Chuck Daly sat in the White House Mess, eating lunch during his workday as a member of President John F. Kennedy’s West Wing staff. The year was 1963 and the White House seemed unusually quiet that week — the president had traveled to Texas with many of his assistants. As Daly ate and anticipated the weekend ahead, presidential assistant Jack McNally entered the mess with distressing news: Kennedy had been shot.
Following Kennedy’s assassination, Daly, now 93 years old, began documenting his experiences, anticipating their historical significance. Now, the story of that day and many others are told in Daly’s memoir, “Make Peace or Die: A Life of Service, Leadership, and Nightmares,” coauthored with his son Charlie Daly.
“I tried to write down the truth, even though the truth was tough on me and on many other people,” Chuck Daly said.
“Make Peace or Die” debuted on Oct. 17 after being published by Houndstooth Press using a hybrid model between self-publication and traditional publishing house. The Dalys said they opted for this route to get the book out quickly and avoid making editorial compromises on the story.
The father and son duo started sifting through Chuck Daly’s notes and rediscovered a journal he had thought he’d lost long ago. Charlie, a 31-year-old professional copywriter, conducted hours of interviews with his father to get to the heart of some of his experiences as a Kennedy staffer, a Korean War veteran, and a researcher in the South African AIDS crisis of the early 2000s. These interviews, while painful at times for Chuck Daly, culminated in more than 1,000 pages of notes, to be eventually condensed into the 264-page memoir.
“I have a family member who treats veterans with severe PTSD for the VA, and some of the methods of interviewing ended up being similar to therapy,” Charlie Daly said. “We would go over the same incident again and again and again, and eventually it became easier to talk about.”
The feedback the pair received from other veterans and active-duty military personnel made the project worthwhile, Charlie Daly said. He said that those who had served felt accurately represented in the memoir, and those with loved ones in the military felt more connected to the atrocities of war they faced.
While quarantining together in Chuck Daly’s Cape Cod home and working on the book, they couldn’t help but see similarities between the South African government’s denial of the AIDS epidemic and the United States’ COVID-19 response. The book’s epilogue is dedicated to comparing the two health crises.
In October, retired Navy SEAL turned writer Jocko Willink featured Chuck Daly on the “Jocko Podcast,” and in December, longtime family friend and political commentator Chris Matthews featured the Dalys on a webinar to celebrate the memoir.
“Even if this never became a book and it was just a series of fireside conversations, this would have been the most rewarding experience of my life,” Charlie Daly said.
Grace Griffin can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @GraceMGriffin.