A Soldier’s Story: 12 War Books Told by Those Who Were There

We’re honoring America’s heroes with books that reveal what it's like to be in war.


We regularly read about wars both past and present. Yet there are few of us who truly know what it's like to be there. The accounts below are told by the brave men and women who fought on the front lines, as well as those intrepid reporters who documented war in person. From World War II to the battlefields of Vietnam, these eight works provide insight into the triumphs and terrors of armed conflict. 

Buy On Killing at Amazon

On Killing

By Lt. Col. Dave Grossman

In 1947, S.L.A. Marshall published Men Against Fire, in which he claimed 90% of WWII soldiers never fired their weapon due to an innate "phobia" of killing another. Although that particular claim was soon questioned, the U.S. Army took the possibility seriously, and began training soldiers to specifically ease this in hopes of a more effective force. Dave Grossman, who served in the U.S. Army and taught psychology at West Point, investigates how the military encourages soldiers to overcome reluctance to kill through interviews with and personal accounts from other soldiers.

Related: 10 World War II Propaganda Posters: From Patriotic to Peculiar

Buy 365 Days at Amazon

365 Days

By Ronald J. Glasser

Dive into the Vietnam War from the eyes of a serviceman treating his fellow combatants. Stationed in Japan, Ron Glasser was a pediatrician turned army doctor. Here, he not only shares his own experiences but also transcribes the stories of his patients and those who staffed the hospital by his side, from nurses to special ops.

Buy We Were Soldiers Once . . . and Young at Amazon

We Were Soldiers Once . . . and Young

By Lt. Gen. Harold G. Moore and Joseph L. Galloway

We Were Soldiers Once…and Young examines Ia Drang, one of the most significant and brutal battles of the Vietnam War. Written by Lt. Col. Harold Moore, with the help of journalist Joseph L. Galloway—the only journalist on the ground at la Drang—the book tells the harrowing tale of the American soldiers who never gave up, despite the devastation that surrounded them. 

Related: Battle of Ia Drang: The United States Army’s Brutal Entry into the Vietnam War  

Buy This Kind of War at Amazon

This Kind of War

By T. R. Fehrenbach

The book that Defense Secretary James Mattis recently recommended in response to rising tensions in North Korea, This Kind of War analyzes the Korean War—as told by a man who was there. Often referred to as “the forgotten war,” Fehrenbach, who served as a U.S. Army officer during the war, provides a powerful reflection on its destruction and how unpreparedness led to the loss of so many lives.

Related: The Korean War Serves as a Cautious Reminder for the Future 

Buy A Civil War Captain and His Lady at Amazon

A Civil War Captain and His Lady

By Gene Barr

Travel back to the Civil War with this collection of letters, carefully curated by Gene Barr to shed light on less investigated parts of the war. Josiah Moore, an Irish immigrant, joined the 17th Illinois Volunteer Infantry and quickly became a captain. Throughout the war, he wrote to his sweetheart, Jennie Lindsay. As the war drags on and their relationship deepens, this book showcases a human side of America’s deadliest war.

Related: 10 Civil War Battles That Shaped America's Bloodiest Conflict

Buy Valor in Vietnam at Amazon

Valor in Vietnam

By Allen B. Clark

Looking at the Vietnam War through the lens of those who were there, Valor in Vietnam offers 19 different stories of triumph and tragedy. Presented in chronological order, the accounts are emotional, intense, and personal. 

Related: The 9 Best Vietnam War Movies

Buy Goodbye Vietnam at Amazon

Goodbye Vietnam

By William Broyles

William Broyles’s memoir covers his life from the time he was a college student—hoping not to be drafted—to his service in Vietnam and his return to the country years later, in an attempt to come to terms with the bloody war. Though he was enrolled at Oxford when the Vietnam War began, Broyles realized he could not let his class or education stand in the way of his civic duty. He subsequently enrolled in the marines. And while he survived, he wasn’t able to move on until he confronted his past and returned to the former battlefields of Vietnam. 

Buy A Waterloo Hero at Amazon

A Waterloo Hero

By Friedrich Lindau

Friedrich Lindau served as an infantryman during the Napoleonic Wars. He joined the King’s German Legion—a British army contingent primarily populated by German expats—after escaping Napoleon’s ever-expanding empire in 1809. This fascinating memoir was dictated by Lindau to his pastor about 30 years after its events, but his story remains fascinating and compelling. As a lower-ranking soldier, the perspective given here by Lindau is one often missed.

Related: 8 Essential Texts About Napoleon Bonaparte and the Napoleonic Wars

Buy Eyewitness to World War II at Amazon

Eyewitness to World War II

By Richard Tregaskis

This military bundle includes three books from Richard Tregaskis, a World War II reporter who bridged the gap between the soldiers on the front lines and those waiting at home. Including Guadalcanal Diary, Invasion Diary, and, John F. Kennedy and PT-109, Tregaskis, who travelled with the Allies during WWII, recounts the bravery and sacrifice he witnessed. 

Related: The Guadalcanal Battle: An Eyewitness Account of One of the Most Pivotal Offensives of World War II 

Buy Special Ops at Amazon

Special Ops

By Orr Kelly

Orr Kelly, a journalist who served as a war correspondent in Vietnam, tells the stories of the military’s elite forces. The bundle includes Brave Men, Dark Waters; Never Fight Fair!; Hornet; and, From a Dark Sky. From the Navy SEALs to the US Air Force Special Operations, Kelly details the courage and resilience of these unique fighters. In Never Fight Fair!, the Navy SEALs tell us, in their own words, about the history of their special force and what it takes to be one of the elite. 

Buy In Pharaoh's Army at Amazon

In Pharaoh's Army

By Tobias Wolff

A National Book Award finalist, In Pharaoh’s Army chronicles Tobias Wolff’s experiences as an army officer in the Vietnam War. Present during the Tet Offensive, one of the largest military campaigns that took place during the war, Wolff tells his story and how it has affected him both in and out of Vietnam. 

Buy Adventures in My Youth at Amazon

Adventures in My Youth

By Armin Scheiderbauer

Schiederbauer joined the German Army in 1941 at the age of only 17. Many years later, he wrote this memoir to explain his youth to his daughter, providing a fascinating ground-level view of the Germans on the Eastern Front. Schiederbauer rarely engages with the broader horrors being wrought by Axis forces, but this memoir nonetheless shares a look at the terrible conditions on the Eastern Front.

Related: WWII's Siege of Leningrad Was One of History's Most Destructive

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Published on 8 Nov 2017