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As the principal speaker for the dedication of Reconciliation Plaza--the Class of 1961 Class Gift--Pat deeply touched those present with his address entitled "Reverberations."  (Click here to go to a copy of "Reverberations".) Since people, from many different classes, still read the speech and write to Pat, he thought they would be interested in knowing what inspired him to write it.


Bruce Holmberg has asked that I reflect a bit about how “Reverberations”-–my talk at the 40 Reunion–-came into being.  The story covers a long span of time, but I’ll make the telling short.  Since becoming a writer, I have been compelled to face Vietnam.  Even when the subject of an essay has seemed far-afield of Vietnam, the war and its aftermath have somehow crept into the essay.  This has been going on for more than a decade; it began when I was still in the army and on the faculty at West Point.

“Soldiering,” one of my first essays developed an idea that shows up in “Reverberations”: the idea that a soldier’s primary business is preservation, not destruction.  That idea followed me from West Point to Harvard and showed up again in a different way in an essay called “Soldiers and Scholars”:


The essay plays around with the notion that West Point’s primary business is preservation; Harvard’s is destruction.  Two or three other essays dealt with the effects of the war on what we might call the structure of the nation-–the way that particular war in Vietnam has altered, perhaps forever, the relationship between the soldier and the state.  I finally tried to pull all of my related concerns together a few years ago in an essay called “Homage to Vietnam,” published in the Virginia Quarterly Review (Autumn 1999, Vol 75, # 4).  In that essay I yearn for the kind of national unity engendered by WWII (something I observed first-hand as a kid in south Arkansas) and attempt to identify and account for the deep erotic impulse that sends men and women into national service and into relationship with one another.  Those three essays-–“Soldiering, “Soldiers and Scholars,” and “Homage to Vietnam”--more directly than any of the others that I have written, lead directly to “Reverberations.”

Over the years I have also reviewed for the Sewanee Review--America’s oldest literary quarterly--a number of books about Vietnam and the men and women who served in that war.  The most significant of those reviews is still on the Sewanee Review’s website: http:


That essay focuses on the first of Robert McNamara’s memoirs and on books by three other writers, one of whom is Jonathan Shay (Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character), the author I cite in “Reverberations.”

These pieces that I have been talking about are called familiar essays.  That simply means that I use my own experiences as a way of opening up and developing ideas.  The subject matter is familiar.  Experience serves as evidence.  The essay itself always picks up the scent of an idea and follows that scent.  A writer friend of mine calls it “following the vagaries of my own willful curiosity.”  That movement of mind takes the reader from one anecdotal story to another as a way of enlarging the idea.  With luck, that movement makes the idea more interesting and more complex; it creates surprises for the reader.  “Reverberations” is a short familiar essay.  The longer version of that essay, “The Ache of Soldiering” appeared in the Sewanee Review (Volume CX, Fall 2002: 633-650); that new essay extends the reach of the speech, back into our early days at West Point and out into the fascinating world of soldiering.

Over the years, seven of my essays have been selected as “Notables” in an annual collection called Best American Essays.  Robert Atwan, the series editor of that collection (along with Joyce Carol Oates), published Best American Essays of the Century in 2000.  My own collection of essays, Instinct for Survival (Georgia U Press, 1992), was selected as a “Notable” collection of the century.

At New York University, where I direct the Expository Writing Program, I teach teachers and students how to write these and a variety of other essays.  That is now my primary calling, that and being a husband and grandfather.

Pat C. Hoy II, 2003














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