Soldier and Veteran Writers — Past and Ongoing Wars

Only partially complete, this is a compendium of writers who fought/worked through a war in their writings, beginning with World War I and continuing through the current war in Iraq. I try to highlight the writer’s works that deal specifically with war, drawing upon his or her experiences in service as a soldier, doctor/medic, or war correspondent. All genres are represented — I’ve included poets, prose writers, memoirists, playwrights, screenwriters, and historians.

A COMPENDIUM OF VETERAN WRITERS

A M E R I C A N    C I V I L    W A R

Ambrose Bierce — US, Union Army’s 9th Indian Infantry Regiment — editorials, journalism, prose, satire — memoir What I Saw of Shiloh (1881) — wrote realistically of the terrible things of war in such stories as An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge (1891), The Boarded Window (1891), Killed at Resaca, and Chickamauga (1891)

W O R L D  W A R  I

Richard Aldington — British, Royal Sussex Regiment — poetry, fiction — novel Death of a Hero (1929)

Henri Barbusse — French, Army — prose — novel Le Feu (Under Fire)(1916) based on war experiences

Laurence Binyon — British, hospital orderly — poetry, drama — most famous poem, For the Fallen (1914), war memoir For Dauntless France (1918)

Edmund Blunden — British, second lieutenant in Royal Sussex Regiment — poetry, prose, criticism — Undertones of War (1928)

Vera Brittain — British, field nurse — memoir — Testament of Youth (1933)

Smedley D. Butler — US, Marines, Major General, Western Front, and many other conflicts, highly decorated — nonfiction — War is a Racket (1935) was written from his nationwide speaking tour calling attention to the dangers of military profiteering

e.e. cummings — US, Norton-Harjes Ambulance Corps, driver, prisoner of war — poet, prose — novel The Enormous Room (1922) about his imprisonment

Ford Madox Ford — British, War Propaganda Bureau — poet, critic, editor — The Good Soldier (1915) and Parade’s End tetraology (1924-28)

Robert Graves — British, Royal Welch Fusiliers — poetry — first volume of poems Over the Brazier (1916) about war — powerful autobiography Goodbye to All That (1929)

Jaroslav Hašek — Czech, Army, prisoner of war — prose, humor, satire — The Good Soldier Švejk and Other Strange Stories (Dobrý voják Švejk a jiné podivné historky)(1912) based on war experiences

          Hemingway, far right, with photographer Robert Capa, far left

Ernest Hemingway — US, ambulance driver in the Italian Front — prose, journalism — Nobel Prize winner — A Farewell to Arms (1929) is semi-autobiographical based on his time in Italy

David Jones — British (Welsh), Royal Welch Fusiliers, Western Front — poetry — In Parenthesis (1937)

Ernst Junger —  German, Imperial Army, Western Front —  memoir — Storm of Steel (1920)

T.E. Lawrence — British, Army, lieutenant colonel, aircraftman, intelligence surveys — memoir —major work Seven Pillars of Wisdom an account of his war experiences — posthumous The Mint about his experiences as an enlisted man in the Royal Air Force

Emilio Lussu — Italy, Army — prose — Un anno sull’altipiano (A Year on the Plateau)(1938)

Wilfred Owen — British, Army, soldier, pacifist, killed in action – poetry —  notable works include Dulce et Decorum Est (1917), Insensibility (1917), Anthem for Doomed Youth(1917), Futility (1918) and Strange Meeting (1918)

“I am furious with chagrin to think that the Minds which were to have excelled the civilization of ten thousand years are being annihilated – and bodies, the product of aeons of Natural Selection, melted down to pay for political statues.”  — Wilfred Owen, in a letter to his mother

Erich Maria Remarque — German, Army, Western Front — prose — the antiwar All Quiet on the Western Front (1929) became an instant bestseller around the world, then banned in Germany

       Siegfried Sassoon

Siegfried Sassoon — British, officer in Royal Welch Fusiliers, in Western Front and Palestine  — poetry, prose — after serving on the Western Front, made a public antiwar statement A Soldier’s Declaration (1917) — peace activist

Lajos Zilahy — Hungary, Army, Eastern Front — prose, plays — Two Prisoners (Két fogoly)(1931) — The Deserter (1932)

World War I Collections

Jon Silkin, ed. Penguin Book of First World War Poetry. Penguin, 1997.

