J.D. Salinger was born and grew up in the fashionable apartment district of Manhattan, New York. He was the son of a prosperous Jewish importer of Kosher cheese and his Scotch-Irish wife. In his childhood the young Jerome was called Sonny. The family had a beautiful apartment on Park Avenue. After restless studies in prep schools, he was sent to Valley Forge Military Academy (1934-36), which he attended briefly. His friends from this period remember his sarcastic wit. In 1937 when he was eighteen and nineteen, Salinger spent five months in Europe. From 1937 to 1938 he studied at Ursinus College and New York University. He fell in love with Oona O’Neill, wrote her letters almost daily, and was later shocked when she married Charles Chaplin, who was much older than she.
In 1939 Salinger took a class in short story writing at Columbia University under Whit Burnett, founder-editor of the Story Magazine. During World War II he was drafted into the infantry and was involved in the invasion of Normandy. Salinger’s comrades considered him very brave, a genuine hero. During the first months in Europe Salinger managed to write stories and in Paris meet Ernest Hemingway. He was also involved in one of the bloodiest episodes of the war in Hürtgenwald, a useless battle, where he witnessed the horrors of war.
I’m aware that many of my friends will be saddened and shocked, or shock-saddened, over some of the chapters in The Catcher In the Rye. Some of my best friends are children. In fact, all my best friends are children. It’s almost unbearable for me to realize that my book will be kept on a shelf out of their reach. – J. D. Salinger