Four Books That Honor American Veterans

In the spirit of Memorial Day, Book World invited Jan Scruggs to pick his favorite books that honor our vets. Scruggs is founder of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and president of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund; he recently wrote the foreword to The Wall: 25 Years of Healing and Educating by Kim Murphy, which the VVMF commissioned to mark its 25th anniversary.

Jan Scruggs. (Susan Biddle/The Washington Post)

Here is his guest contribution to Short Stack:

FREEDOM IS NOT FREE. These simple but profound words adorn the Korean War Memorial. Our nation just observed Memorial Day, when we pause to remember those who, from the beginning of this country's history, have paid the price so that we can live in freedom. Sometimes we take this for granted, but think about it: People from all over the world struggle to come here and become Americans. Ours truly is the land of the free and the home of the brave.

I served with the 199th Light Infantry Brigade during the Vietnam War. It was a life-changing experience for me, as it was for many who served in Southeast Asia. When I came home, I was determined that we would not forget those who served and sacrificed for their country, and I led the effort to build the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

As you can imagine, I am often drawn to books about U.S. military history. These coffee table books seem to always be on sale, and I buy them with frequency. They make great gifts -- after I have read them, of course!

1. United States Naval Academy Annapolis, by Linda Foster, photos by Roger Miller.
Since 1845, this institution has given America many officers in the Navy and Marines. The book captures the essence of Annapolis's noteworthy architecture and the academic and physical training that the midshipmen endure. Jimmy Carter, the only U.S. president to graduate from the Naval Academy, wrote the foreword.

2. U.S. Army Infantry, edited by Maj. Gen. Jerry A. White.
The Infantry teaches men to engage enemy soldiers with firearms, grenades and other weapons. It has always been the backbone of America's fighting force, and cemeteries in places like Normandy, which are primarily filled with infantrymen, attest to that. This history helps readers respect the sacrifices of the frontline troops in our armed forces.

3. World War II: A Photographic History, by David Boyle.
The 900 photos in this book are a powerful testament to the bravery of American troops and the horrors of war. These photos are not for the faint of heart. The images of emaciated American POWs and our battle dead at Iwo Jima are profound memorials to the courage of those who gave of themselves for our nation and our freedom.

4. Battles of the Civil War, 1861-1865: From Fort Sumter to Petersburg, by Kevin J. Dougherty et al.
Imagine the headline: "30,000 Casualties Near Washington, D.C.!" The book tells about this horrific American tragedy, some of which took place on battlefields that are now a short drive from our city. The writing is quite good, and the illustrations are augmented by grisly statistics, including the death toll at Spotsylvania Court House in Virginia.

What books come to your mind?

By Christian Pelusi |  May 29, 2008; 6:22 AM ET Mary Morris
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The Things They Carried, by Tim O'Brien.

Posted by: KLeewrite | May 29, 2008 9:51 AM

There is also a compilation of articles written about the Vietnam War (can't remember who put it out -- it has a black cover with red, white and blue stripes near the top). One of those articles is a veteran's account of being in a firefight, and it is possibly the most visceral thing I've ever read. Really gives you an idea of what goes through these soldiers' heads at their most frightening moments.

Posted by: KLeewrite | May 29, 2008 11:03 AM

Hi Kleewrite, the cover doesn't precisely match your description but might you be referring to this?

Patriots: The Vietnam War Remembered from All Sides

Posted by: mary morris | May 29, 2008 3:41 PM

This is a beautifully made book:

Semper Fi: The Definitive Illustrated History of the U.S. Marines by Col. H. Avery Chenoweth, USMCR (2005)

Posted by: mary morris | May 29, 2008 6:00 PM

There are wonderful books about African Americans' participation in the Civil War, World War II and Vietnam. I can't think of them right now, but it seems that they should be mentioned in this conversation. Can you name a few?

Posted by: Dave | May 29, 2008 11:30 PM

Actually, mary morris, I looked up the publisher on Amazon this morning. It was Library of America. They put out two hardbacks and then condensed many of those articles into a paperback version, which is what I have. But the book you mention does sound interesting.

Posted by: KLeewrite | May 30, 2008 11:24 AM

Hi Dave, thanks for your suggestion. Coincidentally, Marie Arana, Book World's editor, just happened to mention the author Gail Lumet Buckley, daughter of Lena Horne and ex-wife of film director Sidney Lumet, who wrote "American Patriots: The Story of Blacks in the Military from the Revolution to Desert Storm" (2002). I'll see if I can find others. I've seen a few books about the Tuskeegee Airmen...

Posted by: mary morris | May 30, 2008 1:01 PM

Thanks very much for the information, Kleewrite. Just found online another title in a similar vein that seems to have struck a responsive chord with many vets: "Stolen Valor : How the Vietnam Generation Was Robbed of Its Heroes and Its History" (1998).

Posted by: mary morris | May 30, 2008 1:12 PM

I second the recommendation for Tim O'Brien's "The Things They Carried." An amazing book. I also thought Bob Greene's book "Duty" about the pilot of The Enola Gay was fascinating.

Posted by: Judy Merrill Larsen | May 30, 2008 2:15 PM

I've really enjoyed "Letters at The Wall" by Sofarelli

Posted by: Jay Benchoff | May 30, 2008 2:33 PM

Thanks very much for your contributions, Judy Merrill Larsen and Jay Benchoff.

Found two books on the Tuskegee Airmen (sorry, misspelled Tuskegee earlier): Black Knights: The Story of the Tuskegee Airmen by Lynn M. Homan and Thomas Reilly (2001), and The Tuskegee Airmen: The Men Who Changed a Nation (1997). Still looking for other books honoring African American veterans...

Posted by: mary morris | May 30, 2008 3:22 PM

My sister has a book about a soldier in Vietnam who was captured as a POW, who also happened to be Mormon. She search 20 years for a copy of it -- the narrative is breathtaking.

Also, what about Tracy Kidder's book - My Detachment: A Memoir or Marcus Luttrell's "Lone Survivor?"

Posted by: aglassbookworm | May 30, 2008 3:46 PM

One of the most accurate descriptions of war in Vietnam with respect to how it actually was in triple canopy country is "The 13th Valley". I am sorry that I cannot recall the author.

Posted by: rockcreek | May 31, 2008 6:48 AM

Iwo Jima: World War II Veterans Remember the Greatest Battle of the Pacific. A new oral history by the best-selling author Larry Smith.


Posted by: Steve | June 2, 2008 3:02 PM

As author of the first book listed, I would like to mention a new book on West Point that I also authored. It was published the end of 2007 and is entitled "West Point, An Inside Look at the Long Gray Line."

I very much appreciate the comments on the Naval Academy book.

Thank you!
Linda Foster

Posted by: Linda Foster | June 2, 2008 9:58 PM

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