||All of Pat Conroy's books have one foot in his childhood, and none is more autobiographical than The Great Santini. Colonel Bull Meecham is a legendary Marine fighter pilot whose military successes are almost as many as his personal excesses. Lillian Meecham is a Southern gentlewoman with a love of literature. After moving from base to base each year, the Meecham's finally settle down in fictional Ravenel, SC (Beaufort in real life). The Colonel rules his fighter squadron and his family with an iron first. While this technique is successful in motivating his pilots, it has disastrous effects on his wife and children. His cruelty (both mental and physical) is enough to crush even the strongest soul. While he chides Ben for being a sissy, he suppresses Ben's attempts to act like a man. Yet, the Colonel can do endearing things, like when he gives Ben his original flight jacket on his 18th birthday. No wonder Ben has a love-hate relationship with his old man. At a new school, Ben quickly establishes himself as a decent scholar and a talented basketball player. Several teachers and his principal see the potential in young Ben, and give him the love and mentoring he could never get from the Colonel. They teach him the importance of standing up for what he believes and to be his own man. When one of Ben's friends is threatened, Ben defies his dad and goes to his aid. In doing so, he becomes more of a man than his father will ever be. The Great Santini is a fabulous story, and nobody writes with as much passion and beauty as Pat Conroy. Conroy takes us through the emotional gamut from belly laughs to tears and back again. Although some parts of the story are fiction, there is enough truth in that when Conroy's mom filed for divorce from the real Colonel after 33 years of marriage, she handed a copy of The Great Santini to the judge as evidence of the Colonel's violent nature. Conroy is a definitely success story and despite many scars, he was able to overcome his tumultuous upbringing to become the very successful writer he is. But perhaps without that childhood, we would not know the Conroy we know today. Even he admits that "one of the greatest gifts you can get as a writer is to be born into an unhappy family."