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May 26, 2024

5 Books to Read for Memorial Day

by Donna Huber

Memorial Day in the United States marks the unofficial start of summer. Families and friends will gather for picnics, a day at the lake, or a trip to the beach. But Memorial Day is so much more than just a celebration of summer vacation. It is the day we honor and remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice in the name of Freedom. The list of books below are a mix of historical fiction, biographical fiction, nonfiction, biographies, and memoirs. It is a little heavy on WWII, but there is also a book featuring the Vietnam War and one set during the Korean War. 

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The Women by Kristin Hannah

book cover of historical fiction novel The Women by Kristin Hannah

This year's blockbuster novel tells the story of a young woman who wants to be seen as a hero to her family so signs up to be an Army Nurse during the Vietnam War. She isn't prepared for what she sees in-country nor what she comes home to at the end of her tour. 

An intimate portrait of coming of age in a dangerous time and an epic tale of a nation divided.

Women can be heroes. When twenty-year-old nursing student Frances “Frankie” McGrath hears these words, it is a revelation. Raised in the sun-drenched, idyllic world of Southern California and sheltered by her conservative parents, she has always prided herself on doing the right thing. But in 1965, the world is changing, and she suddenly dares to imagine a different future for herself. When her brother ships out to serve in Vietnam, she joins the Army Nurse Corps and follows his path.

As green and inexperienced as the men sent to Vietnam to fight, Frankie is over- whelmed by the chaos and destruction of war. Each day is a gamble of life and death, hope and betrayal; friendships run deep and can be shattered in an instant. In war, she meets—and becomes one of—the lucky, the brave, the broken, and the lost.

But war is just the beginning for Frankie and her veteran friends. The real battle lies in coming home to a changed and divided America, to angry protesters, and to a country that wants to forget Vietnam.

The Women is the story of one woman gone to war, but it shines a light on all women who put themselves in harm’s way and whose sacrifice and commitment to their country has too often been forgotten. A novel about deep friendships and bold patriotism, The Women is a richly drawn story with a memorable heroine whose idealism and courage under fire will come to define an era. (Goodreads)

Buy The Women at Amazon

Damn Lucky: One Man's Courage During the Bloodiest Military Campaign in Aviation History by Kevin Maurer

book cover of nonfiction biography Damn Lucky by Kevin Maurer

This is more memoir than history book and there are definitely details about flying bombers that I didn't know about.

Pearl Harbor, Hawaii was a world away from John Luckadoo’s hometown of Chattanooga, Tennessee. But when the Japanese attacked the American naval base on December 7, 1941, he didn’t hesitate to join the military. Trained as a pilot with the United States Air Force, Second Lieutenant Luckadoo was assigned to the 100th Bomb Group stationed in Thorpe Abbotts, England. Between June and October 1943, he flew B-17 Flying Fortresses over France and Germany on bombing runs devised to destroy the Nazi war machine.

With a shrapnel torn Bible in his flight jacket pocket and his girlfriend’s silk stocking around his neck like a scarf as talismans, Luckadoo piloted through Luftwaffe machine-gun fire and antiaircraft flak while enduring subzero temperatures to complete twenty-five missions and his combat service. The average bomber crew rarely survived after eight to twelve missions. Knowing far too many airmen who wouldn’t be returning home, Luckadoo closed off his emotions and focused on his tasks to finish his tour of duty one moment at a time, realizing his success was more about being lucky than being skilled.

Drawn from Luckadoo’s firsthand accounts, acclaimed war correspondent Kevin Maurer shares his extraordinary tale from war to peacetime, uncovering astonishing feats of bravery during the bloodiest military campaign in aviation history, and presenting an incredible portrait of a young man’s coming-of-age during the world’s most devastating war. (Goodreads)

Read my review.

Buy Damn Lucky at Amazon

Lightning Down: A World War II Story of Survival by Tom Clavin

book cover of WWII nonfiction history book Lightning Down by Tom Clavin

This nonfiction book largely follows the life of Joe Moser, a WWII fighter pilot who was captured in the waning days of the war. Clavin does provide plenty of details about the other people and events to be an informative WWII nonfiction book.

