Jack Corrigan thought he knew his dad. Everyone knew his dad. He was judge John V. Corrigan, who served Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court from 1956-91. It wasn’t until his sister discovered a 12-page letter written by their father that he learned about his father’s bravest and most terrifying moments. In the letter, John described the horrific scene that he witnessed as a medic on Christmas Eve in 1944, when the SS Leopoldville was attacked by enemy forces and sunk in the English Channel. The attack killed hundreds of American soldiers, and John was part of the rescue crew that dragged hundreds of bodies — dead and alive — out of the frigid water.
After reading the letter, Corrigan, who was an announcer for the Cleveland Indians for 17 years and is now an announcer for the Colorado Rockies, talked to his father about WWII for the first time. Their conversation and the letter inspired Corrigan’s second novel, Night of Destiny (FaithHappenings Publisher, available on Amazon for $13.30). The book, released this June, follows three young soldiers and the battle of the SS Leopoldville on Christmas Eve 1944. Surgical Tech Sgt. Dan Gibbons, the character based off of John, rescues soldiers, both ally and enemy, from imminent death. We caught up with Corrigan, who penned most of the novel after his father's death, to discuss Night of Destiny.
Q. What was it like to have that conversation with your father?
A. When we actually sat down for that long conversation in Denver, it was illuminating to see the sometimes-scared 24-year-old that he was at the time. To me, my father was always the ultimate in confidence and always being sure. Then, to see him talk frankly about, “Well, what if I mess up?”, “Are we doing the right thing?” or “I don’t want to die, but I want to help people.” Hearing him and feeling the emotion, that was when I was like, I’ve got to do this. No matter how long this takes me, this is a project that I’m going to see to light.
Q. How much did you know about your father’s time in the war prior to that conversation?
A. To be honest, very little. I think he was like so many of that generation. They just didn’t talk about it. When the movie Saving Private Ryan came out, I said to my dad, “Hey, you want to go see Private Ryan? It might be interesting to go see it.” He looked at me, not angrily but, in a serious way and said, “I saw it once, why would I want to see it again?” I think we end up making them heroic figures or making them very one-dimensional in that regard, and you realize it's much more than that. I think that was the first time it actually struck me.
Q. Was writing the book a therapeutic way to grieve the loss of your father?
A. They brought in a hospital bed, and he was getting hospice at home. I was sitting there, and I said to him, “Life is going to be hard. How am I going to go on without you around, because you’ve always been larger than life to me.” He said, “Well think of your shadow. Your shadow is larger than you are, but it’s always there with you. So whenever you see your shadow, you know that I’m always there.” That’s something that has sustained me since his passing, and the book was all part of that. I can feel his shadow, and I could feel his presence as the book was unfolding. It was very therapeutic, and it’s nice now because it also keeps his memory alive in a unique way.