Marshall, a Queen Anne resident who covers the book beat for the Seattle P-I, is well positioned to know how even the best of books can slumber on in the marketplace.
Still, "It was the story I was meant to tell," Marshall says.
His "Reconciliation Road, A Family Odyssey," first published in 1993, is the tale of how the Vietnam war affected one American family. Republished two years ago by the University of Washington Press, the book speaks directly from America's broken heart.
"Read this for the peace offering it is," Moyers has written. It "leaves an indelible mark upon the reader," opined the Chicago Tribune. "Poignant," wrote the estimable Halberstam.
"Walter Cronkite said he never wanted to read another book about Vietnam," Marshall recalls. "But he said once he started it, he couldn't stop."
Maybe that's because the Marshalls were not just any American family.
John Marshall received an honorable discharge from the U.S. Army as a conscientious objector in 1970. Marshall's grandfather was the famous general S.L.A. (Slam) Marshall, author of some 30 books of military history, including "Pork Chop Hill."
After the 1967 Six-Day War it was Slam Marshall who toured the battlefields with Mike Wallace for a CBS News special. When he died in 1977 the author's obituary appeared on the front page of the New York Times.
Marshall's C.O. status didn't sit well with his famous grandfather.
"We know why you quit," Slam Marshall wrote his grandson. "It wasn't conscience. You simply chickened out." Slam's barrage was relentless: "No male among us has ever been like that and the women, too, thank heaven, are stronger. That means you don't belong ... You will not be welcome here again and you are herewith constrained not to use our name as family in any connection."
The letter serves as a more potent reflection of the times, when middle class dinner-table conversations about Vietnam took a nasty turn starting, say, in late 1965 and tore apart, more or less, other American families.
If Slam Marshall seemed to be writing from Mount Olympus, the general proved to be all-too-human. An American Heritage article in 1989 delivered a blow to his credibility.
Marshall's reputation rested on one vital book, "Men Against Fire," based on the ex-newspaperman's interviews with soldiers immediately after combat. From their fragmentary experiences he would piece together the larger picture in order to lift the fog of war. In the course of his interviews Marshall concluded that only one out of four soldiers fired their rifles during combat, a figure that got the Army's attention and changed their training tactics.
The American Heritage article claimed Marshall never conducted company-level interviews and that the one-in-four statistic was made up.
In the autumn of 1989 John Marshall, Seattle P-I journalist, set out on a classic American road trip to find out the truth about his late grandfather.
Along the way Marshall interviews retired generals, historian Stephen Ambrose, Mike Wallace of CBS, and, in a session as weird as Pip calling on Miss Havisham, he meets with a reluctant William Westmoreland, Time Magazine's poster boy for the "light at the end of the tunnel."
Marshall calls on Westmoreland at his home in Charleston, S.C. Westmoreland shakes Marshall's hand, but does not introduce him to his wife. For the interview Westmoreland stares straight ahead, making little eye contact and is "animated as a mannequin." A phone call gives the cranky retired general an excuse to dismiss a surprised Marshall.
Marshall also encounters family - his great uncle, sister, brother and his once alienated father, who helps him in his investigation. The irony dawns on Marshall: His research on Slam Marshall, the man who drove the family apart, is bringing the family back together. And he also encounters the classic American landscape of neon loneliness, of hotel rooms and interstates and the disturbing image of his own face in a nude bar mirror in El Paso, Texas.
Marshall gradually learns that his grandfather, like his wartime acquaintance, Ernest Hemingway, often "played chicken
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