An American fighter pilot doomed to die in Buchenwald but determined to survive.

On August 13, 1944, Joe Moser set off on his forty-fourth combat mission over occupied France. Soon, he would join almost 170 other Allied airmen as prisoners in Buchenwald, one of the most notorious and deadly of Nazi concentration camps. Tom Clavin's Lightning Down tells this largely untold and riveting true story.

Moser was just twenty-two years old, a farm boy from Washington State who fell in love with flying. During the War he realized his dream of piloting a P-38 Lightning, one of the most effective weapons the Army Air Corps had against the powerful German Luftwaffe. But on that hot August morning he had to bail out of his damaged, burning plane. Captured immediately, Moser’s journey into hell began.

Moser and his courageous comrades from England, Canada, New Zealand, and elsewhere endured the most horrific conditions during their imprisonment... until the day the orders were issued by Hitler himself to execute them. Only a most desperate plan would save them.

The page-turning momentum of Lightning Down is like that of a thriller, but the stories of imprisoned and brutalized airmen are true and told in unforgettable detail, led by the distinctly American voice of Joe Moser, who prays every day to be reunited with his family.

Lightning Down is a can’t-put-it-down inspiring saga of brave men confronting great evil and great odds against survival. (Goodreads)

Read my review.

Buy Lightning Down at Amazon

The Long March Home by Marcus Brotherton & Tosca Lee

book cover of WWII historical fiction novel The Long March Home by Marcus Brotherton and Tosca Lee

A lot of WWII fiction is set in the European Theater, but this novel is set in the Pacific Theater. 

Jimmy Propfield joined the army for two reasons: to get out of Mobile, Alabama, with his best friends Hank and Billy and to forget his high school sweetheart, Claire.

Life in the Philippines seems like paradise--until the morning of December 8, 1941, when news comes from Manila: the Japanese have bombed Pearl Harbor. Within hours, the teenage friends are plunged into war as Japanese warplanes attack Luzon, beginning a battle for control of the Pacific Theater that will culminate with a last stand on the Bataan Peninsula and end with the largest surrender of American troops in history.

What follows will become known as one of the worst atrocities in modern warfare: the Bataan Death March. With no hope of rescue, the three friends vow to make it back home together. But the ordeal is only the beginning of their nearly four-year fight to survive.

Inspired by true stories, The Long March Home is a gripping coming-of-age tale of friendship, sacrifice, and the power of unrelenting hope. (Goodreads)

Buy The Long March Home at Amazon

Dearest Mother and Dad by Christina Thompson

book cover of epistolary Korean War historical fiction novel Dearest Mother and Dad by Christina Thompson

This is an epistolary novel told through the letters that the main character writes home during the Korean War. I listened to the audiobook so if you are on a road trip this weekend you can still fit in some Memorial Day reading.

“One hundred and twenty Marines wounded. Eighteen dead. All for one lousy hill.”

Corpsman Orrin Connor’s faithful letters with a touching twist shield his parents from the horrors of war. His buddy Rawley Armstrong’s poignant letters give his sister the harrowing truths. Throughout their dangerous assignments during the Korean War, they debate the consequences of their choices. Orrin gains comfort in downplaying his experiences while Rawley feels a healing purge. As they get to know the Marines in their charge, the corpsmen gather a variety of opinions. Although Orrin and Rawley disagree, their friendship remains true until the bitter end.

“It all happened within minutes. For some, it would last a lifetime.”

Based on her father’s letters to his parents throughout the Forgotten War, author Christina Thompson has produced this work of historical fiction to pay tribute to Navy corpsmen by remembering their service to their brothers and their country. Imagining her father had guarded his parents from the carnage of war, Christina elaborates on what could have happened while staying true to the dates and experiences her father shared in his actual letters. (Goodreads)

Read my review.

Buy Dearest Mother and Dad at Amazon

I hope you will take a moment this weekend to remember those who sacrificed their lives for our freedom. If you want to know more about their sacrifice, this list is a good starting point. Are you reading anything specific for Memorial Day or have a recommendation for a great book to read?

Donna Huber is an avid reader and natural encourager. She is the founder of Girl Who Reads and the author of how-to marketing book Secrets to a Successful Blog Tour.

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