Pat Conroy, the author of “The Great Santini, “The Prince of Tides,” “The Lords of Discipline,” “Beach Music” and “My Losing Season,” regrets protesting the Vietnam War and not serving in the military. I didn’t read the book, but I love The Great Santini movie starring Robert Duvall and Blythe Danner. The movie is about a Marine F-4 driver and his relationship with his teenage son. I suspect it is autobiographical because Pat Conroy’s father was a Marine F-4 pilot.
The article was prompted by an interview Pat Conroy did with his former Citadel basketball teammate Al Kroboth when Pat was doing research for a book he was writing about the team. After college Al became a navigator flying the A-6 Intruder fighter bomber. During a bombing mission over North Vietnam Al and his pilot, Major Leonard Robertson, were shot down. Al does not know what happened to his pilot whose name is engraved on the Vietnam memorial in Washington, D.C. Al was captured and became a prisoner of war.
Pat describes his anti-Vietnam war activities that he proudly championed while his friend struggled to survive in the Hanoi Hilton.
“Al, you know I was a draft dodger and antiwar demonstrator. ‘That’s what I heard, Conroy,’ Al said. ‘I have nothing against what you did, but I did what I thought was right.’ . . . It was that same long night, after listening to Al’s story, that I began to make judgments about how I had conducted myself during the Vietnam War. In the darkness of the sleeping Kroboth household, lying in the third-floor guest bedroom, I began to assess my role as a citizen in the ’60s, when my country called my name and I shot her the bird. . . . It had never once occurred to me that I would find myself in the position I did on that night in Al Kroboth’s house in Roselle, New Jersey: an American coward spending the night with an American hero.
Read the entire article. It is excellent.