No Man’s Land
Soldiers who survived battle share their experiences through gripping first-person narratives from the front lines.
We see it in the news every day. Still, many of us have no idea what it’s really like to fight in a war.
War stories are best left to those who’ve actually been there, and communicated by the individuals whose adventures parallel thousands of their comrades, weaving fact with feeling in a way no film or newspaper or 6 o’clock telecast can convey.
The following seven titles offer honest perspectives from soldiers who, though their battlefields vary from the Middle East to the South Pacific, stand united in their sacrifice. These riveting chronicles stand to not only enlighten and entertain but also to bridge the distance between soldier and civilian.
And you’d be doing yourself a disservice to not read them.
At 7:48 a.m. on December 7, 1941, in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, 353 Japanese bombers, fighter planes, and torpedo planes launched from six aircraft carriers to destroy 188 U.S. aircrafts, kill 2,403 Americans and wound 1,178 others. By 9:45 a.m. of that same day, the course of America’s future had changed forever. In painstaking, minute-by-minute detail, Bill McWilliams weaves together eyewitness accounts from politicians, veterans, and civilians, daring the reader to relive one of the most traumatizing and catalytic days in American history.
Heralded by Winston Churchill as one of “the greatest books ever written in the English language,” T.E. Lawrence’s magnum opus chronicles with exciting detail the Arab Revolt of the early 20th century through his perspective as a young British officer aiding Hashemite forces. At once a compelling, factual ride and a literary tour-de-force, Lawrence’s highly personal account became a global classic that later immortalized the author as the titular character in the 1962 classic film Lawrence of Arabia.
In this memoir, praised by Ken Burns as “a profound primer on what it actually was like to be” in World War II, the late Eugene Sledge shares his journey from grueling boot camp to fighting two of the war’s fiercest battles in Peleliu and Okinawa. A country boy at heart whose deeply ingrained sense of patriotism staggered yet prevailed amid horrific circumstances, Sledge published his account in 1981 to wide acclaim. At once exciting, haunting, and brutally honest, this is war as Sledge and his fellow marines witnessed it.
A New York Times best seller, this narrative chronicles the heroic choices faced by some 450 members of the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry as they persevered through Ia Drang, one of the deadliest battles in the Vietnam War. Written some 27 years after the fact, the book’s retrospective stance has allowed for a comprehensive approach, with historical hindsight interwoven with interviews from hundreds of men — including North Vietnamese commanders — in an utterly gut-wrenching and compelling epic for the ages.
Filled to the brim with brutal, raw emotion, U.S. Army Ranger Sean Parnell’s page-turner has been praised by many veterans, including American Sniper’s Chris Kyle, for its daring verisimilitude for the depictions of combat in question. Parnell spent 16 months as commander of a 40-man elite infantry platoon, forming unbreakable bonds amid constant ambush from opponents in one of “the most dangerous places on the face of the planet.” It’s a wholly riveting glimpse into contemporary war from one of America’s bravest veterans.
More than half a decade after its initial publication, T.R. Fehrenbach’s classic history of the Korean War stands alone in offering both a comprehensive overview of political maneuverings that juggled with fate and an eyewitness account of the resulting sacrifices soldiers made in what came to be dubbed the “forgotten war.” With foresight that rings alarmingly true today, Fehrenbach’s testimony to the unquestioning bravery of the soldier provides a tactical narrative that puts politics under scrutiny while at the same time rendering it obsolete in the eyes of his comrades.
By the numbers: 525,600 minutes, 8,760 hours, 365 days, 52 weeks. Infinite soldiers. Such is the perspective of army doctor Ronald J. Glasser, who in 1968 was sent to work in an army hospital in Japan but soon found himself tending to thousands of casualties arriving from the war front. His candid account, lauded by David Mamet as “the best novel to come out of Vietnam,” gave voice to 17 of his patients from a gripping psychological aspect to become an instant classic of war literature.