
“When are you going out to them again?
Are they not still your brothers through our blood?”

—“Sick Leave,” Siegfried Sassoon

People talk about the “Forgotten War” as if future generations of students and textbook authors didn’t do their job. But the fact is few at home were thinking about Korea even when we were in it. The year 1951 was a year of wonderful distraction in America: I Love Lucy premiered and The Catcher in the Rye was published. There was a new Chevy on the market. There was no home front. The Greatest Generation, who had put their lives and comfort on hold to fight the last war, were buying suburban homes with G.I. loans and starting families in the most comfortable era in American history. Unemployment was 3.3 percent. There was no antiwar movement like there would be in the next war. Then, as now, few Americans could find Korea on the map. Today, most Americans don’t know that there’s never been an official armistice and that the Korean War is technically still going on as of this writing.

The complacency and indifference at home became clear to me on one of my first trips out of the Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. I’d been given a pass to spend the night away. Mary and I stayed at the Tidewater Inn in beautiful Southern Virginia. In the bar at the Inn, some locals noticed my sling and cast and assumed I was the gentleman whose boating accident they’d read about in the local paper. I had to ask them to repeat the question. I suddenly didn’t know where I was. I couldn’t imagine pleasure boating mishaps any more than they could picture the circumstances of my wound. Before dinner, the house band played “Dixie” and everybody stood. I remained seated and breathed hard. Despite Mary holding my trembling right hand, I felt completely alone. I thought about Cowart and Ables, Rocky and Ivens, and longed to be with them, if not joining their ranks in death, at least back in the dirt cracking sick jokes and feeling like my work mattered. That feeling would return for a very long time. It’s only recently, looking back with the perspective that comes from a lifetime of dwelling on the personal cost of “the game,” as my slain Uncle Charlie called it, that I no longer wish to be back there with them but wish they could be here with me instead.

I was rated 40 percent disabled for my semi-useless arm according to a Veterans Administration chart that compensates one leg

at one rate, two legs at another, and another for loss of sight or for one or both of “the brains” or a “three-piece set.”

MASH field hospital korean war batalion aid station
Navy Doctors and Corpsmen perform emergency surgery on wounded Marines in a Battalion Aid Station field hospital during the Korean War (Photo/ Department of Defense.)

My therapy started when the seepage stopped. For a while, the closest thing I had to exercise was putting my arm in a warm whirlpool for hours. That wasn’t pleasant, but not totally unpleasant. Eventually, my prognosis turned around and there were no more jokes about waiting for the arm to fall off. The Navy doctors were able to fuse the two bones in my forearm, the radius and ulna, into a one-bone forearm, resulting in an arm that can no longer pronate (twist). Progress was slow. Finger exercises were frustrating. For a while, I was motivated by the relief of knowing I could keep the limb. The reconstruction left my arm much more fragile than if I had both bones. With each fracture came the dread that I may be starting from square one with therapy. The bullet damaged the ulnar nerve, leaving me with a permanent “funny bone” feeling and an arm that’s sensitive and somewhat painful when touched from the elbow down. Since then, I have worn my watch on my right wrist. Protecting the arm and holding it close and in front like it’s in a sling has twisted my spine slightly over time. So today I use a walking stick when I feel I’m listing too far over. The official report describes it like this:

“Malunion left forearm, incomplete paralysis of musculospiral nerve, limitation of flexion, limitation of extension hand, limited loss of pronation and supination.”

While I was still in the hospital, my father insisted that I get the opinion of a civilian specialist to see if there was anything more that could be done. The specialist told me it was a miracle the Navy docs had been able to save my arm. I was grateful for that, but what bothered me at the time was that I couldn’t hold Michael properly. On one of my early trips home, I was walking around our tiny apartment with him. I tripped trying to close a door with my foot. Rather than drop Michael, I fell on my arm. The docs set my broken arm, and the healing started over.

