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Browsing the Backlist: Memorial Day Reads

Please join us in celebrating the men and women of the armed forces who gave their lives for our country, and all those who serve today. We honor these remarkable people on the occasion of Memorial Day—and we continue to remember them all year through our long tradition of publishing outstanding military history.

A number of books in that tradition examine America’s role in Vietnam, including two powerful titles by Rhodes Scholar and U.S. Marine Karl Marlantes: Matterhorn and What it is Like to Go to War. Below, Marlantes pays tribute to Corporal Charles Thomas, the radio operator he bonded with while in Vietnam.

This video serves as part of a 2018 effort by AARP to collect stories about the friendships forged in war. As the publication We Are the Mighty writes of the initiative:

“Few things in this world are stronger than the bonds forged by troops who fought together in combat.”

Toward a deeper understanding of such bonds, we suggest reading any one of the following seven titles, selected by our staff to commemorate Memorial Day this year. From Mark Bowden’s acclaimed Hue 1968, which illuminates that key battle of the Tet Offensive in meticulous detail, to Patrick O’Donnell’s searing narrative of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, The Unknowns, these books offer precise, intimate, and often surprising investigations of America at war.


The Unknowns / Patrick K. O’Donnell

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is sacred ground at Arlington National Cemetery. Originally constructed in 1921 to hold one of the thousands of unidentified American soldiers lost in World War I, it now also contains unknowns from World War II and the Korean and Vietnam Wars, and receives millions of visitors each year who pay silent tribute. In The Unknowns, celebrated military historian Patrick O’Donnell illuminates the saga behind the creation of the Tomb itself and recreates the moving ceremony during which it was consecrated.

Hue 1968 / Mark Bowden

The Wall Street Journal calls HUE 1968 “the definitive account of a turning point in America’s Vietnam strategy and in public opinion about the war.” With unprecedented access to U.S. and Vietnam war archives and interviews with participants from both sides, Bowden narrates each stage of this crucial Tet Offensive battle through multiple points of view. If you enjoy Bowden’s masterful style, he’s written many other books, including the New York Times bestseller Black Hawk Down.

The Immaculate Invasion / Bob Shacochis

In 1994, the United States embarked on Operation Uphold Democracy, a response to the overthrow of the democratically elected Haitian government by a brutal military coup. Bob Shacochis was embedded—long before the idea became popular in Iraq—with a team of Special Forces commandos for eighteen months. He came away with tremendous insight into Haiti, the character of American fighters, and what can happen when an intervention turns into a misadventure.

1941: Fighting the Shadow War / Marc Wortman

Prior to Pearl Harbor, America had long been involved in a shadow war. Winston Churchill, England’s beleaguered new Prime Minister, pleaded with Franklin D. Roosevelt for help—and FDR concocted ingenious ways to come to his aid without breaking the Neutrality Acts. In 1941: Fighting the Shadow War, Marc Wortman thrillingly explores this little-known history of clandestine involvement, combining military and political history to tell a truly eye-opening story.

Brave Deeds / David Abrams

From the author of critically-acclaimed Iraq war novel FobbitBrave Deeds follows a squad of AWOL soldiers as they attempt to cross war-torn Baghdad on foot to attend the funeral of their leader, Staff Sergeant Rafe Morgan. As the six soldiers journey, their complicated histories, hopes, and fears are told in a chorus of voices that merge into a powerful portrait of the modern war zone and the deepest concerns of us all, military and civilian alike.

First to Fly / Charles Bracelen Flood

If the Wright brothers’ 1903 flights in Kitty Hawk marked the birth of aviation, World War I can be called its violent adolescence—a bloody era that transformed how planes were designed, fabricated, and flown. In First to Fly, lauded historian Charles Bracelen Flood tells the story of those at the forefront of that revolution: the daredevil Americans of the Lafayette Escadrille, who flew in French planes, wore French uniforms, and showed the world an American brand of heroism before the United States entered the Great War.

What It Is Like to Go to War / Karl Marlantes

In 1968, at the age of twenty-three, Karl Marlantes was dropped into the highland jungle of Vietnam, an inexperienced lieutenant in command of a platoon of forty Marines who would live or die by his decisions. Marlantes survived, but like many of his brothers in arms, he has spent the last forty years dealing with his experiences. In What it is Like to Go to War, Marlantes takes a deeply personal and candid look at the ordeal of combat, critically examining how we might better prepare our young soldiers for war. A powerful nonfiction companion to Marlantes’ epic, critically acclaimed novel Matterhorn.