On November 11th, we celebrate the day in 1918 when World War I officially ended at the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month. In the US, we celebrate it as Veterans Day, in honor of the men and women who have served, who have answered the call of duty to their country, and displayed much heroism and valor in the process.
Here are some reads and DVDs that will not only remind us of the experiences and sacrifices of our veterans, but also the psychological toll of warfare.
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain
A razor-sharp satire set in Texas during America’s war in Iraq, it explores the gaping national disconnect between the war at home and the war abroad. Ben Fountain’s remarkable debut novel follows the surviving members of the heroic Bravo Squad through one exhausting stop in their media-intensive “Victory Tour” at Texas Stadium, football mecca of the Dallas Cowboys, their fans, promoters, and cheerleaders.
Brothers in Valor: Battlefield Stories of the 89 African Americans Awarded the Medal of Honor by Robert F. Jefferson Jr.
Since the American Civil War, scores of African Americans have served with great distinction. Through thousands of historical accounts, photographs, and documentary evidence, Jefferson introduces the 89 black soldiers who continued forward when all odds were against them. The heroes within these pages faced certain death and definite danger without flinching. Jefferson paints a vivid portrait of African-American soldiers who carried the flag of freedom and how they reshaped the very definition of courage under fire during some of the most harrowing moments in United States military history.
Catch-22: 50th Anniversary edition by Joseph Heller
A cornerstone of American literature and one of the funniest—and most celebrated—books of all time. Set in Italy during World War II, this is the story of the incomparable, malingering bombardier, Yossarian, a hero who is furious because thousands of people he has never met are trying to kill him. But his real problem is not the enemy—it is his own army, which keeps increasing the number of missions the men must fly to complete their service. Yet if Yossarian makes any attempt to excuse himself from the perilous missions he’s assigned, he’ll be in violation of Catch-22, a hilariously sinister bureaucratic rule: a man is considered insane if he willingly continues to fly dangerous combat missions, but if he makes a formal request to be removed from duty, he is proven sane and therefore ineligible to be relieved.
Compassionate Soldier: Remarkable True Stories of Mercy, Heroism, and Honor from the Battlefield by Jerry Borrowman
Arranged by war from the American Revolution to the Iraq War and global in perspective, this book features extraordinary stories of grace under fire from valiant soldiers and noncombatants who rose above the inhumanity of lethal conflict and chose compassion, even knowing their actions could put their lives and liberty at risk.
The Last Full Measure (DVD)
The true story of William Pitsenbarger, an Air Force medic who saved more than sixty men in one of the bleakest battles of the Vietnam War. Presented the chance to escape on the last helicopter, Pitsenbarger stayed behind to save and defend his comrade in arms. Twenty years later, Pitsenbarger’s fellow soldiers and father seek the help of investigator Scott Huffman and other surviving veterans to finally secure him The Congressional Medal of Honor he deserved.
The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor by Jake Tapper
At 5:58 AM on October 3rd, 2009, Combat Outpost Keating, located in frighteningly vulnerable terrain in Afghanistan just 14 miles from the Pakistani border, was viciously attacked. Though the 53 Americans there prevailed against nearly 400 Taliban fighters, their casualties made it the deadliest fight of the war for the U.S. that year. Four months after the battle, a Pentagon review revealed that there was no reason for the troops at Keating to have been there in the first place. Tapper gives us the powerful saga of COP Keating, from its establishment to eventual destruction, introducing us to an unforgettable cast of soldiers and their families, and to a place and war that has remained profoundly distant to most Americans.
Rebuilding Sergeant Peck: How I Put Body and Soul Back Together After Afghanistan by John M. Peck
Marine Sgt. John Peck survived an IED during the war on terror that left him with a traumatic brain injury, amnesia, and cost him his marriage. He survived another three years later, one that left him with three and a half limbs missing. He’s one of only two living people to survive the flesh-eating fungus he contracted in recovery at Walter Reed, one that left him as a quadruple amputee. And that’s only the beginning of his story. What followed was a recovery nothing short of miraculous. With resilience and the help of advocates like actor and philanthropist Gary Sinise, FOX’s Jennifer Griffin, and Bill O’Reilly, John would use a specialized “Action Trackchair” wheelchair and a newly-built SmartHome to get a third lease on life. In 2016, Peck underwent a groundbreaking bilateral arm transplant, receiving two new arms.
Red Platoon: A True Story of American Valor by Clinton Romesha
The riveting first-hand account of the Battle of Keating, told by Romesha, who spearheaded both the defense of the outpost and the counter-attack that drove the Taliban back beyond the wire, and received the Medal of Honor for his actions.
Redeployment by Phil Klay
This story collection, which won the 2014 National Book Award for Fiction, is a deftly written account of the American experience during the Iraq War. It takes readers to the frontlines of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, asking us to understand what happened there, and what happened to the soldiers who returned. Interwoven with themes of brutality and faith, guilt and fear, helplessness and survival, the characters in these stories struggle to make meaning out of chaos. Across nations and continents, Klay sets in devastating relief the two worlds a soldier inhabits: one of extremes and one of loss.
Regeneration by Pat Barker
Craiglockhart War Hospital, Scotland, 1917. Poet and soldier Siegfried Sassoon has been institutionalised in an attempt to undermine his public disapproval of the war. His army psychiatrist, Dr William Rivers, has been tasked with returning shell-shocked officers to the trenches, yet under Sassoon’s influence, he has become tormented by the morality of what is being done in the name of healing. Reminding us that some of the most intimate friendships are born from the most brutal conflicts, thisis a compelling and compassionate look at the nihilism of war and the devastating effect the First World War had on a generation of young men.
Saints and Soldiers (DVD)
Based on actual WWII events, the award-winning film tells the dramatic story of a small band of Allied soldiers trapped behind enemy lines with information that could save thousands of American lives.
These Heroic, Happy Dead by Luke Mogelson
In the ten stories of Mogelson’s masterful debut collection, we see lives that have been forever changed by war. The stories are linked by characters that appear and then reappear later on; we meet veterans who are struggling upon their return and, later on, see them in the deployments that first sent them to the battlefield. We fleetingly read about a soldier in one story, who becomes the central protagonist of another and move back and forth in time from active combat at the front to reintroduction into society at home. Mogelson’s stories are bleak and starkly honest, yet are told with an undercurrent of dark humor, which make for an unflinching debut collection.
Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers
A novel of the Iraq War, this book follows 21-year-old Private John Bartle and his friend Murph from basic training through their horrific experience in Iraq and Bartle’s subsequent attempts, once he arrives back home, to reconcile himself to what he saw and did in the war. Flowing entirely from Bartle’s perspective are long, languorous sentences that simultaneously describe the stark desert landscape of Iraq and the mutilated corpses that litter the battleground. Under intense pressure, Murph begins to dissociate from his surroundings, eventually leaving his unit’s base camp, where he becomes the prey of insurgents. Powers’ intense and insular prose effectively communicates the fear of young soldiers so inadequately prepared for the atrocities they will both witness and commit as well as the absurdity of continually capturing and losing the same city over the war’s long course.
-Archana, Adult Services & Acquisitions Librarian