Book Club Discussion Guide
Reading Group Guide for
"When Is Daddy Coming Home?"
An American Family during World War II
By Richard Carlton Haney
Published by the Wisconsin Historical Society Press
"Dear Son . . . Daddy received your letter yesterday so will answer it now. I was sure glad to hear from you and you told me lots of things, didn't you? . . . I sure would like to have been home with you and Mommy but we have to make the Germans quit fighting first—then maybe Daddy can come home. We will have some great times together when I do come home."
"When Is Daddy Coming Home?" is the moving story of one young American family during World War II. The war was coming to a close in Europe and Richard Carlton Haney was only four years old when a telegram arrived at his family's home, informing them of his father's death. That moment was burned into the young boy's memory, and it changed his and his mother's lives forever. Sixty years later Haney, now a professional historian, reconstructs his parents' lives during the war, drawing from their letters, his mother's recollections, and his own memories to create a unique blend of history and memoir.
Richard C. Haney has created a compelling, and often heartrending, picture of life in wartime America. No one who reads this powerful story will come away unmoved. At a time when our country's young men and women are again away at war, "When is Daddy Coming Home?" touches readers in a remarkable way and provides excellent material for reader discussions. By discussing this work with others, readers can reveal its immeasurable significance and come to a deeper understanding of the effects of war on everyday lives.
About the Author:
Richard Carlton Haney earned his Ph.D. in history from the University of Wisconsin in Madison and later graduated from West Point's post-Ph.D. military history program and the army's National Security Seminar at Carlisle Barracks. He is a professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, where he teaches courses in twentieth century United States history, American military history, and Wisconsin history. The UW-Whitewater organization Students for an Accessible Society has twice presented him with its teaching excellence award.
Topics for Discussion:
1) Richard C. Haney presents the story of his own experiences as a boy during World War II, yet he is able to transcend time to create a unique and compelling memoir. What do you find to be most compelling about this work? Which passage stands out the most in your mind? How has this book touched or effected your own life? In what ways can you draw on your own experiences and connect them to those of the author?
2) Discuss how Clyde Haney's death effected the relationship between Richard Haney and his mother. How were Richard and Vera able to keep the memory of Clyde Haney alive?
3) Vera Haney was an especially strong presence in Richard's life. As Haney notes, "with husbands, brothers, and fathers away fighting World War II, a generation of American women learned to become more independent than their mothers had been" (page 55). Discuss the importance Vera played in Richard's life, and how she was able to help him come to terms first with his father's absence from the home while overseas, then with his unfortunate death.
4) Photographs appear to have played a particularly important role in keeping the memories of Clyde alive. In what ways do the personal photos add to the meaning of the story?
5) On page 83, Haney discusses the Life Magazine photo of his father dying on the battlefield. Vera Haney saw this photo just three days after she received the news that her husband had died. Discuss the impact this might have had on Vera and those who were close to Clyde.
6) Vera Haney strove to maintain a "normal" life for Richard both while his father was away and after Clyde's death. How was Richard impacted by the war as a young child? Discuss the ways in which children today are impacted by war. How can this book be related to today's events and the circumstances surrounding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? Has constant media coverage changed the way people on the home front are impacted by war? How does this differ from coverage of World War II and the ways Richard and his mother were impacted?
7) How do the personal letters add to the authenticity of the memoir? How was this correspondence able to add to the memories off Clyde Haney? With changes in technology, do you feel personal letters still play a vital role in creating and preserving memories?
8) At the end of the book Haney writes, "The impact of World War II upon mankind, one person at a time, cannot be measured" (page 102). How was civilian life on the home front affected during World War II? How did the war change people's everyday lives? In what ways does the story add to your understanding of World War II?