By Ashly Moore Sheldon • November 10, 2022
As we observe Veterans Day each year, it's a worthy exercise to try to learn more about the experiences of the men and women who have served our country, both on the battlefield and here at home when they return. This roundup of real-life accounts, novels, and children's books offer an insider's perspective into the lives of veterans and their families.
You Are Worth It: Building a Life Worth Fighting For
While serving in Afghanistan, Kyle Carpenter jumped on an enemy grenade, saving a fellow Marine. He nearly died from his injuries and had to endure dozens of surgeries to reconstruct his body. In 2014, he became the youngest living recipient of the Medal of Honor. This is his memoir.
Half American: The Epic Story of African Americans Fighting World War II at Home and Abroad
Over one million Black men and women withstood unfathomable racism to serve in WWII. Without their contributions, the US could not have won. Yet their stories have long been ignored. Civil rights expert and Dartmouth professor Matthew F. Delmont shines a light on these unsung heroes.
War Flower: My Life After Iraq
Brooke King's memoir is a profound meditation on what it means to have been a woman in a war zone, as well as an unsettling exposé on war and its lingering aftershocks. Recalling her time in Iraq, she reflects on the ways in which the violence she experienced has impacted her and her family.
Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10
On a clear night in late June 2005, four U.S. Navy SEALs left their base in Afghanistan. Their mission was to capture or kill a notorious al Qaeda leader ensconced in a Taliban stronghold. Only one of them came out alive. Here, Marcus Luttrell tells his harrowing story and pays tribute to his fallen comrades.
Ashley's War: The Untold Story of a Team of Women Soldiers on the Special Ops Battlefield
Journalist Gayle Tzemach Lemmon uses on-the-ground reporting and a deep understanding of the complexities of war to tell the story of a unit of women handpicked from the Army to serve in a highly specialized role in Afghanistan operations. A gripping combat narrative and a moving story of friendship.
Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War
On October 3, 1993, in a Somali mission that was expected to take an hour, a hundred elite U.S. soldiers were drawn into a long and terrible night battling thousands of heavily-armed fighters. Mark Bowden's riveting narrative captures the heroism and courage of this mission.
Thank You For Your Service
In The Good Soldiers, David Finkel shares the story from his time embedded with the troops who carried out the infamous "surge" on the front lines of Baghdad. This book continues the story of those men as they returned home and struggled to reintegrate—both into their family lives and into American society.
The Things They Carried
This renowned novel is a meditation on war, memory, and the redemptive power of storytelling. The collection of linked stories about a platoon of American soldiers fighting on the ground in the Vietnam War is based on author Tim O'Brien's own experiences as a soldier in the 23rd Infantry Division.
This coming-of-age novel by Walter Dean Myers also takes place in the trenches of the Vietnam War. After his dream of attending college falls through, Harlem teen Perry enlists. As he grapples with the horror of warfare, he begins to question the reasons behind the conflict and his place in it.
Phil Klay's National Book Award winner takes readers to the frontlines of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as to what awaited the soldiers who returned. The characters in these stories—threaded with themes of brutality and faith, guilt and fear, helplessness and survival—struggle to make meaning out of chaos.
The Yellow Birds
"The war tried to kill us in the spring." So begins this groundbreaking novel by Kevin Powers, a powerful account of friendship and loss. In Al Tafar, Iraq, twenty-one-year old Private Bartle and eighteen-year-old Private Murphy cling to life as their platoon launches a bloody battle for the city.
This moving picture book by Eve Bunting tells the story of a boy and his father who come from far away to visit the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington and find the name of the boy's grandfather, who was killed in the conflict. Evocative illustrations by Ronald Himler add emotional depth. (Ages 5–8)
Rags: Hero Dog of WWI
From Margot Theis Raven, this is the true story of Rags, a stray adopted by U.S. soldier James Donovan while stationed in France. Along with boosting morale for soldiers, Rags proves himself useful in many ways. When he and Donovan are both injured in battle, the little dog refuses to leave his best friend's side. (Ages 6–9)
H is for Honor: A Military Family Alphabet
This book by Devin Scillian, the son of a career officer, explores the branches of the Armed Services and the honor, privileges, and sacrifices of military families everywhere. From the importance of letters from home to what it's like to live on a base, readers will learn all about military life. (Ages 6–9)
The Poppy Lady
When America entered World War I, Moina Belle Michael worked tirelessly to establish a symbol to honor and remember soldiers—The red poppy. Author Barbara Elizabeth Walsh and artist Layne Johnson worked with experts, primary documents, and family members to bring Moina's story to life. (Ages 7–10)
The Unsung Hero of Birdsong, USA
In this middle-grade novel, Coretta Scott King Honor-winning author Brenda Woods tells the moving story of the friendship between a young white boy and a Black WWII veteran who has recently returned to the unwelcoming Jim Crow South. (Ages 9–12)
In Gordan Korman's middle-grade novel, Trevor is a 12-year-old boy who loves nothing more than war-based video games and his great-grandfather Jacob's heroic stories about WWII. When Trevor gets the chance to accompany Jacob on a trip to visit the French village his grandfather liberated, he's thrilled. (Ages 8–12)
It is only by gaining a better understanding of the experiences of veterans, that we can truly appreciate the hardships they endured and the sacrifices they have made. These books give us a powerful view into the experiences of war and military service. Please let us know if you have any titles to add to the list.