One brilliant thing military hospitals do is put every patient in contact and close quarters with fellow wounded, many of whom are maimed in ways that make you thankful for your own condition. As much as my hydrotherapy tickled, I could never compare my discomfort to the tortured grit of fellows with missing limbs trying to run, walk, or swim again. So what if I couldn’t hold Michael properly? Some other Marines couldn’t ever have kids. I saw one badly disfigured lieutenant hold a mirror to inspect the results of multiple plastic surgeries, the way you would in a barber’s chair. With despair in his voice, he pleaded with the doctors, “This is all you can do for me?”

John C. Fryer, whom I met in therapy, had lost a leg along with most of his hands to a Chinese grenade.

He had asked the man who found him, a Mexican American private, to leave him and save himself. The Latino kid pulled a crucifix out from around his neck. “I will never leave you,” he vowed.

Before the war, Fryer had been a fisherman in Alaska, ironically America’s most dangerous job. When he returned from a long trip, a buddy met him on the dock and said, “Hey, John, let’s go to war.”

“What war?” Fryer asked.

While we were in Bethesda, I asked Fryer what he would do if that buddy had asked him to go back to war, knowing exactly what would happen. Without hesitation, he said he would go.

The first time Fryer was up and walking on his prosthetic leg, Mary and I had him over for dinner. When Mary saw him off his crutches she exclaimed, “John, you’re so tall!”

He smiled and stood even taller.

Fryer had dreamed of being a forest ranger after the war. I’ve always hoped he made that happen with one leg.

***

The last thing I heard Bob Aylmer say, when Gunther Dohse and I rescued him from that rice paddy, was, “I’m okay.” Bob was okay in the end. We met again on the same medical transport flight back to DC. He was a mess, bandages everywhere, but alive. The night we landed, a young girl named Helen had called the Navy asking about Aylmer. She was his high school sweetheart, and they were engaged to be married. She was told she couldn’t see him that night but could visit the next day. She and her parents went to the hospital for a bedside reunion. Bob told her that his eye just needed resting and that he’d soon be patched up, good as new. Then he asked Helen for a moment alone with her parents. Aylmer leveled with them about his true condition. In despair over his prognosis, he said that Helen better move on and find somebody else to marry.

Helen soon got the truth from a local paper announcing Bob’s return after losing an eye in Korea. She was furious.

“You’re not marrying my parents,” she told him, “you’re marrying me. Anything you can say to them, you can say to me. I can handle it, and I’m not going anywhere.”

Bob didn’t have any family of his own besides a stepmother who came to the hospital once or twice and never returned, too upset by the sight of him. Helen, on the other hand, was back at his bedside the next day, and the day after that, and every day for many months until he was well enough to be discharged, half-blind and unable to walk without pain.

During my time with Bob at Bethesda, I watched men less wounded than him give up to lives of disability checks and self-pity. They didn’t have Helen, though. Thanks in no small part to her love, Bob always had enough encouragement to go around.

“Lieutenant Daly,”—for the rest of his days I would try to get him to drop that “Lieutenant” routine—“maybe you can’t move those fingers. So what? I saw you hold your baby, that’s pretty good. How about I lend you my glass eye so you can roll it around and exercise those fingers?”

His unending drive to rebuild his body shamed and inspired me never to moan about my arm.

A decade passed. In 1962, I was working in the White House when the guard at the Northwest Gate called my office and asked if I knew a man named Bob Aylmer. “He says you saved his life.”

“That’s not true. He saved his own, but send him in.”

We caught up. He was working full time in the State Department and walking the halls, as a messenger, in spite of his shattered knee.

“Lieutenant, I got married.” “That’s great, who’d you marry?”

“Who do you think I married?”

Besides being the center of Navy medicine, Bethesda was my hometown. At Sunday family dinners, it could feel like I had never left. But there were times when their worry and pity was all too transparent. A tough moment came when my dad visited the hospital. His own memories must have been welling up as he watched a nurse change the dressing on my arm. At my family’s home one afternoon, I was napping on the couch following a big lunch. Ann, the ever-doting, much-beloved sister, watched me sleep. She remembers feeling overjoyed her brother was home safe. She went to plant a kiss on my forehead, and the next thing she knew, my fist swung past her head. I was waking up in Korea.