W O R L D   W A R   I I

Saul Bellow — US, merchant marine — prose — winner of Pulitzer Prize, Nobel Prize, National Medal of Arts, National Book Award — first novel Dangling Man (1944) about a young man waiting to be drafted

Joseph Heller — US, Army Air Corps, bombadier of the Italian Front — prose, plays, satire Catch-22 (1961) about American servicemen during the war, one of the great literary works of the twentieth century

James Jones — US, Army, 25th Infantry Division, Guadalcanal — prose — From Here to Eternity (1952) based on Company E — The Thin Red Line (1962) based upon combat in Guadalcanal

             Mailer

Norman Mailer — US, Army, Philippines, 112th Cavalry — prose, journalism, essay,  poetry, plays, screenplays — winner of the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award — The Naked and The Dead (1948) based on his experiences in the Philippines

Curzio Malaparte — Italian, Fifth Alpine Regiment — prose, journalism, plays — war novel-essay Viva Caporetto! (1921) — Kaputt (1944) — The Skin (1949)

William Manchester — US, Marine Corps, Pacific theater — memoir —  Goodbye, Darkness: A Memoir of the Pacific War (1980) was outstanding

Audie Murphy — US, Army, European Theater — memoir — To Hell and Back (1949) was a national best-seller

Irwin Shaw — US, Army, warrant officer — plays, screenplays, prose — first play Bury the Dead (1936) and first novel The Young Lions (1949) both based on war experiences

Josef Škvorecký — Czechoslovak, Army — prose — The Engineer of Human Souls (1984), The Republic of Whores (1995), The Bass Saxophone (1967) — founded 68 Publishers press and encouraged many dissident Czech writers

Gore Vidal — US, Army, Transportation Corps, Warrant Officer — prose, plays, essays, screenwriting – his first novel Williwaw (1946) was the first novel about WWII — Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace (2002)

                            Vonnegut’s letter home after being captured as POW

Kurt Vonnegut — US, Army, private, 423rd Infantry Regiment, prisoner of war — prose, satire, gallows humor, science fiction — famous and popular novel Slaughterhouse-Five informed by his time as a soldier and POW

Richard Wilbur — US, Army — poetry, literary translations — former Poet Laureate and winner of National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry — The Beautiful Changes and Other Poems (1947) based on his war experiences

Howard Zinn — US — bombardier (over Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, France) — history, plays, memoir — notable selections include Vietnam: The Logic of Withdrawal (1967), A People’s History of the United States (1980, finalist for the National Book Award in 1981), You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train (1994), Hiroshima: Breaking the Silence (1995)

World War II Collections

Harvey Shapiro, ed. Poets of World War II. New American Library, 2003.

K O R E A

James Salter — US, Air Force, 1st Lieutenant, combat pilot with 6th Troop Carrier Squadron  prose  winner of PEN/Faulkner Award  The Hunters (1957)  The Arm of Flesh (1961)

V I E T   N A M

John Balaban US, International Voluntary Service worker, conscientious objector poetry, memoir, translations twice nominated for National Book Award best known for Remembering Heaven’s Face: Moral Witness in Vietnam

Robert Olen Butler US, Army, sergeant in Army Military Intelligence Corps, counter-intelligence special agent, translator prose his Viet Nam-centered collection of stories, A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain, won the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for fiction

Philip Caputo US, Marines, Infantry lieutenant, war correspondent memoir, journalism, prose best-selling memoir A Rumor of War (1977) also published another memoir and four novels

Louis Peter Cimino US, Army plays Fragging (1997)

Richard Currey US, Navy, corpsman poetry, prose Crossing Over: The Vietnam Stories (1980) Fatal Light (1988) about the war is his best known novel

Đặng Thùy Trâm Viet Nam, Viet Cong, battlefield surgeon memoir diary collection Last Night I Dreamed of Peace (2007) translated widely and made into film Đừng Đốt (Don’t Burn It) (2009)

W. D. Ehrhart US, Marine Corps, Infantry Sergeant poetry, memoir, prose selections include A Generation of Peace (1975), Vietnam-Perkasie: A Combat Marine Memoir (1983), Carrying the Darkness: Poetry of the Vietnam War (1985), Going Back: An Ex-Marine Returns to Vietnam (1987), Passing Time: Memoir of a Vietnam Veteran Against the War (1989)

Dan Guenther US, Marine Corps, captain poetry, prose China Wind (1990), Dodge City Blues (2007), and Townsend’s Solitaire ( 2008) — trilogy of novels based on his experiences in Viet Nam collection of poetry, The Crooked Truth (2010)

Joe Haldeman US, Army, combat engineer, wounded in combat prose, sci fi first novel was War Year (1972) best known for The Forever War (1974), a sci-fi book that has sold over a million copies, winning both the Hugo and Nebula Awards

