Sunday, October 25, 2009

Frank Schaeffer's Marine Corps Novel: Baby Jack--Overview

This post will give an overview of Frank Schaeffer's Baby Jack, a novel about the United States Marine Corps.

Frank Schaeffer began writing about the United States Marine Corps when his youngest child, John, enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1999, right after high school graduation. This was something of a shock to Frank and his family. John had attended a prestigious prep school and was expected to continue on to university and a professional career, as his elder sister and brother had done. The Schaeffers and their friends thought of the military as an option for people with few opportunities in life, not for someone with John's background and abilities. John, however, was determined to enlist in the Marine Corps, and Frank chose to support his son. John's military service turned out to be transformative for Frank. Frank says that he gained a much deeper understanding of service, duty, love, and sacrifice and came to see that our volunteer military is inequitable. We are asking the lower classes to bear the burden of military service and are exempting the upper classes, to the detriment of our country.

Baby Jack is one of five books that Frank Schaeffer has written about the military. The four others are a memoir co-authored with John about Marine Corps boot camp, a memoir of Frank's experience while John was deployed to Afghanistan, a collection of correspondence from military families, and a non-fiction book co-authored with Kathy Roth-Douquet about the inequities of our volunteer military system.

Baby Jack is a novel. Jack Ogden, age seventeen, decides to enlist in the United States Marine Corps upon high school graduation. Todd, Jack's father, is vehemently opposed to Jack's enlistment. Sarah, Jack's mother, is also opposed but remains at least moderately supportive of Jack. Jack also has an elder sister, Amanda, and a girlfriend, Jessica. The novel is written from multiple points of view: we hear from Todd, Jack, Sarah, Amanda, and Jessica. We read their reflections on unfolding events, as well as various letters, emails, newspaper articles, flyers, journal entries, and poems. The novel takes us through Jack's decision to enlist, his last summer at home, his time in boot camp, his deployment to Iraq, his heroic death after only a week in Iraq, and his loved ones' reactions to all of these developments.

We see that Todd, who has remained adamantly opposed to Jack's enlistment and has refused any contact with Jack after his departure for boot camp, is especially devastated by Jack's death. Todd is so distraught that he explodes in anger at Jack's funeral, shouts accusations at the Marines for causing Jack's death, and spits on the United States flag. Todd has also refused contact with Jack's girlfriend, Jessica, and her family; therefore, he doesn't know that Jessica has given birth to Baby Jack, Jack's son and Todd's grandson.

In hopes of coming to terms with his grief and gaining a greater understanding of Jack's military choice, Todd asks permission of the Commandant of the United States Marine Corps to visit the Marine Corps boot camp at Parris Island, where Jack was trained. Permission is granted. At Parris Island, Todd has an encounter with Jack's Senior Drill Instructor SDI Isaac Jackson and with God, which results in a final reconciliation.

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