Bringing the war home; Author to visit Austin and discuss memoir
Published 7:01 am Sunday, September 6, 2015
Catherine Madison had a tough relationship with her father growing up, but after she started researching his life to write a book, her view of him was drastically changed.
“Writing this book allowed me to see him in a whole new way, which allowed me to love him and forgive him, which I couldn’t do when he was alive,” Madison said.
The Austin Public Library will host Madison, author and journalist, at 7 p.m., Sept. 15 at the library. Madison will talk about her new book, “The War Came Home With Him,” which tells the story of her father, “Doc” Boysen, and the hardships he brought home with him after the Korean War.
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The book was released in September.
“This book means more to me just having done it than any number of sales or any number of approval ratings,” Madison said. “It really was a personal mission and it will continue to be one.”
The memoir describes struggles of both Madison and her father. During his three years as a POW in North Korea from 1950-1953, Boysen endured hardships he never intended to pass along, especially to his family. Men who refused to eat starved; his children would clean their plates. Men who were weak died; his children would develop character. They would also learn to fear their father, the hero. In the memoir, Madison tells the stories of two survivors of one man’s war: a father who withstood a prison camp’s unspeakable inhumanity and a daughter who withstood the residual cruelty that came home with him.
“I knew growing up that my father had a whole secret life that had a lot to do with what went on in the family,” Madison said. “But it wasn’t something we were allowed to talk about.”
Madison and her two younger brothers never discussed their father’s life with each other, either, and though Madison always wanted to know her father’s story it wasn’t revealed until after he passed away. When she did start to write the story, she realized it wasn’t as one-sided as she originally thought.
“I started out wanting to tell his story, and as time went on I realized it wasn’t just his story, it was my story too,” she said.
Boysen died 50 years after his ordeal, his POW experience kept from his family until his adult children found hidden documents beneath a drawer in his desk that described his time in the POW camp. Even researching the Korean War and prisoner camps at the library, Madison didn’t find much information.
“There was a big envelope and my mother had written the whole story across it,” Madison said. “And that was all the material I had been searching for all my life.”
Although she had waited so long to write her father’s story and her memoir, she still waited a few years to cope with the pain of the past and digest the new information she had. Once she started researching, she was able to read through journals her father wrote in his childhood and throughout his life. Madison learned things about how he looked at the world, how he viewed people, what his philosophy was, and more.
“All these things I never knew because I couldn’t talk to him about them,” she said.
“I learned almost everything about him,” she added.
In “The War Came Home with Him,” Madison puts together his story, a young captain in the U.S. Army Medical Corps captured in July 1950, beaten and forced to march without shoes or coat on icy trails through mountains to camps where North Korean and Chinese captors held him for more than three years. Throughout her research, Madison started to see her father in a new light, changing the relationship she and her father had after he already passed away.
“Writing this book changed my relationship with him, and I wouldn’t have thought that was possible,” she said.
She said she hopes the book will help other military families breach the code of silence that often exists in military families. She noted that just because soldiers are the ones to go to war doesn’t mean those left at home aren’t also effected in big ways.
“They will be bringing that experience to their families and their children,” she said. “… We need to recognize that and we need to do what we can to address it.”
Madison is a journalist, still doing freelance writing. This is her first book. She was 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. She has written articles for many publications, including the Chicago Tribune, Star Tribune, and Minnesota Monthly.