Johnny Got His Gun: My Dad’s Favorite Book

Robert - Forest Hills, New York
Entered on January 20, 2009
Age Group: 18 - 30
Themes: family, gratitude

was no deep connection, and our relationship could be described as casual at best. A change came about when I finally got around to reading his favorite novel, Johnny Got His Gun, by Dalton Trumbo. This is why I believe in the experience of sharing a book with someone important.

When you stop to think about it, how often do you actually read a book or watch a movie recommended by someone whom you feel has nothing in common with you? The answer for some may be rarely, or in most cases never. Until I finished Johnny Got His Gun, I would not give any article, movie, song or book recommended by my Dad a chance. The stuff he related to was not for me, it’s old. How could anything he suggests be anywhere near as cool as what I was into?

Still, my father persisted in extolling his favorite novel, Johnny Got His Gun. He would preach the importance of the book’s overall anti-war sentiment. I can remember him nearly moved to tears while reading a selection aloud the first time he introduced me to the book. I was just starting middle school, and my father told me I was ready to handle his most cherished novel. In his mind, not only was I be ready to handle the prose, but I was to develop a greater appreciation for life. Nevertheless, the book had no appeal to me. I had no intentions of reading something that wasn’t mandated by a teacher. His beat-up, faded copy of the soft-cover novel sat on me desk for years, even though he told me he wanted me to read it as soon as possible.

About two years ago, I finally completed my responsibility to my father. Along with my mother, he had raised me in a safe, caring household, and finishing that book was the smallest possible thing I could’ve done to say thanks. The book allowed me to discover a greater understanding of my father’s mindset. Although I had previously grappled with the book, I knew it was my duty to finish it, with hopes of determining why this book had always meant so much to my Dad.

Johnny Got His Gun is narrated by an injured soldier from WWI who is left with nothing other than his torso and head. Trumbo takes the reader on a painfully honest narrative through the conscious thought and traumatic flashbacks the speaker is fighting through. In looking into the history surrounding the novel, I discovered a great deal of controversy surrounding the author. An alleged communist, Trumbo and nine other prominent screenwriters never admitted to their involvement with the Communist Part. He was sentenced to a year in prison and blacklisted, only to return as a more prominent screenwriter and director. The novel was feared because of its rapid ascent within the beat culture of the 1950s. Trumbo’s graphic prose did not shy away from the harsh realities and damaging effects of war, fueling an already turbulent anti-war movement sweeping the nation. Overall, I realized how provocative and influential Johnny Got His Gun could be. Remembering my father’s cracking voice as he first read a lengthy passage, this book suddenly meant something to me, because of how much it meant to him.

I called my Dad and told him I finally finished his favorite book, the same novel he had suggested I read eight years before I got around to it. After giving me a hard time for taking so long to get through it, I thanked him and he was entirely grateful for the simple phone call in itself. I realized it was the first time I called my father from college, after already spending nearly 3 semesters away from home.

Although not a football toss, fishing trip or more typical father-son interaction, I finally found a way to connect. The books or films we look to influence each other through are our way of bonding. We get closer to being able to see eye to eye without awkward or forced dialogues which used to plague our rare conversations throughout my adolescence. I may have wasted a lot of time not getting to know my father. Fortunately, I finally made the decision to trust his recommendations, by reading Johnny Got His Gun, something he desperately wanted me to read since I could open my eyes. Following through on his recommendation, and connecting with the same material which has been prolific in shaping his ideology toward life, allowed me and my father to connect beyond mere words. Someone may read and be moved by Johnny Got His Gun after this speech today. In doing so, the bond I feel with the novel will be more perceptible than anything this speech may have suggested.