As a young man, Don Catherall shook hands with John F. Kennedy minutes before he was assassinated. When told of Kennedy's murder later that day, he thought it a cruel joke.

I saw hundreds of people die. Hundreds. During the Tet Offensive I saw 60 people killed one afternoon. You see that and after that, there is very little in the world you can think of that can justify doing that to human beings.
— Dr. Don Catherall

Catherall's father, a quiet man who seldom talked of his service during World War II, was shot in the spine and temporarily paralyzed in battle, his comrades forced to leave him under a pile of bodies overnight to avoid enemy detection. For her part, Catherall's mother was a caretaker from an early age, eventually losing both her own mother and sister to TB. Catherall - who is now a psychologist in private practice and a professor specializing in traumatization and couples therapy at Northwestern University and the University of Chicago - continued the legacy of trauma in Vietnam, losing friends to battle and eventually the full use of his hands and feet because of possible exposure to Agent Orange.

For every decade of Catherall's early life there seems a defining trauma, none perhaps more prominent than the death of his friend Bill, killed during a routine patrol in Vietnam that Catherall was meant to take. For Catherall, the memory of that day lingered in his mind as much as the guilt of having survived it. And survive it he did.