Charleston, SC – This is where I live. It’s a good time to look back at some of the stories of the people who have served or are serving their country. The stories of war have been passed down for a long time. When people write stories about soldiers, they look at what they bring to fight and what they bring back home. This is true for people in Asia, Europe, Africa, and the Americas, as well as for people in the Bible and the Trojan War.
This Veterans Day, we’re going to look at books, audiobooks, and movies that give us a better idea of what it was like for those who served.
Amagansett by Mark Mills
It’s a small town on Long Island called Amagansett. It’s on the windswept coast, and generations of fishermen have kept the same job as their forefathers. There have been few changes in the three centuries since white settlers took over the land from the Montaukett Indians and forced them to leave. However, for second-generation Basque immigrant Conrad Labarde and Rollo Kemp, this stability is broken when a beautiful New York socialite dies in their nets.
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain
Twenty-one-year-old Billy Lynn is brought back to the United States for a victory tour after being in a war in Iraq. When the movie shows flashbacks, it shows what really happened to his squad, comparing the real world of war with the way Americans think about it.
The Ha-Ha by Dave King
Howard Kapostash was injured in Vietnam years ago and can’t speak, read, or write, but his intelligence is normal. Now that he’s middle-aged, he lives alone and avoids people as much as possible. But then his high school sweetheart gives her nine-year-old son to Howard when she goes to rehab for drug abuse. Howard starts to open up when he sees a father figure. The emotional scars from his past start to heal.
A Hard and Heavy Thing by Matthew Hefti
Before he kills himself, Levi writes a letter to his best friend, Nick, explaining why things have to end this way. He has been at war for nearly a decade. Years ago, Levi, an army sergeant, made a mistake that led his team into a trap, killing three soldiers and injuring two more. In the attack, Levi put his own life at risk to save a badly burned and scarred Nick. His bravery earned him the Silver Star, but nothing could take away the guilt he felt after that tragic day. He may have saved Nick in Iraq, but when Levi comes back home and starts to act crazy, it’s Nick’s turn to be the hero. He tells Levi to write.
Jarhead: A Marine’s Chronicle of the Gulf War and Other Battles by Anthony Swofford
A man named Anthony Swofford was in Saudi Arabia when the U.S. Marines were sent there in 1990 for the first Gulf War. For six months, he lived in the sand. He was punished by boredom and fear; he thought about suicide, pulled a gun on a fellow marine, and was shot by both the enemy and the people who were with him.
The Last of the Doughboys: The Forgotten Generation and Their Forgotten World War by Richard Rubin
They were the last of the millions of people who made up the American Expeditionary Forces. They were nineteenth-century people and women living in the twenty-first century. Their stories were kept private for a long time because they were self-reliant, humble, and stoic. At the end of their lives, they finally told them so that they and the World War they won could be remembered.
One Bullet Away: The Making of a Marine Officer by Nathaniel Fick
Previously, Nathan Fick was a captain in the US Marine Corps’ First Reconnaissance Battalion. He served there for many years before leaving the Marine Corps. He served in Afghanistan and Iraq. He shows how the Corps trains its best people and gives a vivid picture of a battle in the twenty-first century.
Peace: A Novel by Richard Bausch
The place is in Italy, close to Cassino. The winter of 1944 was terrible. A dreary, icy rain that hasn’t stopped for days. Three American soldiers are sent on a reconnaissance mission up the side of a steep hill. They are led by a 70-year-old Italian man in rope-soled shoes. Soon, they find out that the hill is a mountain. There is a lot of terror and confusion on the mountain where they are, because the old man doesn’t know which side he’s on. Then, a sniper shoots at them.
Redeployment by Phil Klay
Phil Klay’s book Redeployment takes us to the front lines of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and asks us to think about what happened there and what happened to the soldiers who came back. These stories are filled with themes of brutality and faith, guilt and fear, helplessness and survival. The characters in these stories try to make sense out of chaos. It’s called “Redeployment,” and it’s about a soldier who had to shoot dogs because they were eating human bodies. When he comes back home, he must learn how it feels to be surrounded by people who don’t know what Fallujah is, where three members of his platoon were killed.
Soldier Girls: The Battles of Three Women at Home and at War by Helen Thorpe
The book tells the stories of three women soldiers who were sent to Afghanistan and Iraq to show how their military service has affected their friendships, personal lives, and families. It describes the realities of their work on bases and in war zones, as well as how their choices and losses shaped their perspectives.
Thank You for Your Service by David Finkel (This is a book club kit.)
In the ironically named Thank You for Your Service, Finkel writes with tremendous compassion not just about the soldiers but about their wives and children. After they return home, where do soldiers go? If they were to come back into their communities as if nothing had happened, would that be fair? Then, when things get tough, who do soldiers turn to if they feel like they don’t belong in the world they used to live in? The brave but damaged men of the 2-16 ask Finkel these questions when he comes back to them and talks to them again.
The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
“The Things They Carried” depicts the men of Alpha Company: Jimmy Cross, Henry Dobbins, Rat Kiley, Mitchell Sanders, Norman Bowker, Kiowa, and the character Tim O’Brien, who has survived his tour in Vietnam to become a father and writer at the age of forty-three. It is now required reading for anyone who lives in the United States. It challenges people to think about what is real and what isn’t, war and peace, courage and fear and longing.
Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson
This is the story of William “Skip” Sands, a CIA agent who worked on psychological operations against the Vietcong. He had a lot of bad luck. Also, this is the story of Bill and James Houston, two young men who drift out of the Arizona desert and into a war where the line between disinformation and delusion has become blurred. This story is very different from anything else we’ve read. It shows how people can be very stupid.
Why Marines Fight by James Brady
For more than two centuries, the U.S. Marines have been some of the world’s most fearsome and well-liked warriors. Look at the U.S. Marines in this book, and you’ll be amazed at how big it is. It’s written by an author some Marines think is the unofficial poet laureate of their group. From World War II to Iraq and Afghanistan, Brady interviews marines who have fought in wars all over the world. He records their responses to Brady in their own unique and powerful voices. These he turns into a true story about a country at war, as seen through the eyes of its bravest. Americans who read Brady’s book about this part of a soldier’s life and how it changed them may not be able to forget it.