Why The Good Guy List?

War imposes its greatest toll upon the souls of families…

The Good Guy List is a family saga that features twin brothers striving for redemption, forgiveness, and survival as they come of age in the times of Disney, Kennedy and Vietnam.

The Good Guy List tells a story that goes beyond the classic Vietnam era contributions of Tim O’Brien, Jim Webb, Karl Marlantis and other veterans who so beautifully related the harshness of the Vietnam experience. The Good Guy is not restricted to the authenticity of action in the war, or to the heartfelt introspective experiences of the American warrior in Vietnam. Only two percent of its pages describe its protagonist’s “in country” experiences.

The Good Guy List,  approaches the trauma of Vietnam from another perspective, one that has not received full treatment in the canon of literature about that war. The Good Guy List vividly and tenderly portrays the gifts of love and hope that family members share with those that are closest. It speaks to the emotional and intellectual investment that extended families make in shaping the lives of their young ones. It tells of how we prepare our youth to come of age in times of peace and when war is waged. The Good Guy List relates the fear and concern of those left safely behind while their loved ones live and struggle on distant jungle hillsides. It’s a story not just about life in war, but about the impact of war upon our families and country due to the loss of those in whom families place their love, hope and prayers. The protagonist of The Good Guy List, David Joyce, represents all the burgeoning potential and passion put in jeopardy by our society as we venture into the vanities of war.

I’d like to share a bit of how David and his twin brother Patrick came to be.

Some forty years ago, I spent about six weeks in Bethesda Naval Hospital. My injuries happened stateside when another Marine under the influence of way too much alcohol pinned me between two parked cars when he lost control of his vehicle. I was a pedestrian. And I was a bit older than most of my fellow patients who had returned wounded from the war. Although they were torn and tattered, or worse, my fellow patients at Bethesda struck me as being more like boy scouts than veteran Marines. They seemed so young, so defiantly resilient and, in spite of their experiences in Vietnam, naïve and blindly optimistic. My perspective differed from that of my peers, and I took refuge in observing those youthful healing souls and listening to their stories. I don’t say that I planted the seed for The Good Guy List while in Bethesda. Rather, I prepared the ground for sowing when the right idea was ready.

The concept for Good Guy List occurred a couple years later when I was visiting a family friend, an older woman who had invited me for dinner. Another woman from the community, Faith Haley, joined us, and we sipped good wine and relished a fine meal. As we chatted, I asked Faith about her son, Wilson. Her youngest son was one of those landmark characters in life. Valedictorian of his high school class, a Stanford graduate who did his post-grad work at Harvard, Wilson was five or six years older than I. To me as a young teen, his persona was bigger than life.

I recalled Wilson finishing up at Palo Alto and moving on to Harvard, but had lost track of him as I faced my own challenges in college and then the draft. I had not heard that Wilson had died in Vietnam. Somehow that sadness had escaped me. I was caught completely off guard when I asked Faith about Wilson – and my ignorant query exposed Faith’s deep sorrow. Faith’s eyes poured out to me the reach of pain carried by a mother who buries her child.

At that moment, the seed for The Good Guy List was passed to me. I planted it, nurtured it, and it has become what it is. The memory of Wilson melded and synergized with my observations of the youthful survivors in Bethesda. From that, the story of David Joyce emerged.

David Joyce is a huge character. You see him born. You grow up with him. You see into his mind and heart. He talks to you. You become one among his family. You bear his pain. He shows us what we as a society put in danger when we choose to wage war.  David’s actions are heartfelt. He reminds society that as a civilization, our losses in war cannot be retrieved. David shares a gift that is eternal and that enables those willing to trust him to thrive in the love of life in spite of how the world tests them.

The plight of those who fought war is well told by Tim O’Brian and others who lived out the experience of being “in country” during the war. The full reach of the Vietnam experience on the American psyche cannot be comprehended, however, without including the war’s impact on those who gave their sons and loved ones. War imposes the greatest toll upon the souls of families.