Veterans’ Day, So Here Are My Favorite War Books

And when I say “war books”, I’m talking about non-fiction stuff I’ve read as “research” for my “novel”.

  • With the Old Breed at Peleliu and Okinawa by E. B. Sledge — Painfully unaffected first-person account of two of the bloodiest campaigns of the Pacific. It’s like being there and it’s beautiful and it sucks. If you only ever read one book about the Pacific war, this one would get my vote.
  • On the Canal by Ore J. Marion — Another first-person account, written long after the fact, about a rifle squad leader’s experiences on Guadalcanal. Brings in a lot more of the fraternity and fun of war that Sledge lacked (in no small part, I’m guessing to the facts that (a) it was told, as mentioned, *long* after the fact and (b) Guadalcanal was nowhere near as brutal as Peleliu or Okinawa).
  • Up Front by Bill Mauldin — It’s short and has a lot of pictures (Mauldin was eventually a Purlitzer-winning cartoonist if you haven’t heard of him), but does a great job of conveying the day-to-day crappiness of the European Theater. Also, when juxtaposed with the content of all the Pacific Theater books I’ve read, gives a good idea of the differences between the WWII-era front-line army soldier and the same era’s front-line marines.
  • The Old Breed: A History of the First Marine Division in World War II by George McMillan — Details the campaigns and actions of the First Division in such a way as to make the division feel like a living, breathing thing — and, IMHO, in so doing conveys a lot about the lore and mythology of the Marine Corps. Really beautifully and compellingly written (but a little hard to find unless you want to pay the most recent publisher $60 to send you one).
  • Stay Off the Skyline by Laura Homan Lacey — Lacey gives an “oral history” of the Okinawa campaign by compiling parts of a number of interviews given by members of the Sixth Marine Division. The first-person recollections are fantastic and the author’s third-person, “outsider” perspectives on war, contexts, and warrior psychology made this especially useful for a civilian like myself. (It’s odd how so many other texts assume you know and understand everything about the military before you start reading — it can be kind of baffling trying to understand what’s being discussed.)

That’s about it. I got a number of books that are still unread or are partially read, a few of which look (or have so far been) pretty dang good.

So anyway: Happy Veterans’ Day.