On May 31, 1952, First Lieutenant Charles U. Daly was retired from the United States Marine Corps, as confirmed by these excerpts from the Marine Commandant’s letter:

Your disability is permanently related at 40 percent.

I regret that physical conditions necessitate your separation from the active list and wish you many years of happiness and prosperity.

It was time for me to try living a normal life.


Make Peace or Die: A life of Service, Leadership, and Nightmares is available through Amazon and Indiebound, or you can ask your local bookstore to order it. 

An early draft was featured on Jocko Podcast episode 196

Writing by Hand – like Peter Matthiessen

Peter Matthiessen is my favorite kind of writer–the kind who wrote as he lived, prolifically.

He worked as a commercial fisherman, a conservationist, a CIA officer, a Zen teacher, an advocate for fist-peoples, and co-founder of The Paris Review.

He authored more than 30 works of fiction and nonfiction and hundreds of articles.

He wrote by hand, carrying legal pads with him into the field.

In a comment on his obituary in Audobon, one reader describes his writing and notetaking process, which he revealed to her at a chance encounter on a trip to Kenya.

We crossed paths in Nairobi in 1986. I studied his face, with lines like a map, rich in river tributaries and dirt roads. His blue eyes arrested my journey. Over lunch, I asked how he gathered research in the field.

“I’ll share this with you,” he began. “ I take two yellow legal pads, side by side, in a large notebook. ” He holds his hands open as if releasing a rescued bird. “On the right hand side, I make notes by day. Quick, abbreviated, except for the quotes. All in long hand. At night I flesh out my impressions on the left hand side, adding things I learn elsewhere. When the research in the field is done, I type from the left hand side, adding more.”

Legal pads give you a place to be all over the place

When I’m doing research for client work, I draw a vertical line down the length of the legal pad page, making a gutter on the right-hand third of the page. This is where I put “to-do” items and notes for the outline that will come out of my notes.

This gutter is a catch-all. It allows me to capture random, unrelated thoughts that might be useful for what I’m writing but have nothing to do with the notes on the lefthand side of the page.

A legal pad, divided this way, gives me a place to be all over the place. Like Matthiessen’s “rescued bird,” this method gives me the spontaneity of a mindmap with the order of a bulleted outline.

There’s something about yellow paper

The whole point of yellow legal pads is to be mentally stimulating, that’s why they’re yellow. But there’s more to it than the color. The tear-off pages, the cardboard back strike the perfect balance between sturdiness and expandability.

A legal pad is pleasant to write on, but it’s less precious than a leather-bound notebook.

I find they help me get bad ideas out of my system without having to think about the cost of the page itself. There’s no pressure to have the quality of your ideas match the quality of the medium because it’s the same junk paper you’d use for to-do lists and notes.

Legal pads are unassuming. Students use them, so do accountants and lawyers and scientists.

A yellow pad doesn’t scream “serious writer at work.” I would imagine this worked to Matthiessen’s advantage as a world traveler whose ability to observe and document depended on blending in.

Legal pads are cheap and abundant

I bet if Peter Matthiessen needed to find a fresh legal pad in the Congo or Nepal, he probably could have. Legal pads are everywhere and are the same everywhere.

I write on Rhodia Nº19 Bloc notes. They have smooth paper. They’re made in France. At €‌6.10 for 80 sheets, they’re expensive as legal pads go. But seven bucks is a bargain, considering I’m buying the space to have ideas and hone my work before I type it up. And the return on investment over 80 pages is substantial. Plus, there’s an emotional appeal. Like a nice watch… your phone has the time, but that’s not the point.

But if you’re happy with paper that isn’t French, legal pads are crazy cheap. At Staples, a 12-pack of 50-sheet pads will set you back $23.

When I lived in Korea, I bought my pads at their equivalent of the Dollar Store for like $1 each.

