Chasing Ghosts A Memoir of a Father, Gone to War

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  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2015-10-12
  • Publisher: Fordham University Press
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Chasing Ghosts is a gripping narrative about a daughter's quest to achieve reconciliation with her father during the last years of his life when he finally broke his silence about his military experience before and during World War II.

When literary biographer and memoirist Louise DeSalvo embarked upon a journey to learn why her father came home from World War II a changed man, she didn't realize her quest would take ten years or that it would yield more revelations about the man--and herself--and the effect of his military service upon their family than she'd ever imagined. During his last years, as he told her about his life, DeSalvo began to understand that her obsession with war novels and military history wasn't merely academic but rooted in her desire to understand this complex father whom she both adored and reviled because of his mistreatment of her. Although she at first believes she wants to uncover his story, the story of a man who was no hero and who was adversely affected by his military service, she learns that what she really wants is to recover the man he was before he went away.

As DeSalvo and her father uncover his past piece by piece, bit by bit, she learns about the dreams of a working-class man who entered the military in the late 1930s during peacetime to better himself, a man who wanted to become a pilot. She learns about what it was like for him to participate in war games in the Pacific prior to the war, and the war's devastating toll. She learns about what it was like for her parents to fall in love, set up house, marry, and have children during this cataclysmic time. And as the pieces of her father's life fall into place as DeSalvo works to piece together the puzzle of everything she's learned about this time, she finds herself finally able to understand him.

Chasing Ghosts is an original contribution to the understanding of workingclass World War II veterans who did not conventionally distinguish themselves through "heroic" actions and whose lives were not until recently considered worthy of historical or cultural attention. It personalizes the history of those sailors who served in the Navy aboard aircraft carriers and on islands in the Pacific prior to and during World War II and contributes to the current vital conversation about the often-unrecognized effects of war and its traumas upon those men and their families. It reveals the lifelong devastating consequences of military service on those men and women who fell in love, married, and set up house. And it reveals the complexity of what it is like to be the daughter of a father who has gone to war.

Author Biography

Louise DeSalvo is the Jenny Hunter Distinguished Scholar for Literature and Creative Writing at Hunter College. She founded the MFA in Memoir at Hunter College, where she has taught for over thirty years. She currently teaches memoir to undergraduates at Hunter. She has published nineteen books, among them, Virginia Woolf: The Impact of Childhood Sexual Abuse on her Life and Work, named one of the most important books of the 20th century by The Women's Review of Books; the memoirs Vertigo, winner of the Gay Talese Prize, Breathless, Adultery, Crazy in the Kitchen, and On Moving, as well as Writing as a Way of Healing: How Telling Our Stories Can Change Our Lives and The Art of Slow Writing: Reflections on Time, Craft, and Creativity. She has received the President's Award for Research from Hunter College, the Douglass Society Award, and the Acerbi Award, among other honors. She is currently working on a book about D. H. Lawrence.

Table of Contents


War Stories

"Join the Navy, See the World"

The Sea, the Sea

On the Road to Nowhere, Moving Fast

Fly Boy

Man o' War's Man

Dead as a Doornail

A Very Smart Ship

A Flower, A Sunburst, A Star

The First Death

Into the Drink

Trouble Board

War Games

When Pigs Can Fly


"The Girl for Me"

"Of Couse I Will"


Safe House



So Much to Lose, So Much Already Lost

Magic Bullet

On the Day I Was Born

"Hide Your Tears"

House Hunting


Secret Code

Command Center

The Sailor Who Flew Home on Wings of Air

A Knock at the Door

Just a Very, Very Few of the Many, Many Who Have Died


Chasing Ghosts

Ship's Model

Mopping Up

Cargo Cult


Coming Home

The Evening News

The Last Time My Father Almost Died


Wearing My Father's Bones



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