In ‘Journal for Jordan,’ a dead soldier speaks to his son

In ‘Journal for Jordan,’ a dead soldier speaks to his son

Army 1st Sgt. Charles Monroe King never came home from Iraq — but the 200-page journal of fatherly advice he wrote for his infant son Jordan did. 

“A Journal for Jordan,” a memoir written by his fiancée Dana Canedy, has been adapted into a feature film by director/actor Denzel Washington, and opens Christmas Day. King was killed with two members of his unit when their Humvee struck a roadside bomb on Oct. 14, 2006.

Ms. Canedy said she was comforted to read his words to their son: “If you really want to know what I want in a woman, just look at your mother.”

“When I read it, I feel like he’s still flirting with me,” she said, falling silent for a moment.

Ms. Canedy said King’s journal also covers military service, honor, the power of prayer and “everything he could think to teach Jordan about how to be a man if he was killed.”

King, who was 48 when he died, grew up in Cleveland and worked as an advertisement illustrator in Mobile, Alabama, for a few years before joining the Army’s 67th Armor Regiment in the 4th Infantry Division.

A veteran of the First Gulf War, he became the top enlisted officer in his tank unit and was awarded the Bronze Star, the Meritorious Service Medal, the Army Commendation Medal, the Army Achievement Medal and the Army Valorous Unit Award.

Ms. Canedy, today the publisher of Simon and Schuster, was an editor at the New York Times when military officials came to her door with the news of King’s death.

“We’re all going to die, but very few people die a hero’s death,” said Ms. Canedy, who spent 23 years at the newspaper and won a Pulitzer Prize in 2001. “There’s an honor and dignity in it that makes me proud and makes his son proud.”

She and King had planned on waiting for marriage to have a child, but Ms. Canedy said King insisted on having one when he got his orders to ship out.

He said, ‘Let’s do it now, I might not come back,’” she said, adding that was about to turn 40 at the time.

Despite the growing unpopularity of the U.S. intervention in Iraq, King did not resent going back, she said.

He stood for God, his family, his country and his community,” said Ms. Canedy, 56. “He believed deeply he was serving our country and protecting our constitution, our ideals, and our right to disagree with each other.”

King wanted to convey that pride in military service to Jordan, she added.

He had his own mission over there to make sure his men were well-trained, well-fed and well-prepared,” she said. “His mission was to get them through it and bring them home.”

The cinematic adaptation of “A Journal for Jordan,” opening this weekend, was a passion project for Mr. Washington, Ms. Canedy said, adding that the Oscar-winning actor is a family friend of 13 years who wore her late fiancé’s dog tags while directing the film.

Mr. Washington “says this is the most important thing he’s done in his entire career and I’m humbled by that,” she said. “I think the movie is a good reminder of patriotism, that we are the United States of America and we should change our name if we cannot live up to the promise of that title.”

Actor Michael B. Jordan portrays King, and newcomer Chanté Adams plays Ms. Canedy in the film.

Raised in small-town Kentucky, Ms. Canedy recalled meeting King as a friend of her parents in their living room.

“That was his worst quality — who wants to date their father’s friend?” she said, laughing.

King was the first man she dated who prayed with her — and their 8½-year relationship transformed her into a practicing Christian as well.

“I believed in God, but I wasn’t traditionally Christian,” Ms. Canedy said. “He had read the Bible several times and started every day in prayer.”

His journal has become a carefully preserved family heirloom for her and her son Jordan, now 15.

“I tell Jordan all the time that he’s in an ongoing conversation with his father that other children without fathers can’t have,” Ms. Canedy said.