Five Outstanding Combat Memoirs

Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10 by Marcus Luttrell was written before the recent slew of Navy SEAL books that have come out since bin Laden was killed. This book is the real thing. Luttrell gives fascinating insight into the training that SEALs endure and what it takes to fight and win modern wars. This book is practically guaranteed to bring you to tears, and keep you on the edge of your seat as Luttrell and his fellow warriors face vicious combat in the mountains of Afghanistan. He describes how fighting the Taliban is made more difficult by politicians, malicious media, and fickle public opinion, but he also describes the priceless value of close family, friends, and brother warriors. The combat is intense, the losses are heartbreaking, the determination is inspiring, and the lessons are invaluable. This is the best memoir of 21st century warfare that I have yet read.

To Fly and Fight: Memoirs of a Triple Ace by Clarence E. “Bud” Anderson tells the thrilling experiences of a man who flew a P-51 Mustang over Europe in WWII, and went on to become a test pilot and even fly missions over Vietnam. We get to feel the thrill and terror of a young pilot taking part in legendary air battles. Chuck Yeager, his fellow pilot, called Anderson a “mongoose” in an airplane, and “vicious” even though he was such a nice guy on the ground. The life of a fighter pilot with the experiences that Anderson had would be interesting either way, but he puts energy to his writing that makes the book all the more enjoyable. Because his career spanned such a broad timeframe, we also get insight into decades-worth of American military aviation development and tactics. As a person who is very interested in the role of airpower in war, I can say that this is the best all-around combat pilot’s memoir that I have read.

With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa by E.B. Sledge gives us a glimpse of the fighting conditions experienced by the Marines in the Pacific theater of WWII. He started out learning from the “old breed” of Marines, but gradually became a battle-hardened veteran in an environment where sanity was difficult to maintain. The Japanese were a savage adversary, and often fought to the bitter end from their island entrenchments. From a critical lack of water in the sweltering heat, to staring at the same grinning corpse day after day, Sledge’s experiences were effectively and hauntingly put on paper to help us remember what our veterans went through. The less-serious moments balance this powerful account well, and help to make it one of the undisputed classics of war. As far as I’m concerned, Sledge describes the most difficult and horrific fighting conditions of any combat memoir I’ve read.

Seven Roads to Hell: A Screaming Eagle at Bastogne by Donald R. Burgett is nearly unbelievable because there are so many stories in the book that are simply incredible. The 101st Airborne, more specifically Burgett and the guys he fought with, were among America’s premier fighting men in WWII. They were the best, and they knew it. At times I was almost feeling sorry for the Germans, because the “screaming eagles” were such aggressive warriors. Burgett described intense warfare, where audacity and training made up for many disadvantages. These young guys were cold killers, and they took the fight to the enemy. All four of Burgett’s memoirs from WWII are classics, but this one about Bastogne, where the 101st Airborne held out and fought hard despite being surrounded and freezing, is to-date the overall best combat memoir I have ever read.

I Rode with Stonewall: the War Experiences of the Youngest Member of Jackson’s Staff by Henry Kyd Douglas is not only a first-hand account of the entire length of the American Civil War by a soldier from the South, and insight into one of the greatest American generals to ever live, it is also an action-packed account of combat from that era (which can be extremely rare to find). In this case, truth is indeed more interesting than fiction. We get a unique perspective of “Stonewall” Jackson, from him sleeping in church to his amazing battlefield accomplishments, along with a fresh perspective of many Southern generals who together made up the most formidable group of tacticians in that war. We see a human side to these guys when normally accounts of these men and their battles can seem quite dry to us 150 years later. Douglas is an interesting character in his own right with plenty of experiences and a Southern perspective that has helped to balance my own impressions of the conflict. Of all of the combat memoirs I’ve read, this one is perhaps the most fascinating, and is sure to be a pleasant surprise to most any person interested in the Civil War.

What combat memoirs would you recommend?

-Ben 8/25/13

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4 Comments on “Five Outstanding Combat Memoirs”

  1. Dapper Dan says:

    Nice! I don’t read a lot of “memoirs” but it’s nice to see I pick some good ones. I’ve read 3 of the 5 you listed. 🙂 And I can certainly attest to the epic-ness of Donald Burgett’s memoirs. I’ve read 3 of his 4 and so far “Seven Roads” is the best in my mind too. The scene that stuck in my mind was when a tank chased him down a street.

    Have you ever read “Never Surrender” by William Boykin? He was a founding member of Delta Force and a Christian too. His stories aren’t on the level of “Lone Survivor” but still a very cool memoir.

    • Ben says:

      Thanks for the comment!

      I’m glad there are others out there who have also discovered Burgett.

      I have indeed read “Never Surrender” and I wholeheartedly recommend it. Boykin is a great leader and a good Christian man. His involvement in the Iranian hostage rescue attempt and the Battle of Mogadishu were particularly interesting. It was so cool to read about Delta’s original training. That reminds me of another memoir worth reading: “Inside Delta Force” by Eric Haney (which by the way was the book that the show “The Unit” was based on).

      -Ben

  2. AWESOME. I loved Lone Survivor, and Sledge’s book has been on my list for awhile. Thanks for the recommendations. 🙂