As the last World War II veterans pass away, the Vietnam generation enters its final years.
Tim O'Brien, as Norman Mailer did for World War II, defined the Vietnam experience in his novels "The Things They Carried" and "Going After Cacciato" and his memoir, "If I Die in a Combat Zone: Box Me Up and Ship Me Home."
At age 74, O'Brien is aware of his mortality not only because of his Vietnam service. He's the father of two teenage sons born when he was in his mid-50s, and he's haunted by the fear that he won't live long enough to know his children as adults.
How O'Brien's war experience and late fatherhood shaped his life are examined in the documentary "The War and Peace of Tim O"Brien," which will be streamed on cable TV's on-demand service beginning Tuesday.
Previewing the film, 'Fresh Air's" Terry Gross interviewed O'Brien Wednesday in one of the show's most entertaining episodes recently.
O'Brien told Gross that he's not haunted by the Vietnam War, echoing a claim he made to her in a 1980 interview.
Gross played an excerpt from the earlier conversation, and it was striking how much aging has changed O'Brien's voice. It's clear that the war shadows him.
After the birth of his sons, O'Brien stopped writing for several years to help his wife, Meredith Baker, raise them. In the 2019 memoir "Dad's Maybe Book," O'Brien recounted the lessons he learned as their father.
O'Brien disclosed to Gross that he is writing again, desperate to finish new books and share his sons' lives.
In an amusing/harrowing segment, O'Brien was taken aback by Gross admonishing him for not stopping smoking, although his lungs have been ruined by two serious bouts with pneumonia, one of them almost fatal. O'Brien says he fears he won't be able to write if he gives up cigarettes, admitting the irrationality of his stance.
The interview was conducted soon after the announcement that former Senator, presidential candidate and World War II veteran Bob Dole is suffering from advanced cancer.
Dole, who received life-threatening wounds as a young soldier, is one of the last members of a generation extolled for defeating Fascism.
In contrast, O'Brien's generation faced years of condemnation. O'Brien in his "Fresh Air" interview said that he's not proud of his Vietnam service because he opposed the war, like so many of his contemporaries.
When drafted, O'Brien considered fleeing to nearby Canada, but chose to go to Vietnam because he knew his small Minnesota town would disparage him as a traitor. He believes going to Canada would have been a more courageous decision.
That's "One of the Things They Carried" as O'Brien elaborates in the interview. May the title of the documentary prove true, and O'Brien find peace at last.