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St. Paul Pioneer Press: The War Came Home With Him

By Mary Ann Grossmann
St. Paul Pioneer Press

Veterans of our most recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are getting some help with emotional trauma they brought back from the desert sands. But during and after the Korean conflict, post-traumatic stress disorder wasn't discussed. These veterans kept their experiences bottled up, only to sometimes explode in rages against family members.

That's what happened to Catherine Madison, whose father "Doc" Boysen, a captain in the U.S. Army Medical Crops, was a prisoner of war for three years beginning in 1950. His experiences -- near starvation, death marches in the snow with no shoes, men dying by the dozens, cruel guards, infestations of lice and worms -- left his mind and soul scarred.

Madison, who was an infant when her dad went away, didn't know that. She only knew that she loved this all-powerful father but was afraid of his rages and long, incomprehensible lectures about honor and character. When her father was dying, she was married and a mother, yet she admitted to herself, "He scares me still."

In this beautifully written dual memoir, often hard to read, Madison smoothly moves between chapters re-creating her father's terrible imprisonment and her childhood. She was a good girl but sometimes she couldn't understand her father's seemingly senseless rules. When she tried to choke down asparagus, which she hated, it came back up onto her plate. Her father made her eat it again, probably remembering how he had to urge men in captivity to eat even when they didn't want to, so they wouldn't die. Weak men died; so his daughter must be strong.

As Madison matured, her father seemed to be even angrier. He was remembering how he clung to the image of his wife and little, dark-haired daughter during his long imprisonment. So the rages came.

When Catherine stopped at a cafe with her date after a dance, her father nearly strangled her, accusing her of being a prostitute. He attacked one of her boyfriends, a nice boy her parents had met, for no apparent reason.

One day Doc decreed she could wash her hair only once a week, an agonizing rule for a teenager. Was he remembering how filthy he was in the prison camps because they were denied water?

When Catherine becomes pregnant before she marries her fiancee, who's in medical school, her father doesn't want anything to do with her. Even when she's an adult, he continues to dominate her until just before he dies, when he tells her, "You're a good girl, Punky. ... I love you."

Madison spent two years reading a "treasure trove" of her father's writing about his captivity and other Army experiences. She read newspapers of the time and books about the Korean conflict.

Her journalism background shows in her writing. She is a former editor in chief of Utne Reader, senior editor at Adweek and Creativity Magazine, founding editor of American Advertising and editor in chief of Format Magazine.

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