During World War II 6% of Americans served in uniform. The war effort was ever-present in the daily lives of the remaining 94% of Americans. The nation as a whole shared in the sacrifices of the war — men entered the military, women worked in the factories, and all people rationed gas and food. Two generations later, those percentages have changed dramatically. Today less than 1% of the American population serves or has served in the Armed Forces. That decrease of military experience has contributed to an increased detachment of the military from the remainder of the nation. For most Americans it is easy and understandable to go about daily life without even acknowledging we are a nation at war. Who are these soldiers? What are their stories?
The Military Writers Society of America, an association of nearly 900 authors, poets, and artists drawn together by the bond of military service, share the goals of giving voice to those in who defend our Nation, telling their stories and increasing attachment to the men and women who serve in our Armed Forces.
With the 9th anniversary of the invasion of Afghanistan on October 7th, US troops now have been in Afghanistan longer than the Soviets were. The United States has been engaged in combat in Afghanistan and Iraq longer than any previous war and yet the detachment from our military continues to widen.
Recently, members of Military Writers Society of America (MWSA) gathered in Pittsburgh, PA the birthplace of the old WWII icon—the Jeep, for an annual conference and award ceremony.
Although most MWSA members are active duty, military veterans or retirees, there are several life-long civilians who’ve chosen to focus on military and/or historical content in their writings or art.
We know of the many leaders, icons, history makers, star athletes and celebrities. We know less about those that served our Nation. As authors and artists we are committed to sharing stories of soldiers and military families and contributing various works to educate others about the military’s rich and complex history.
During the conference I had an opportunity to engage with and to learn from many talented, insightful and comical artists. Below is my attempt to showcase a few of their important contributions to the body of literature.
The Road to Iwo Jima by Tom McGraham is one Marine’s memory of life before, during and after the battle for Iwo Jima. As fellow Iwo Jima veteran and author Jerry Yellin wrote, “Tom thought about home every day of the 12 days he was on Iwo Jima before he was wounded and he has thought about Iwo Jima nearly every day of his life since the war ended.”
Of War & Weddings; A Legacy of Two Fathers by Jerry Yellin, a fighter pilot in the Pacific theater during WWII, is an extraordinary story of the reconciliation of former enemies incited by war and the hatred carried in their hearts until the marriage of their children. This book is a journey through the devastation and darkness of war to the light of reconciliation, understanding and peace.
Sisters of Valor by Rosalie Turner is the story of four service wives and four husbands serving in Vietnam that gives voice to the universal emotions of every service family. Having lived the experience she wrote about Rosalie provides a window into the into the life, heart and mind of a Vietnam soldier’s wife.
Tear in the Desert by Fr. Ron Camarda, a 1981 US Merchant Marine Academy graduate, retired Naval officer and Catholic Priest, was recalled to active duty to serve with the Marines during the Battle for Fallujah, Iraq in 2004. This is a book not about war and religion, but the human spirit and our connectedness to others.
God Does Have a Sense of Humor by Rob Ballister, a 1994 US Naval Academy graduate and Navy Commander, is the culmination of more than 10 years of writing and re-writing his life experiences. Humorous essays span topics such as growing up in an Italian family, attending parochial school, beginning a military career and being diagnosed with cancer as a newly commissioned lieutenant. Rob finds humor anywhere. Whether it’s in the operating room, in the classroom, or at a European Naval base, his unique style takes you on a journey through the events that shaped his life.
Retired US Air Force fighter pilot turned author, John Cathcart’s, Delta 7 is a fictional thriller based loosely on his experiences as an military attaché in Columbia and Venezuela. As one reviewer wrote, “This book will appeal to those who enjoy Hitchcock movies, Ken Follett novels, cold beer, spicy food and hot women.”
Twisted Tongues by jim greenwald & Ruth Gerhardt, is a collection of Native American history poetry. A Navy veteran of Vietnam, Jim’s poetry is poignant and heartfelt. His writing is a reflection of his multicultural background; Ojibwe, French and German. The poetry is sincere with the authors opening their hearts to show how history has been misrepresented and mis-portrayed.
Uncommon Valor: The Medal of Honor and the Six Warriors Who Earned It in Afghanistan and Iraq by Dwight Zimmerman is a fascinating look at our bravest soldiers, their incredible acts of heroism, and the highest military decoration awarded in the country.
Kings of the Green Jelly Moon is a unique collection of poetry by Vietnam veterans Mike Mullins, James Jallerson, & jim greenwald. In CD audio format, this anthology brilliantly narrates where Vietnam veterans come from, who they are, and where they are going. It is poetry par excellence read by the poets themselves.
How Can You Mend This Purple Heart by Terry Gould, is the real life story of wounded soldiers on Ward 28. “It is a story about young American boys who left their homes for Vietnam and returned to the comforting and healing shelter of a military hospital; wounded, frightened and proud. It is a story about their longing to recapture the spirit of boyhood and rekindle the optimism and fearlessness of youth. And, it’s about their struggle to be whole again–or at the very least, to feel whole. It takes the reader into the world of a military hospital in 1969 and traces the lives of these Marines on a fifteen-month journey to recovery–and their triumph over the physical, mental and emotional wounds of war.”
In her debut novel, The Final Salute: Together We Live On (Valor in Combat),Kathleen M. Rodgers has created a poignant story about the aftermath of plane crashes, the tight bond between military pilots and their crewmembers, and how crew members and military families cope with terrible tragedies.
Momma’s Boots by Sandra Miller Linhart is an engaging children’s book which seeks to explain why Momma’s job often takes her away from her child to far away places and for long periods of time. A conversation between mother and her child in the quiet moments before she prepares to deploy as a soldier.
Jack Woodville London’s French Letters series has been praised for its meticulous historical research and ability to capture the language, attitudes, and moral culture of their setting in prose described by reviewers as “beautiful, but not pretentious.” French Letters: Engaged in War is the second volume in the French Letters trilogy. The companion to French Letters Book One: Virginia’s War is the story of Will Hastings, an army doctor caught up in the D-Day landings in Normandy and the drive to capture St. Lo, France.
The past shapes and forms us. And at times is entertains us. It provides a source of power and fuel for our dreams. By understanding the glories and inequities of American history it helps us learn who we are. What are your recommended reads about the US military?