Books to Honor Memorial Day

While many of us view Memorial Day as the unofficial start of our summer holidays and leave town to escape the oppressive Tallahassee weather, the long weekend is, in fact, a time to remember and honor the men and women who have died in service to our country.

Memorial Day was originally known as Decoration Day and began after the Civil War—which claimed more lives than any conflict in U.S. history and required the establishment of the country’s first national cemeteries. By 1868, General John A. Logan, the leader of a veterans’ organization, selected May 30 as a day “designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land.”

By World War I, the holiday evolved to commemorate American military personnel who died in all wars. For decades, Memorial Day continued to be observed on May 30, the date Logan had selected for the first Decoration Day. In 1968, Congress established Memorial Day as the last Monday in May and declared it a federal holiday.

As we all begin our summer celebrations, Midtown Reader’s booksellers offer our deepest appreciation to the millions of soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. Below are some of our favorite selections that honor our American heroes.

Our Year of War: Two Brothers, Vietnam, and A Nation Divided, Daniel P. Bolger

1968. America was divided. Flag-draped caskets came home by the thousands. Riots ravaged our cities. Assassins shot our political leaders. Black fought white, young fought old, fathers fought sons. And it was the year that two brothers from Nebraska went to war.

In Vietnam, Chuck and Tom Hagel served side by side in the same rifle platoon. Together, they fought in the Mekong Delta, battled snipers in Saigon, chased the enemy through the jungle, and each saved the other's life under fire. But when their one-year tour was over, these two brothers came home side-by-side but no longer in step—one supporting the war, the other hating it.

Former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and his brother Tom epitomized the best and withstood the worst of 1968, one of the most tumultuous, shocking, and consequential years in the last half-century. Following the brothers' paths from the prairie heartland through a war on the far side of the world and back to a divided America, Our Year of War tells the story of a family and a nation divided yet still united.

The Operator: Firing the Shots that Killed Osama Bin Laden and My Years as a SEAL Team Warrior, Robert O’Neill

In The Operator, Robert O'Neill describes his impulsive decision to join the SEALs, the arduous evaluation and training process, and the gauntlet he had to run to join the SEALs' most elite unit. After officially becoming a SEAL, O'Neill spent more than a decade in the most intense counterterror effort in U.S. history. For extended periods, a night did not pass without him and his small team recording multiple enemy kills. While he was lucky enough to survive, several of the SEALs he'd trained with and fought beside never made it home.

O'Neill describes the nonstop action of his deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, evokes the black humor of years-long combat, brings to life the lethal efficiency of the military's most selective units, and reveals details of the most celebrated terrorist takedown in history.

This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War, Drew Gilpin Faust

More than 600,000 soldiers lost their lives in the American Civil War, a number which would amount to six million today. In This Republic of Suffering, Drew Gilpin Faust reveals the ways that death on such a scale changed not only individual lives but the life of the nation, describing how the survivors managed on a practical level and how a deeply religious culture struggled to reconcile the unprecedented carnage with its belief in a benevolent God. Throughout, the voices of soldiers and their families, of statesmen, generals, preachers, poets, surgeons, nurses, northerners, and southerners come together to give us a vivid understanding of the Civil War's most fundamental and widely-shared reality.

Scars of Independence: America’s Violent Birth, Holger Hoock

For two centuries, historians in this country have whitewashed the story of the American Revolution, often portraying it as an orderly, restrained rebellion fought by brave patriots defending their noble ideals against an oppressive empire. But as historian Holger Hoock demonstrates in Scars of Independence, the Revolution was more than just a high-minded battle over principles; it was also a profoundly violent civil war that forever reshaped the United States and the British Empire.

American Patriots persecuted and tortured Loyalists. British troops massacred enemy soldiers and raped colonial women. Prisoners were starved on disease-ridden ships and in subterranean cells. African-Americans fighting for or against independence suffered disproportionately, and Washington's army waged a genocidal campaign against the Iroquois. Hoock also examines the moral dilemmas posed by this all-pervasive violence, as the British found themselves torn between unlimited war and restraint toward the British Empire’s subjects, while the Patriots documented war crimes in an ingenious effort to unify the fledgling nation. Scars of Independence forces a more honest appraisal of the nation’s origin story, revealing the inherent tensions between moral purpose and violent tendencies in America's past.

Band of Sisters: American Women at War in Iraq, Kristen Holmstedt, with forward by U.S. Senator Tammy L. Duckworth (retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel)

In Iraq, the front lines are everywhere—and everywhere in Iraq, no matter what their job descriptions say, women in the U.S. military are fighting, more than 155,000 of them. Band of Sisters presents a dozen groundbreaking and often heart-wrenching stories of American women in combat in Iraq, such as the U.S.'s first female pilot to be shot down and survive, the military's first black female pilot in combat, a young turret gunner defending convoys, and a nurse struggling to save lives, including her own.

The Odyssey of Echo Company: The 1968 TET Offensive and the Epic Battle to Survive the Vietnam War, Doug Stanton

On January 31, 1968, the North Vietnamese Army attacked 36 cities throughout South Vietnam, hoping to dislodge American forces during one of the vital turning points of the Vietnam War. Alongside other young American soldiers in an Army reconnaissance platoon (Echo Company, 1/501) of the 101st Airborne Division, Stanley Parker, the 19-year-old son of a Texan ironworker, was suddenly thrust into savage combat. As Stan and his platoon-mates moved from hot zone to hot zone, the extreme physical and mental stresses of Echo Company's day-to-day existence, involving ambushes and attacks, grueling machine-gun battles, and impossibly dangerous rescues of wounded comrades, pushed them all to their limits and forged them into a lifelong brotherhood. The war became their fight for survival.

When they came home, some encountered a bitterly divided country that didn't understand what they had survived. Returning to the small farms, beach towns, and big cities where they grew up, many of the men in the platoon fell silent, knowing that few of their countrymen wanted to hear the stories they lived to tell—until now.

The Guerilla Factory: The Making of Special Forces Officers, The Green Berets, Tony Schwalm

With a veteran Green Beret as your guide, go deep inside the grueling training that every Special Forces soldier must endure to become an elite fighting machine. With “a fresh, authentic voice” (Publishers Weekly), former Special Forces commander and current instructor Tony Schwalm takes readers deep inside the training on the notorious Q course, required for all Special Forces soldiers before they can join the elite Green Berets to defend our country in nontraditional operations.