I come from an extended family that has always prided itself on military service. My Grandpa Smith was a combat engineer in France during World War II, and numerous uncles and cousins have served in the Army and Navy. For me, Veterans Day is always a day of profound appreciation for all veterans in this country. The holiday, which was originally called “Armistice Day” to celebrate the signing of the treaty that signaled the end of World War I on the 11th day of the 11th month at the 11th hour, is now a federal holiday. The library offers a variety of books for readers interested in learning more about the veteran’s experiences.
Returning home from war can be difficult, and countless books have recounted the perilous journey after discharge. One of the more recent titles to come out about this struggle is Michael Anthony’s memoir, “Civilianized.” Anthony immediately struggled with depression, severe anxiety and an escalating drinking habit after returning to the States, before he got back on his feet and became a published author. Some of Anthony’s fellow soldiers continue to battle far worse demons; several members of Anthony’s unit have taken their own lives.
Part of Ken Burns’ recent documentary “The Vietnam War” examines the controversial genesis of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Many people at first thought the design was unbefitting of the soldiers it memorialized. The book “A Rift in the Earth: Art, Memory and the Fight for a Vietnam War Memorial” by James Reston Jr. also explores this complicated struggle. “Conservative columnists were especially vocal,” writes Reston. “Phyllis Schlafly joined others in labeling the design an insult and a tribute to Jane Fonda.” However, soon after the monument was unveiled the response was one of nearly unanimous appreciation. “In the early months of 1984, emotional scenes were played out at the wall every day, as artifacts by the hundreds — combat boots, family photos, military patches and even medals — piled up to be collected,” writes Reston.
Noah Galloway’s book “Living With No Excuses: The Remarkable Rebirth of an American Soldier” illustrates the tremendous odds wounded veterans must face when getting back to normal civilian life. After a stint in jail, Galloway, who had an arm and leg blown off by a roadside bomb in the Iraq War, turns his life around, becoming famous for appearances on the television shows “Dancing with the Stars” and “American Grit.” “After my injury people have often referred to me as a war hero. I am uncomfortable with that label,” he writes. “I didn’t go on some heroic mission and valiantly save my entire unit. I was a guy who got riled up on September 11, wanted to defend his country.”
Few are aware that women soldiers were participants during World War I. “The Hello Girls: America’s First Women Soldiers” by Elizabeth Cobbs highlights the important roles these women played during the war as telephone operators, nurses and stewards. Tragically, these women were never offered veteran’s benefits after their service ended, even though they were highly lauded upon returning home. Merle Egan, whose experience as a switchboard operator for the Army Signal Corps is explored in the book, and who later became an advocate for women’s rights, fought for recognition for decades. “Despite the hero’s welcome, Merle would discover, to her great surprise, that the army denied she had ever been a soldier.”
“Soldier Girls: The Battles of Three Women at Home and at War” by Helen Thorpe is about women in the modern military. “Soldier Girls” examines the lives of women who were deployed in National Guard units in Afghanistan and Iraq during the early 2000s. Tracing the experiences of Michelle, Debbie and Desma, three women from broadly different backgrounds, Thorpe’s book raises important questions about military service and the often difficult economic and family situations that force some into the National Guard. “Soldier Girls” also examines the often bizarre cultural clashes that many of them faced while deployed.
Winston Churchill spent his later years painting pastoral landscapes, which seemed an attempt to forget the politics and war he witnessed. Similarly, George W. Bush has taken up an art hobby in his own post-presidential years. His paintings, gathered in “Portraits of Courage: A Commander in Chief’s Tribute to America’s Warriors” have as their subjects, men and women with heart-wrenching stories of service in Iraq and Afghanistan. Whether or not you like Bush’s paintings, his policies during his presidency or the man himself, the book is a moving and truly empathetic tribute to our veterans from the wars in the Middle East.