Real Stories is a column about the true stories behind movies and TV shows. It’s that simple. This installment focuses on the tragic and beautiful true story behind A Journal for Jordan.
An article, then a memoir, and now a movie directed by Denzel Washington. That is the evolution of A Journal for Jordan.
The story is so tragic and beautiful that it’s hard to believe it is based on real events. In 2006, 1st Sergeant Charles Monroe King (played by Michael B. Jordan in the movie) was killed in action near Baghdad. He left behind Dana Canedy (played by Chanté Adams), his partner of eight years, and their six-month-old son, Jordan. King had also written a 200-page journal, full of advice and memories, for his son to have in the event that he did not return from Iraq.
Here are more details of the true story behind the movie A Journal for Jordan:
Preparing For Deployment, and for the Worst
Dana Canedy, an accomplished journalist who is currently an executive at Simon & Schuster, first told the story of Charles Monroe King and his journal in a 2007 article for the New York Times. King boarded a plane for Iraq in December 2005, and Canedy begins the article with his final actions in the United States, noting he:
“drew pictures of himself with angel wings. He left a set of his dog tags on a nightstand in my Manhattan apartment. He bought a tiny blue sweat suit for our baby to wear home from the hospital.”
Then, Canedy writes, King set out to work on what would become the journal for Jordan. In July of the next year, he mailed the incomplete work to her. Days prior, King recovered the body of one of his soldiers from a tank. The death, Canedy writes:
“shook Charles so deeply that he wanted to send it even though he had more to say.”
The next month, King took a two-week leave to travel home and meet Jordan, then five months old, for the first time. Canedy writes that King:
“was so intoxicated by love for his son that he barely slept, instead keeping vigil over the baby.”
Charles Monroe King’s Life of Service
On October 14, 2006, 1st Sergeant Charles Monroe King was killed after an improvised explosive device detonated near his armored vehicle. He was 48 years old, and one month away from completing his tour of duty.
King first enlisted in 1987. A “gifted artist” who had trained at the Art Institute of Chicago, Canedy writes, he found fulfillment as a solider and was deeply loyal to those with whom he served. On the night of the baby shower for Jordan, during his two-week leave, King spent much of the evening worrying about his soldiers in Iraq.
In the lead-up to his deployment, Canedy says they talked often about the dangers he would face. She writes:
“We never said aloud that the fear that he might not return was why we decided to have a child before we planned a wedding, rather than risk never having the chance.”
King missed Jordan’s birth because he refused to take leave before all of his own soldiers had a chance to go home. The family later learned that King had volunteered for the mission on which he died in Iraq. Canedy writes:
“Although he was not required to join the resupply convoy in Baghdad, he believed that his soldiers needed someone experienced with them.”
After King’s death, his father, Charlie J. King, blamed himself for not urging his son to avoid unnecessary risks. But such overtures probably would not have swayed King. As quoted by Canedy in the New York Times article, he said:
“He was a born leader. And he believed what he was doing was right.”
A Journal Full of Wisdom and Memories
In 2008, Dana Canedy turned her New York Times article into a memoir, A Journal for Jordan: A Story of Love and Honor. In it, she shares passages from the journal that King wrote for his son. They vary in tone and subject. For example, he shares personal memories from his childhood: singing in the youth choir at church, rooting for the Cleveland Browns, and the story of his first kiss. King wrote:
“I walked her home after school and she thanked me by giving me a kiss. I was a little taken back by it. Being in the eighth grade, it was a big step for me.”
There are other times when the journal gets more serious, and King gives his son beautiful life advice:
“Be humble about your accomplishments, work harder than the man next to you, it is all right for boys to cry. Sometimes crying can release a lot of pain and stress. Never be ashamed to cry. It has nothing to do with your manhood.”
King also reflected on life in combat. In the Times article, Canedy shares a passage King wrote in April 2006, “after a roadside bombing remarkably similar to that which would claim him.” King’s soldiers, he wrote, did not want to attend a memorial for two soldiers because it was too “depressing.” He told them they were being “selfish.” In his journal, he wrote:
“Things may not always be easy or pleasant for you, that’s life, but always pay your respects for the way people lived and what they stood for. It’s the honorable thing to do.”
The Love at the Heart of A Journal for Jordan
Dana Canedy (and now the movie of A Journal for Jordan) also tells the true story of how she and Charles Monroe King fell in love. They first met in Canedy’s hometown of Radcliff, Kentucky. At first, Canedy writes, she did not think he was her type:
“He was bashful, a homebody and got his news from television rather than newspapers.”
But eventually, she began to think through the list of traits she wanted in a partner and husband, and she realized that he fit them all:
“He was meticulous, even insisting on doing my ironing because he deemed my wrinkle-removing skills deficient. His rock-hard warrior’s body made him appear tough, but he had a tender heart.”
King had a daughter from a previous marriage, Christina, whom he “doted on.” Canedy, who was raised in a military family, initially resisted dating King. They had a long-distance romance and at times dated other people, but, Canedy writes in her memoir:
“Ultimately, it was his steadiness, his character, and his sureness about who he was and what he stood for that won me over, something you will get to know by reading the journal.”
And while King wrote the journal for Jordan, he included a letter for Canedy on the inside cover. In it, he wrote:
“For us, life will move on through Jordan. He will be an extension of us and hopefully everything that we stand for … I would like to see him grow up to be a man, but only God knows what the future holds.”
A Journal for Jordan opens in theaters on December 25, 2021
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