Catch-22’s Golden Anniversary

Catch-22 tells the story of Yossarian, a bombardier with the US Army Air Corps during WWII. Yossarian becomes convinced that the military will never let him go home as they keep raising the required number of missions – so he seeks another way out. In 2011, we finally found my grandfather’s war diary; this was the diary my father always said I should compare to Catch-22. What followed was years of research and a realization that Papa Julie’s World War II story was known by millions, but somehow eluded those of us closest to him.

It was ironic timing that we first found Papa Julie’s diary and war records during 2011, as this year also celebrated the 50th anniversary of Catch-22.

Simon & Schuster released a special 50th Anniversary Edition of Catch-22, which contained appendix material.  By chance this was the version I purchased. 

One item in the appendix materials was a portion of a large handwritten table Heller used to organize the novel. Down one side were the mission limit levels, down the other side was a timeline of the war, and each column represented one of the main characters.

Excerpt of one quadrant of Joseph Heller’s chart to map Catch-22

Traits of various characters reminded me of my grandfather’s stories.

  • Orr “winterizing his tent” triggered memories of Papa Julie telling me how he and others developed makeshift air-conditioners.
  • Hungry Joe had been a photographer for Life Magazine, a magazine Papa Julie had mentioned as having published a photograph he took during the war.
  • The international trading activities of Milo Minderbinder were reminiscent of how my grandfather obtained meats from Northern Africa and pears from Sicily, and would say how you could get “anything you wanted” in exchange for Army issued cigarettes.

I began to wonder what other hints of my grandfather would emerge as I made my way through the book.

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