Gustav Hasford US, Marine Corps, combat correspondent prose semi-autobiographical novel The Short-Timers (1979) was basis for the film Full Metal Jacket

                    Le Ly Hayslip’s family

Le Ly Hayslip Viet Nam, Viet Cong, lookout memoir When Heaven and Earth Changed Places (1989) adapted for film by Oliver Stone (also on this list)

Larry Heinemann US, Army, 25th Infantry prose, memoir first novel Close Quarters (1977); novel Paco’s Story (1987) which won the National Book Award; memoir Black Virgin Mountain (2005) he refers to these as his ‘accidental’ trilogy on the war

“Any soldier returning home must rediscover his humanity and establish a livable peace with the discovered, liberated, permanently dark places in his own heart the darkness that is always with us.”  — Larry Heinemann

Michael Herr US, war correspondent journalism, memoir, screenplays Dispatches (1977) is his acclaimed gonzo journalist memoir about Viet Nam  co-wrote Full Metal Jacket screenplay

David Huddle US, Army, military intelligence specialist poetry, essay, prose novel The Story of a Million Years (1999)

James Janko US, Army, medic, 25th Infantry prose novel Buffalo Boy and Geronimo (2006) won the Northern California Book Award and nominated for Pulitzer Prize

Wayne Karlin US, Marine Corps, sergeant – prose, nonfiction novels: Marble Mountain (2009), The Wished-For Country (2002), Prisoners (2000), Lost Armies (1988), The Extras (1989), Us (1993), and Crossover (1984) three works of creative non-fiction: Rumors and Stones (1996), War Movies: Journeys to Vietnam (2005), and Wandering Souls: Journeys with the Dead and the Living in Viet Nam (2009)

Yusuf Komunyakaa US, Army,  correspondence editor for the Army newspaper poet winner of the 1994 Pulitzer Prize for poetry two collections chronicle his war experiences, Toys in a Field (1987) and Dien Cai Dau (1988)  the latter, which won the Dark Room Poetry Prize, means “crazy in the head” in Vietnamese

“I think of all war writing as anti-war. And that’s what interests me: The fact that one has captured the spirit of that intense, brutal moment, and try to make some sense out of it.” — Yusef Komunyakaa

Ron Kovic — US, Marine Corps — memoir — Born on the Fourth of July made into screenplay, then received Golden Globe Award for Best Screenplay peace activist

Robert S. McKelvey — US, Marine Corps, Captain — nonfiction — The Dust of Life: America’s Children Abandoned in Vietnam (1999) about Amerasian orphans fathered by US soldiers during the war — A Gift of Barbed Wire: America’s Allies Abandoned in South Vietnam (2002)

Marilyn McMahon — US, Navy, nurse at Da Nang Naval Hospital — poet — anthologized in The Vietnam War in American Stories, Songs and Poems, Visions of War, Dreams of Peace, and Writing Between the Lines: An Anthology on War and Social Consequences

Bo Ninh — Viet Nam, North, Glorious 27th Youth Brigade — prose — Thân Phn Ca Tình Yêu (The Destiny of Love) (1991) — English translation as The Sorrow of War (1994)

        Tim O’Brien in Viet Nam, 1969

Tim O’Brien US, Army, infantry sergeant prose his mostly-autobiographical The Things They Carried (1990) was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize his other novels include If I Die in a Combat Zone (Box Me Up and Ship Me Home) (1975), Going After Cacciato (1978, won 1979 National Book Award), Northern Lights (1975), In the Lake of the Woods, The Nuclear Age (1979), and Tomcat in Love (1998) — his story “The Things They Carried” included in the Best American Short Stories of the Century, edited by John Updike

Laura Palmer US, war correspondent journalism, poetry, nonfiction nominated for Pulitzer Prize for her syndicated column, Welcome Home, about coming to terms with the Vietnam War best known for Shrapnel in the Heart, the stories behinds letters and poems left at the Vietnam Veterans memorial in Washington DC

Mary Reynolds Powell US, Army, Nurse Corps nonfiction A World of Hurt: Between Innocence and Arrogance in Vietnam (2000)

David Rabe US, Army plays, screenplays known for his loose trilogy of plays drawing on his experiences as an Army draftee, Sticks and Bones (1969), the Tony Award-winning The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel (1971), and Streamers (1976) also wrote the screenplay for the dramatic film Casualties of War (1989)

Al Santoli US, Army nonfiction edited Everything We Had: An Oral History of the Vietnam War by Thirty-three American Soldiers Who Fought It (1981) and To Bear Any Burden: The Vietnam War and Its Aftermath in the Words of Americans and Southeast Asians (1985)

