I had the pleasure of meeting Cary Donham at the 2023 Louisville Book Festival, an encounter that added a unique layer of personal connection to my reading of his memoir, "A Wrinkle in the Long Grey Line: When Conscience and Convention Collided." As someone who typically shies away from nonfiction, it was the intriguing premise of Donham's journey that drew me in—a West Point cadet seeking discharge as a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War.
The book delves into Donham's experiences and the moral conflict he faced as he questioned the purpose of joining West Point when he fundamentally opposed the war. The memoir is a well-crafted narrative, drawing on various sources such as news articles, letters to his parents, and Freedom of Information requests. Donham's meticulous approach to storytelling provides readers with a comprehensive understanding of his struggle against the prevailing military establishment.
One of the central questions the memoir tackles is, "Why join West Point if you didn't believe in war?" Donham's journey is a poignant exploration of his personal convictions and the clash between conscience and convention. While I may not fully comprehend Donham's perspective, I deeply appreciate living in a country where diverse viewpoints can coexist without fear of persecution.
The narrative not only provides insight into the author's individual experience but also serves as a valuable addition to the broader discourse surrounding the Vietnam War. The historical context and Donham's introspective examination of his beliefs offer a different perspective for high school students learning about this tumultuous period in our nation's history.
Donham's website peaceandpolitcs.com, created in conjunction with the memoir, promises a deeper dive into his time at West Point, complete with photographs and Army records. His commitment to sharing his story extends beyond the book, as he explores war and moral issues through regular blog posts on the website titled "Peace and Politics." This connection between his memoir and ongoing reflections adds a dynamic element to the reading experience.
"A Wrinkle in the Long Grey Line" is a thought-provoking memoir that resonates with readers curious about the intersection of personal conviction and military service. Donham's courage to challenge the status quo and his commitment to sharing his journey makes this book not only an enlightening read but also a relevant contribution to the ongoing conversations about war, morality, and the choices we make in the pursuit of our beliefs.
Title: A Wrinkle in the Long Grey Line: When Conscience and Convention Collided (A Memoir)
Author: Cary Donahm
Pub. Date: April 10, 2023
Find it: Amazon
About the book:
On August 6, 1970, a New York Times front-page headline read: "West Pointer Seeks Discharge as a Conscientious Objector." A Wrinkle in the Long Gray Line is the story of that West Pointer, Cary E. Donham, who after three successful years at the military academy, chose to follow his religious and moral beliefs despite the overwhelming odds against him from the military establishment. This memoir is well sourced from a range of materials including news articles, numerous contemporaneous letters to his parents, data obtained through Freedom of Information requests, and of course his own experiences.
About the author:
Born in 1949, Cary E. Donham, the oldest of four children, grew up in small mid-west towns across Illinois. The oldest of four kids, Cary was a natural leader in his family which translated into leadership in life as he charted his course.
From lettering in four sports during high school to being named the Student of the Year in his high school senior year in 1967, it was clear from a young age Cary was not only athletic but academically driven to succeed. Upon finishing high school, Cary received an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point. He entered the program at age 17 survived the eight weeks of the grueling “Beast Barracks “ and quickly excelled in academics. During his three years at West Point, Cary worked his way into the top ten percent of his class academically, despite the rigorous academic load. His departure from West Point before graduation shaped the trajectory for the life that he would carve out both professionally and personally.
After leaving West Point, Cary moved back to Illinois where he finished his undergraduate degree and took graduate classes at Western Illinois University. In 1978, Cary moved to Chicago and after working as a professional musician for five years, he applied to law school. He attended law school at night while working full time, graduated fifth in his class, and was selected for and published in the Chicago Kent Law Review.
After a federal court clerkship, Cary joined the Chicago law firm of Shefsky & Froelich Ltd., (now Taft Stettinius & Hollister LLP) where he eventually became partner. During his 30-year career as a commercial litigator, he successfully represented the City of Chicago, the Chicago Fire Department, the Chicago Board of Education, and the City of Chicago Laborer’s’ Pension Fund in cases involving constitutional issues.
Cary has been married to his wife for over 43 years and has one adult son. Today, Cary is retired and lives in Kentucky.
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