Pat Conroy, Wrote “The Great Santini” , Passes at age 70

Builders,

I was listening to the radio today, and heard that the writer Pat Conroy passed last week. He wrote a number of novels, but if you love aviation, one of these works stands out above all others: “The Great Santini.”

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The story is a very thinly veiled look at Conroy’s own father, and it doesn’t paint a very pleasant picture. It was made into an outstanding film in 1979, and it remains one of Robert Duval’s greatest performances. It is the story of a Marine fighter pilot father who’s personal traits make him an excellent pilot, but don’t serve him as a father. Because the work really isn’t fiction, and Conroy was writing from personal experience, the story isn’t ‘nice’, but it rings very true for many men who grew up in military families of the 1950 and 1960s.

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The central conflict of the film is how Lt. Col. Wilbur “Bull” Meecham  finds himself a warrior who no longer has a war, and how difficult he finds being a father and operating in typical suburban settings.  Nearly everyone who has spent enough time around military men has a person who meets that description, but Conroy’s skill as a writer and the son of such a man conspires to make a story that it is literally painful in parts to watch. If you have not seen it, it comes with my recommendation, but it isn’t uplifting, kind nor nice, it is just moving and real, which are attributes that make films worth your time, and something more than entertainment.

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My father spent 33 years on active duty, but has few of the characteristics  of “Bull” Meecham . However, I did have a front row seat to such a man.  My best friend in high school had a father who had flown 200 attack missions as a Marine in Korea, flying F-9Fs off straight deck carriers.  I spent a lot of time at their house and wanted to know something about his fathers experience, but he shared next to nothing, just a few looks at old black and white photos from 25 years earlier.

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He had been hard charging guy, came back to 1950s suburbia and married a wealthy and beautiful debutante. They had a nice house in a great town, a membership at the country club, and eventually three kids, but there were times where none of that mattered, and he would drift off to drink, gamble and keep other company. Eventually came divorce, and not long after he took his life. It was all a big tragic mystery to people at the time, but as I grew older, I came to understand that after some people fly into combat enough, the thought of sitting around the pool at the country club talking about other people just doesn’t seem very exciting, and some men will do anything to raise the stakes of their ‘wagers’  in some attempt to feel alive again. The beginning of understanding this came from watching the Great Santini.”

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In the film, Robert Duval played ‘the Great Santini.’  Unlike many films, this story is very close to the book. Pat Conroy had an unusual background for a writer, he graduated from the Citadel in SC.  Part of his experiences there made their way into his book “The Lords of Discipline.”  Learn a little more about Conroy here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pat_Conroy

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-ww.

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