AARP Eye Center
We’ve all read those blockbuster war books, such as We Were Soldiers Once…and Young, A Bridge Too Far, Unbroken, Black Hawk Down and American Sniper – or at least seen the great movies they became. But there’s nothing quite like discovering an obscure classic, a brilliant book that deserves to be better known.
You can subscribe here to AARP Veteran Report, a free e-newsletter published every two weeks. If you have feedback or a story idea then please contact us here.
Some of my favorite reads are books that almost everyone seems to have ignored or are long forgotten. Occasionally I’ll mention one to someone and there’ll be an expression of pleased surprise that leads to a conversation between what feels like two members of a secret club.
I’m sticking to nonfiction here. I tend to channel William Casey, who as CIA director reputedly said to those who suggested novels to him: “I’ve got better things to read, and so do you.”
Here, in no particular order, are some fantastic war books you have probably never heard of:
'Back Down the Ridge’ by W.L. White (1953)
Vivid, poignant tales of American soldiers “clobbered” (wounded) in Korea, the medical treatment they received at MASH units and what they thought, in the author’s words, “of this curious little war which they were all sent out to fight.”
Quote: “Training and experience help in war, but always there is luck. It can happen that a veteran will get clobbered and a green man survive, as Benjamin Seldon will tell you.”
AARP Membership — $12 for your first year when you sign up for Automatic Renewal
Get instant access to members-only products and hundreds of discounts, a free second membership, and a subscription to AARP The Magazine.
'War Story’ by Jim Morris (1979)
Riveting account of a Green Beret who came to love Vietnam and admire the montagnard allies he fought alongside. Despite being seriously wounded and losing many friends, he felt the war was worthwhile and concludes that he would not hesitate to do it all again.
Quote: “All my life I’d wanted to be a soldier. I did not intend for my war to be the first one America ever lost. And if there was anything I could do it wouldn’t be. I was prepared to die, not prepared to lose. … The war was my life and I identified with it totally. To end it was to end me, and that I would not do.”
'Bushmasters: America’s Jungle Warriors of World War II’ by Anthony Arthur (1987)
The title is the nickname of an Arizona National Guard unit made up principally of Native Americans and Mexican Americans. Remarkable descriptions of the grim reality of combat, heroism and fear in the Pacific.
Quote: “Erb drew the first watch and stared into the now-still night. He had time now to think about how close he had come to death. … Suddenly he began to shake … his carbine quivered as though he were firing a machine gun.”
'Dead Center: A Marine Sniper’s Two-Year Odyssey in the Vietnam War’ by Ed Kugler (1999)
A raw, unfiltered and often shocking account of the transformation of a teenage Marine into a hardened warrior whose job is to seek out and neutralize enemy fighters before they can kill Americans. Powerful insights into the unique psyche of a sniper.
More From AARP Veteran Report
MY HERO — Shot Down Twice, Airman Brought Parachute Home to Become His Bride’s Wedding Dress
American pilot volunteered to stay behind enemy lines and faced epic trek to freedom
Secret of Success: 6 Organizations Helping Veteran Entrepreneurs
You have the drive and vision, but you don’t need to go it alone
‘Who Dares Wins’: Navy SEAL Admiral Talks Bin Laden Raid
William McRaven on need to take risks if we are to succeed
How to Adjust Your Workout to Overcome Old Injuries
Follow these expert tips to ease pain and build strength and flexibility
Breaking Barriers, Building Camaraderie in the U.S. Army
Jackson broke stereotypes as a successful Filipina in the military