Page-turning action, gripping narratives, and poignant perspectives – these ten Illinois military memoirs shine a new light on the trials and triumphs of military experience. Even better, all of these memoirs are written by authors with connections to Illinois. Master Wings Publishing has brought military memoirs to the forefront recently with LITA & JEAN – Memoirs of Two Generations of Military Women by Lita Tomas & Jean Marie McNamara, and we’d proud to continue to highlight these kinds of can’t-miss titles here.
From Chicago to Vietnam: A Memoir of War
Clear, earnest, and precise, Michael Duffy’s memoir details his year-long tour of duty in Vietnam, which began on the first day of the Tet Offensive of January 1968. He then covers the bittersweet journey of his return home, his pursuit of education, and his reaction to the distrust and anger of the American public. The crushing retellings Duffy manages here are a stark contrast to gore and guts war books and are all the more compelling.
Every Day is a Gift: A Memoir
A New York Times bestseller, this honest book is a remarkable account of the life and grit of Illinois senator and Iraq War veteran Tammy Duckworth. “When the only obstacle is effort, then there is no obstacle because I will move heaven and earth to get what I want, even if I have to do it one pebble at a time,” Duckworth writes, and she effortlessly provides the evidence to back such a statement up. Inspirational, heartfelt, and determined, Duckworth’s memoir – and herself – cannot be denied.
The Nineteenth Illinois: A Memoir of a Regiment of Volunteer Infantry Famous in the Civil War of Fifty Years Ago for its Drill, Bravery, and Distinguished Services
James Henry Haynie
Covering the then “unknown, unmapped inviting places” that were “baptized in human blood,” this historical work hits the battles at Stone River, Chickamauga, Missionary Ridge, and Resaca that the Nineteenth Illinois regiment experienced. Haynie writes with a quick but full narrative style that drops the reader into the moment – more than a hundred years later.
I Remember: Chicago Veterans of War
Weaving together the memories of fifty veterans of World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Bosnia, Iraq, and Afghanistan under numbered tags, I Remember encourages the reader to look at what is shared across all war experiences and consequently offers understanding and remembrance in vivid and uniquely accessible detail.
Dignity of Duty: The Journals of Erasmus Corwin Gilbreath, 1861-1898
Erasmus Corwin Gilbreath
Straight from the family attic to your hands, Dignity of Duty contains the never before shared, presciently detailed primary source accounts of Erasmus Corwin Gilbreath as he serves in and witnesses an unprecedented span of American history in the Civil War, Reconstruction period, building of the American West, and Spanish American War. With an introduction by military historian Carlo D’Este and enhanced with illustrated maps, these journals add to the larger scholarship of the late 19th century and also show the personal heart and cost of war and its fallout.
The Soldier From Illinois: One Man’s Courage and Compassion
Ron E. Scherer
This is the full account of one rural Illinois soldier’s path through the Depression to Normandy and Germany, covering the persistent terrors of war and also the touching rewards of service and community. Of particular note is his brief interaction with a starving Dutch boy and their unlikely reunion and deep friendship 53 years later.
Zero to Hero: From Bullied Kid to Warrior
Allen J. Lynch
Follow the inspiring story of Medal of Honor recipient Al Lynch as he faces bullies on the playground in 1950s Chicago, the enemy on the battlefield in Vietnam, and the mental health demons of PTSD. Bravery, heroism, and triumph punctuate Lynch’s defeats and struggles in this strikingly honest autobiography that offers lessons on purpose and pain.
Diary of a WWI Pilot: Ambulances, Planes, and Friends: Harvey Conover’s Adventures in France, 1917 – 1918
Frances Conover Church, John Church
From a more than comfortable life in Hinsdale, Illinois, Harvey Conover charges forth in pursuit of adventure. He becomes an ambulance driver in France, then an enlisted member of the US Aero Service and a decorated combat pilot in the St. Mihiel and Verdun offensives. Written in diary format filled with accounts of ball games and women, the portions where Conover manages to turn his eye to combat and pains are few, but by nature of his privileged position, offer a striking perspective.
Bloods: Black Veterans of the Vietnam War: An Oral History
A national bestseller, a New York Times notable book, and what The Boston Globe calls “a brick through a window on a still night,” Bloods is the truth about the Vietnam War from twenty of America’s Black veterans. In unforgettable voices, this book slams the Vietnam experience into a historical, cultural, and political context, detailing violence and injustice under patriotism and pride.
The Ghosts of Hero Street: How One Small Mexican-American Community Gave So Much in WWII and Korea
Carlos E. Harrison
Based on interviews with relatives, friends, and soldiers who served alongside the men, as well as personal letters and photographs, The Ghosts of Hero Street is a compelling and inspiring account of a street of men who would not be denied their dignity or honor. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Carlos Harrison includes intricate details of battle and victory and clear descriptions of the unflinching perseverance of family and patriotism.
There are so many untold stories of veterans, and these ten Illinois military memoirs are only a few to explore. All of the above and more are available at the Pritzker Military Museum and Library. As the holidays approach and you begin things like a New Year reading resolution, Master Wings Publishing encourages you to read more – and these in particular!