Today, the United States remembers and thanks all veterans who have served this country. For those of us who have not served, memoirs are stirring and sobering first-person accounts of war. We’ve selected a few titles as recommended reading.
Since Wednesday is Veterans Day, we want to remember those who have bravely served our country. Sometimes writing about war experiences helps veterans better understand what they went through. For instance, Rachel’s great uncle George Hatcher (who turned ninety-five this year!) served during World War II. His plane, the poetically named Delayed Lady, was shot down over Germany, and he was captured and held as a prisoner of war at Stalag Luft IV. He wrote a little pamphlet about his experiences, and it has become not only family lore but also a story held dear by his entire community. As it so happened, nine men from the tiny town of Erwin, Tennessee, were held at that prisoner of war camp. His captors believed Erwin was a large city because so many young men called it home. They are now known as the Erwin Nine.
Many of the authors we know and love have also served their countries in times of war. Not all wrote about it, but the experience surely helped define who they became.
Here, we celebrate just a few of these authors and their service.
J.D. Salinger served in the U.S. Army during World War II. He was in one of the early waves of men who came ashore on D-Day and fought throughout France, Belgium, and Germany. He witnessed such historical moments as the Battle of the Bulge and the liberation of a concentration camp. It’s rumored that he had six chapters of The Catcher in the Rye in his pocket as he stormed the shores of Utah Beach.
C.S. Lewis served in the British Army during World War I. He fought in the trenches in Northern France and was badly wounded by shrapnel in 1918. His book Mere Christianity was originally a series of BBC radio broadcasts—one purpose of which was to provide hope in a very dark time. A single reel of audio from this series still exists. Listen to it here.
Kurt Vonnegut also served in the U.S. Army during World War II. Like Salinger, he participated in the Battle of the Bulge, but Vonnegut ended up a prisoner of war during that battle. He was imprisoned in Dresden and witnessed the firebombing of that city. He and several other men survived the destruction by taking shelter in an underground German meat locker named the Slaughterhouse Five.
Though not technically a veteran, Edith Wharton was a U.S. war correspondent in Paris during World War II. She also helped refugees displaced by the war. She documents this experience in Fighting France: From Dunkerque to Belport.
Roald Dahl was a British fighter pilot during World War II. A defining moment in his life was when he was shot down over the Libyan desert. The crash left him with head injuries that caused headaches the rest of this life. One bright side of this horrific incident was that he wrote a short story about it: “Shot Down Over Libya.” This piece was so well received that he continued writing, and the world was graced with many more fantastical, amazing stories.
Thank you, veterans, for your service and your bravery.