Memorable Stories for Memorial Day

More than just a day for grilling outside in the summer-is-almost-here weather, Memorial Day is a time to remember fallen soldiers and their stories. Here are three books — a memoir, a novel and a history — that take us inside soldiers’ experiences, each in a different way, each completely memorable:

Pumpkinflowers by Matti Friedman: It was one small hilltop in a small, unnamed war in the late 1990s, but it would send out ripples still felt worldwide today. The hill, in Lebanon, was called the Pumpkin; flowers was the military code word for “casualties.” Award-winning writer Matti Friedman re-creates the harrowing experience of a band of young soldiers–the author among them–charged with holding this remote outpost, a task that changed them forever and foreshadowed the unwinnable conflicts the United States would soon confront in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere.

Part memoir, part reportage, part military history, this powerful narrative captures the birth of today’s chaotic Middle East and the rise of a twenty-first-century type of war in which there is never a clear victor, and media images can be as important as the battle itself. Raw and beautifully rendered, Pumpkinflowers will take its place among classic war narratives by George Orwell, Philip Caputo, and Vasily Grossman. It is an unflinching look at the way we conduct war today.

The New York Times Book Review said Pumpkinflowers is “on par with Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried.” The Wall Street Journal called it “phenomenal…extremely moving.” Matti Friedman’s new book is already destined to be a classic.

The Coldest NightThe Coldest Night by Robert Olmstead: Henry Childs is just seventeen when he falls into a love affair so intense it nearly destroys him. To escape the wrath of the young girl’s father, Henry joins the Marines, arriving in Korea on the eve of the brutal battle of the Chosin Reservoir—the defining moment of the Korean War.

There he confronts an enemy force far beyond the scope of his imagining, but the challenges he meets upon his return home, scarred and haunted, are greater by far.

From the steamy streets of New Orleans to the bone-chilling Korean landscape, award-winning author Robert Olmstead takes us into one of the most physically challenging battles in history and, with just as much intensity, into an electrifying, all-consuming love affair.

Holzer_LincolnWar_siteLincoln on War by Harold Holzer: President Lincoln used his own weapons—his words—to fight the Civil War as brilliantly as any general who ever took the field. In Lincoln on War, historian Harold Holzer gathers and interprets Lincoln’s speeches, letters, memoranda, orders, telegrams, and casual remarks, organizing them chronologically and allowing readers to experience Lincoln’s growth from an eager young Indian War officer to a middle-aged dove congressman to a surprisingly hardened and determined hawk as the Union’s commander-in-chief.

We observe a man willing to sacrifice life and treasure in unprecedented quantities, to risk wounding the pride of vain generals, and even to mislead the public if it meant the preservation of an unbreakable union of states, the destruction of slavery, and the restoration of America as an example to inspire the world. This volume covers strategy; tactics; the endless hiring, sustaining, motivating, and dismissal of commanders; military discipline; and military technology. Modern commanders-in-chief have repeatedly quoted Lincoln to justify their own wars, so it behooves us as citizens to know Lincoln’s record well. From masterpieces such as the Gettysburg Address to lesser-known meditations on God’s purposes, Lincoln on War is the first book to highlight exclusively Lincoln’s sublime and enduring words on war.

 

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