Peter Matthiessen’s workshop had an Analog Desk

From what I was able to find, it looks like Matthiessen was also a believer in separate desks for typing and writing. His “workshop” consisted of an L-shaped desk with a word processor on the short end and legal pads spread out on the long end with notes stuck to the wall. As seen in this 1989 Esquire feature.

Not everyone has room for a setup like this. But even if you work at a tray table, it can help to partition writing and typing as distinct phases of the writing process.


Need something written for your business? You can hire me and my legal pad. My waiting list is now open.

Writing Rough Drafts by Hand – like Hemingway

I write the rough draft of almost everything by hand: fiction, client work, this post, all my notes.

This week, after watching the first episode of Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s Hemingway, I reread some of Hemingway on WritingIn it, he says that writing by hand makes it easier to improve your writing.

He writes:

When you start to write you get all the kick and the reader gets none. So you might as well use a typewriter because it is that much easier and you enjoy it that much more. After you learn to write your whole object is to convey everything, every sensation, sight, feeling, place and emotion to the reader. To do this you have to work over what you write. If you write with a pencil you get three different sights at it to see if the reader is getting what you want him to. First when you read it over; then when it is typed you get another chance to improve it, and again in the proof. Writing it first in pencil gives you one-third more chance to improve it. That is .333 which is a damned good average for a hitter. It also keeps it fluid longer so you can better it easier. (Source).

Writing by hand slows you down (in a good way)

Hemingway’s style was a product of endless rewriting and revision.* He found that the process of typing what he had written by hand gave him a chance to improve it.

He worked on a typewriter, but his advice is maybe even more relevant in the laptop age.  Rewriting, content editing and line editing are three distinct steps in the writing process. Writing by hand forces you to go one step at a time. A computer lets you skip to the line edit and convince yourself that whatever you’re working on is ready to show the world.

Even if you take the time to make substantial changes to the content and structure of your draft, that’s not the same as having to re-type the entire thing and make improvements as you go.

Rewriting is effective because it sucks. When I have a stack of legal pad pages to type up, I’m interested in getting through them as quickly as possible. That means not wasting time typing up lines that should be cut. The act of typing works as a b.s filter.

*Epic sidenote: I once got to read the original manuscript pages for his 47 endings of A Farewell to Arms. 

Writing by hand gives you a break from digital distraction

If you work at a computer all day, writing by hand is a way to change it up. Pen and paper pair well with working outdoors or in a reading chair or any place other than your desk.

Sometimes a venue change is all you need to burn through the brain fog.

Austin Kleon works at two desks: one is for analog work,  the other is digital.

Writing by hand just feels good

Handwriting is tactile. You form a bond with the writing instrument and the page as you shape every letter, every word.

You’ll end up working on your later drafts on a screen anyway.

Writing by hand gives you time alone with your words and your thoughts.

I’m convinced that this intimacy somehow translates to the reader in a way that a digitally-native text doesn’t. There’s a reason we write “thank you” notes and love letters by hand.

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Love Letter

Official music video for ‘Love Letter’ by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds.Download or Stream https://ncandtbs.lnk.to/nomoreshallIDWatch Bad Seed TeeVee https://www…


Need something written for your business?

You can hire me, my pen, and my yellow legal pad. 

-Charlie

Re: Net 30

No problem, I’ll just pay for my groceries a month late too.

30 days from when?

Fine, but with a 50% deposit.

Sorry, I’m not a bank.

If I was a bank, I wouldn’t give out zer0-interest loans. 

Let’s call this what it is. You’re asking for a line of credit.

Is that how your clients pay you?

“Will you be paying me before or after you bill your client?”

No thanks. 

Well, that’s one way to do business…

F*ck you, pay me. 

 


 

Writing Tips from Sex and the City

This is where I call bullshit. CARRIE NEVER READS!

Fresh out of shows to binge, my girlfriend and I are watching Sex and the City all the way through.

It’s my first time watching the whole thing (okay, maybe second) and her chance to brush up on the one or two lines she doesn’t know by heart.

She’s a writer too. So as we watch, we’ve had a running commentary going about the show’s writing (way better in seasons 1–4) and how writing is depicted in the show.

