War Memoirs: True Stories of Military Acts of Valor
Since the first Veterans Day on November 11, 1918—the official end of World War I—we’ve observed the day by honoring America's brave men and women in uniform. With today marking the 95th anniversary of the holiday, we recommend these books by and about soldiers on the front lines, from Bryan Bender’s new “You Are Not Forgotten,” the moving tale of a missing World War II pilot and the modern-day serviceman who went above and beyond to bring the pilot’s remains home to his family, to Philip Caputo’s classic memoir about serving in Vietnam, “A Rumor of War.” Read these books to better understand how war impacts our soldiers and their families and communities both during military conflict, and after the fighting is over.
Iraq: Kayla Williams
In early 2000, Kayla Williams enlisted in the U.S. Army to train as an Arabic linguist and interpreter. In the wake of 9/11, she was sent on one of the first missions to Iraq in 2003. Only 15 percent of the Army is female, and in her memoir, "Love My Rifle More than You," Williams takes a frank look at the bigotry, sexism and fear she encountered there, but also the bravery and heroism of U.S. soldiers fighting an unpopular war.
Vietnam: Philip Caputo
Philip Caputo joined the Marines in the early '60s, eager to rise to John F. Kennedy's challenge, "ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country." Caputo's tour in Vietnam was part of the first ground combat unit deployed there, and the brutal realities of the conflict shattered his early confidence and idealism. In "A Rumor of War," published in 1977 and now widely considered a classic, Caputo set out to tell the story of "the things men do in war and the things war does to them."
World War II: E.B. Sledge
Similarly full of confidence and idealism at the outset of war was Eugene Bondurant Sledge, who joined the Marines after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and served from 1943 to 1946. But nothing prepared him for the reality, when he was thrown into the battle of Peleliu, and "the world was a nightmare of flashes, explosions, and snapping bullets." Between battles Sledge managed to record his impressions on slips of paper he kept tucked into his New Testament, which formed the basis for his classic account, "With the Old Breed." In 2007 Ken Burns used the book as source material for his documentary, "The War," and in 2010 HBO adapted the book along with Robert Leckie's "Helmet for My Pillow" into the miniseries "The Pacific."
World War I: Hervey Allen
William Hervey Allen, Jr. was a poet when he served in the U.S. Army during World War I, and decades later he would write a sprawling and widely read 1,224-page novel called "Anthony Adverse." But in wartime he was a soldier in the heat of the action on the Western Front. "Toward the Flame" is his poetic, non-fiction account of "The Great War."
The Civil War: Loreta Janeta Velazquez
Loreta Janeta Velazquez has quite a war story to tell. Born in Cuba in 1842, at the age of seven she was sent to school in New Orleans. Seven years later, she eloped with an officer in the Texas Army. When Texas seceded from the Union in 1861, Velazquez begged her husband to be allowed to join him in the Confederate Army--he refused. Undaunted, Velazquez disguised herself as a man, took the name Harry T. Buford, marched into Arkansas under the self-assigned rank of lieutenant, raised a regiment of volunteers and brought them to her husband. When he died two days later (not from shock but from a bullet), Velazquez joined another regiment and ultimately became a spy who crossed from the South to the North in disguise.
The Revolutionary War: Henry Lee
It's unclear whether Confederate General Robert E. Lee was aware of the unique services of Loreta Janeta Velazquez. But he did have a military heritage of his own: He was the son of General Henry "Light Horse Harry" Lee, who served in the Army during the Revolutionary War. The old general's memoir, "The Revolutionary War Memoirs of General Henry Lee," includes his stories of battle with the Redcoats, battles with Thomas Jefferson afterward and, in more recent editions, an introduction by the son who followed in his footsteps.