Books by Carl
A Memoir of a Father, His Son, and the Vietnam War
Carl Sciacchitano’s graphic debut: R.E.M.F: A Memoir of a Father, His Son, and the Vietnam War, explores Carl’s father’s experiences in Vietnam between 1965-75, and their long-lasting after-effects.
Carl’s father David Sciacchitano grew up in a working-class Italian family in Chicago. He was the first in his family to attend college, but unsure what he was doing there, he dropped out during his first year. Pretty sure the draft was going to come for him soon, he decided to enlist in the Air Force. When he found out he was going to spend two years doing aircraft maintenance in South Carolina, he volunteered to be sent to Vietnam instead–eager for adventure, but equally sure it was the right thing to do. Although he worked as an aircraft mechanic and was therefore considered a R.E.M.F. (Rear-Echelon Mother-Fucker, a pejorative term in the military for anyone not on the front lines), he nevertheless experienced the war up close, surviving heavy shelling and manning an M60 at Quang Tri and during the Tet Offensive, and did not emerge from the war unscathed. After the war ended, he tried to work out his demons by staying and working in Southeast Asia, on a constant quest for the adrenaline high of war. He eventually returned to the States, finished college, completed a Masters in anthropology, and joined the State Department. Thanks to his experiences in the war and his knowledge of the region and language, he was posted to the one place he had hoped to escape: Vietnam. And so he bore witness to the bitter last days of the war, and to the evacuation in 1975, when the South fell to the North.
Although the Vietnam War has been explored in great depth, and we now know that PTSD exists, we are still as a country grappling with its legacy. The story of the war has never been told in a graphic memoir, nor has it been told through the eyes of a child, hungry to understand why his gregarious, loving parent is also prone to sudden, disproportionate and scary fits of anger. Soldiers of David’s generation didn’t have a language to understand how they may have survived physically, but were psychologically damaged–and though David came to understand that many mistakes were made in Vietnam, it took him many years to put away his shame and sense of isolation and to be able to embrace his role in the war, and everything that that experience both gave him, and took away. This is the incredibly moving story of that journey for David, as seen through the compassionate eyes of his son.
R.E.M.F. should speak to anyone curious to know more about war and its aftereffects, to those readers and teachers who seek out the literary works of Tim O’Brien, Karl Marlantes, and Viet Thien Nguyen, and to readers of “grown-up” graphic novels like Fun Home and Maus, which also feature a child’s coming to terms with a parent’s complicated life. Although the specifics here are Vietnam, this is also a universal story that any child interested in his parent’s past and how that past affects his present, can relate to–one that should speak to all American vets–from Vietnam through the more recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan–and their loved ones.