We’ve put together a list of writing Dos and Don’ts based on our observations of Carrie Bradshaw’s process and writing style.

Have a theme and stick to it

Every episode revolves around a central question which Carrie explores in her column.

“Are relationships the religion of the 90s?”

“Twenty-something girls: friends… or foe?”

“Can you be friends with an ex?”

“Are men just women with balls?” (Carrie’s words)

All the action in the episode and, we can assume, Carrie’s column for that week focus on that central theme. It’s the perfect premise for an ensemble show where four characters can depict four different ways of looking at the main theme.

Whether you’re writing a tweet or a novel, you really only get to say one thing.

Nocturnal Animals is about what happens when we throw someone away.

Infinite Jest is about what entertainment is doing to us.

Get Out is about the horrors of everyday, middle-class racism.

The success of these stories and of SATC is in that singular focus.

By giving each episode just one thing to say, the show’s creators were able to cover the broad subject of single life in your 30s and lay the groundwork for shows like Girls and Broad City that had other things to say about it. But they didn’t try to eat the whole elephant in one bite and say everything in each episode.

The Lesson: If you have lots of things to say, write lots of things. You get one theme per piece of writing.

Carrie Bradshaw writing on her laptop in Sex and the City

Image: HBO

Have a niche and know your reader

Carrie writes about dating for single women in their 30s in New York. Her column is for women like her. Her appeal is broader than that — you may remember the cringe-inducing virgin 20-something who wants to be Carrie— but she gains that broad readership by aiming small.

In On Writing, Stephen Kings says to picture your ideal reader,

I think that every novelist has a single ideal reader; that at various points during the composition of a story, the writer is thinking, ‘I wonder what she will think when she reads this part?”

For whatever reason, this is controversial advice. There’s another school out there that will tell you to write like nobody’s watching. Write for yourself.

But if you’re writing for yourself, you are your ideal reader.

The lesson: Have a niche and be as specific as possible. “Single 30-something women in Manhattan” is a better niche than “New Yorkers” or “singles” or “women.”

Deadlines are magic. Be consistent.

You hear Carrie talk about deadlines a lot. Usually, she’s using them as an excuse to get out of a commitment or to cover for a lie. But as far as I can tell, she seems to make her deadline every time.

A deadline makes your work real and forces you to sit down, spark a Marlboro Light if you must, and get the words on the page.

Deadlines help you think too. Once you have your theme, a due date will force you to have something to say about it by a date certain.

Like Carrie, you’ll find yourself thinking about what you’re writing in your free time, which is usually when your “Ah-ha” moment will strike.

The lesson: A deadline helps you write faster and better.

And then I realized…

The fun of Sex and the City isn’t watching Carrie work diligently and craft effortless, clean prose. It’s watching her lead a life that’s a dumpster-fire and aspirational at the same time.

The show features plenty of lessons for writers in what not to do.

Living beyond your means

Ellen Litman has three pieces of advice for writers,

“Don’t go into debt.
Don’t go into debt.
Don’t go into debt.”

Aspiring Carrie Bradshaws might want to embrace a minimalist wardrobe or write about dating in a more affordable city.

Brunching when you should be reading

This is where I call bullshit. CARRIE NEVER READS!* Neither does Mr. Big or any of the other characters whose real-life versions would have gotten where they are through lots and lots of reading. (Except for Miranda).

Stephen King again,

“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”

*Except when she’s dating the writer in season 5…and gets called out for being a slow reader.

Living for drama.

There’s a fine line between stirring the pot for material and using dysfunctional relationships as procrastination.

Writing is a solitary pursuit. As I watched, I couldn’t help but wonder how Carrie does it, considering she’s allergic to being alone and is pathologically avoidant of the kind of supportive relationships that nurture creative work.

As Ryan holiday put it, “the perfect spouse is the life hack no one told you about.”

Aidan you broke my heart sex and the city gif

Image: HBO

The Lesson: Leave your crazy at home. Make writing a priority…even if that doesn’t make for good TV.