“In any war story, but especially a true one, it’s difficult to separate what happened from what seemed to happen.” – Tim O’Brien
I’ve never served in the military. I have no interest in ever doing so (I’m a big ol’ wimp. I give all the props in the world to those who choose this route). However, one of my go-to genres is a good war memoir. This is probably because of the whole “this is the most realistic thing I’ll never experience for myself” thing.
In college, I took a cluster course called “America at War in the Age of Rock and Roll” - a value-meal sized class that married War Literature and Film with Politics of Rock and Roll (Yay, liberal arts!). I think this played a large part in sparking my interest, thanks to two engaging professors, but especially in reading Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried. While fiction, this reads like any personal account of war that you’ll find.
Despite starting off with the Vietnam War, my interests have been split evenly between World War II and the current war, as they bear the more personal connections (also, HBO’s penchant for producing a really good mini-series). My grandfather served as a Naval radio man in the Pacific theater of WWII; my brother-in-law spent a year at Camp Bucca as an MP.
I absorbed The Pacific when it aired on TV a few years ago and then promptly read Eugene Sledge’s With the Old Breed and Helmet for My Pillow, by Robert Leckie. Did the same thing after finally watching Band of Brothers - Stephen Ambrose’s book is a fine piece of source material.
As for more contemporary tales, my go-to recommdations stem from Generation Kill. Evan Wright, a reporter from Rolling Stone, was embedded with the First Recon Marines in the spring of 2003 as they acted as “the tip of the spear” during the early days of our presense in Iraq. Wright’s outsider-looking-in account is balanced by One Bullet Away, written by Nathaniel Fick, then a lieutenant in that same company. Fick was close to graduating from Dartmoth when he decided to follow his college education with Marine Corps Officer Candidates School. His is one of the smartest memoirs I’ve read.
I only wish there were more from a woman’s perspective, although the Library of Congress has a neat aural history collection from women in their Veteran’s History Project.
Here’s a few more to check out: