“There was only one Catch”

“There was only one catch and that was Catch-22. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn’t have to; but if he didn’t want to he was sane and had to.”

Catch-22, Joseph Heller

Catch-22, published in 1961, tells the story of Captain John Yossarian, a bombardier with a US bomber crew stationed on the Mediterranean island of Pianosa, off the coast of Italy during World War II. Yossarian, after successfully completing the required number of missions for fulfilling his military service becomes convinced that the military will never let him go home, as they keep raising the “mission limit”. He recognizes the risks of flying missions and makes it his mission to try to get out of flying any more, however the military bureaucracy makes such an exit increasingly difficult.

Ranked the 7th in the Modern Library’s polling of the 100 best novels published in the English language since 1900, with the caption that Catch-22 is “widely seen as one of the most significant American novels of the twentieth century. The New York Times called it “a dazzling performance that will outrage nearly as many readers as it delights.”

When asked why he hadn’t written anything as good as Catch-22 since its publication, Heller would retort, “Who has?”

In 2011, while cleaning out my grandparent’s house after their passing, my parents found a box filled with pictures my grandfather, Lt. Julius Fish (or Papa Julie to us) had taken during his time serving in World War II, his mission diary and many military documents regarding his service. Lt. Fish had served and became friendly with Catch-22’s author, Joseph Heller – prompting my father to tell me when I was a teenager, that I should compare my grandfather’s diary to Catch-22…but unfortunately the diary was lost to us until 2011.

Finally having his diary in hand, I quickly realized that his wartime experiences were more closely tied to Catch-22 than I ever could have imagined, and in particular the novel’s hero, Captain John Yossarian.

“I think your evidence is overwhelming; your grandfather was clearly the principal inspiration for Yossarian’s narrative adventure, and his reaction to the trauma of unrelieved aerial combat…I’m grateful for your work to preserve these new treasures.”

Dr. Jonathan Eller – Chancellor’s Professor of English – IUPUI, and editor of the appendix materials in the 50th Anniversary Edition of Catch-22

Yossarian’s dilemma especially resonated with soldiers during the Vietnam War, and it was during this time that the novel became a voice of a generation. Many US soldiers identified with Yossarian’s plight, and “Yossarian Lives” became a rallying cry for opposition to the situation they were facing.

I look forward to sharing this journey of discovery in greater detail and demonstrating that indeed, Yossarian Lived.

Contact fishingforyossarian@gmail.com