Vincent Caulfield is the oldest son of Mary Moriarity and the unnamed Mr. Caulfield. He has four siblings, Holden, Allie, Phoebe, and Viola. Vincent is close friends with Babe Gladwaller and dated Helen Beebers. The oldest Caulfield child is named D. B. in The Catcher in the Rye.
Vincent was born around 1914, making him 29 when he is drafted into the Army, trains in Georgia, and goes to war. Vincent died during World War II, probably in France in 1944.
“Uh, he died in the morning. he and four other G.I.s and I were standing around a fire we made. In Hürtgen Forest. Some mortar dropped in suddenly — it didn’t whistle or anything — and it hit Vincent and three of the other men. He died in the medics’ CP tent about thirty yards away, not more than about three minutes after he was hit.”
We also learn in The Stranger that Vincent truly loved Helen Beebers, leaving a poem for her with Babe Gladwaller to be delivered after his death. Helen apparently married Bob Polk before Vincent shipped out for the war, as Vincent dryly reports in Last Day of the Last Furlough.
In The Ocean Full of Bowling Balls, Allie‘s place as the dead brother in the family is taken by Kenneth. He has a heart condition and dies while swimming in the ocean. Kenneth also owns the famous poem-covered baseball mitt. He is described as having his mother’s bright red hair. Vincent is the writer in the family and has written a story about a man who tells his wife he goes bowling every week but secretly visits another woman instead. After his death, his secret is revealed and the woman throws his bowling ball out the window. Note that Jim Rovira’s account claims that the roles of Kenneth and Vincent are reversed.
Vincent Caulfield Story Series
Vincent was the first member of the Caulfield family to be featured in Salinger’s stories and narrates a trio of excellent war-related stories: The Last and Best of the Peter Pans, The Ocean Full of Bowling Balls, and This Sandwich Has No Mayonnaise. He is also mentioned in Last Day of the Last Furlough and The Stranger.
These early Caulfield stories are a kind of alternate universe for fans of The Catcher in the Rye — the time period is shifted by roughly five years with an older Holden killed in the war. The names of the Caulfield children are also changed somewhat: D. B. becomes Vincent and Allie becomes Kenneth. These Vincent stories also include the Gladwaller family which is absent from the later Holden stories.
As part of the story arc, Vincent is killed in World War II. This leaves his close friend, Babe Gladwaller, to tell Vincent’s former girlfriend of his death.