Following his graduation, he received a draft notice to fight in the Vietnam War.
At first he considered refusing to enlist, especially since he was against the war. But then his conscious won the internal struggle. O’Brien felt holding a degree was an advantage, a privilege and shouldn’t give him an excuse to not fight. He believed he had an obligation to serve alongside other Americans. Meanwhile the armed forces filled their ranks with underprivileged and lower educated people. O’Brien wrote his Vietnam War books from his personal perspective and about his own experiences. He described his decision to become a soldier as surreal, as in a dream, since he had no liking for bugs, camping nor Boy Scout shenanigans. He served as an infantry foot soldier right after completing boot camp. His enlistment lasted from 1969 to 1970 where he earned his Purple Heart for being wounded by shrapnel. When he left the Army he was an Infantry Sergeant. Those war time memories fueled his books: If I die in a Combat Zone, Box me up a...
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...layboy and the Quarterly featured him and his works as well. His book Going after Cacciato won the National Book Award in 1979, In 1995 he was given the James Fenimore Cooper Prize for The Lake of the woods. He received the Dayton Literature Peace Price in 2012 and was awarded the Pritzker Military Library Award.
His latest book, July July (2002) is a fiction about the 30th class reunion of Minnesota’s Darton Hall 1969 college class. As most of his works tell about Vietnam, the characters in this story are: a Vietnam veteran and another person which escaped his drafting.
O’Brien is married to Meredith Baker, the couple has two children, Timmy and Tad O’Brien. The family lives in central Texas. O’Brien is teaching at Southwestern State University of Texas. He lectures in the creative writing program as a visiting professor and holds a chair every other year.
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