Elizabeth Ann Scarborough US, Army, nurse prose, sci fi the Nebula Award-winning novel Healer’s War (1988) draws on her experiences as a nurse in Vietnam

Neil Sheehan US, war correspondent nonfiction A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam (1988) won Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award

Oliver Stone US, Army, 25th Infantry Division screenwriter wrote three films about Viet Nam: Platoon (1986), Born on the Fourth of July (1989), and Heaven & Earth (1993) and he has called these films a trilogy, though they each deal with different aspects of the war Platoon is a semi-autobiographical film about his experience in combat

Robert Stone US, war correspondent prose wrote novel Dog Soldiers (1974) about a journalist smuggling heroin from Viet Nam, which won National Book Award

Wallace Terry US, war correspondent, Saigon Bureau Chief for Time history Bloods: An Oral History of the Vietnam War by Black Veterans (1984)

Claude AnShin Thomas — US, Army, helicopter crew chief — memoir, pilgrimages — “Finding Peace after a Lifetime of War” (1996) in Arnold Kotler’s Engaged Buddhist Reader — excellent memoir At Hell’s Gate: A Soldier’s Journey from War to Peace (2004) — founder of Zaltho Foundation

Charley Trujillo US, Army nonfiction Soldados: Chicanos in Viet Nam (1990)

                            ‘A Soldier’s Joy’ – Tobias Wolff’s 1985 article in ‘Esquire’

Tobias Wolff US, Army, Special Forces prose his novella The Barracks Thief (1984, winner of Pen-Faulker Award) about paratrooper training graduates awaiting their report to Viet Nam the recommended memoir In Pharaoh’s Army: Memories of the Lost War (1994, finalist for the National Book Award) records his tour in Viet Nam

Bruce Weigl US, Army poet his collections addressing Vietnam include The Monkey Wars (1984), Song of Napalm (1988), and Declension in the village of Chung Luong (2006)

Stephen Wright US, Army fiction his war-related novel Meditations in Green (1983) won the Maxwell Perkins Prize for promising first novels

Collections

Philip Mahony, ed. From Both Sides Now: The Poetry of the Vietnam War and Its Aftermath. NY: Scribner, 1998.

P E R S I A N   G U L F   W A R

Gabe Hudson US, Marines, rifleman prose his debut collection of stories, Dear Mr. President (2003)

         Swofford

Anthony Swofford US, Marines, Scout sniper, Lance Corporal memoirist Jarhead (2003) won Pacific Northwest Bookseller Associations Award, PEN/Martha Albrand Art of the Memoir Award, and Michener-Copernicus Society of America Fiction Fellowship

Joel Turnipseed —  US, Marines memoir Baghdad Express (2003)

I R A Q 

Mark Boal US, journalist embedded with US bomb squad screenwriter The Hurt Locker (2008), winner of six Academy Awards including Best Original Screenplay

Colby Buzzell US, Army, machine gunner blog, memoir best-selling author of My War: Killing Time in Iraq (2005)

John Crawford US, National Guard memoir bestselling author of The Last True Story I’ll Ever Tell: An Accidental Soldier’s Account of the War in Iraq (2005)

Nathaniel Fick US, Marine Corps, Captain, platoon commander memoir One Bullet Away: The Making of a Marine Officer (2005)

Jeff Key US, Marines plays The Eyes of Babylon: One Marine’s Journey about serving as a gay soldier in Iraq created Mehadi Foundation (uses writing workshops and other creative activities to help Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans suffering from PTSD) on Board of Directors for Iraq Veterans Against the War

Phil Klay US, Marines, second lieutenant fiction Redeployment won the 2014 National Book Award for Fiction  stories appear in collections, including The Best American Non-Required Reading 2012 (Mariner Books) and Fire and Forget (Da Capo Press, 2013)

James Mathews US, Air National Guard prose   short story collection Last Known Position (2008) won the Katherine Anne Porter Prize for Short Fiction

Steven McLaughlin British, Army, combat infantryman memoir Squaddie: A Soldier’s Story (2006)

                       Turner

Brian Turner US, Army, infantry team leader poetry his debut collection Here, Bullet (2005) garnered nine major literary awards, including Lannan Literary Fellowship, NEA Literature Fellowship in Poetry, Amy Lowell Traveling Fellowship, and a Beatrice Hawley Award collection Phantom Noise (2010), about bringing the war home, shortlisted for the 2010 TS Eliot Prize

Collections spanning multiple wars 

Maxine Hong Kingston, ed. Veterans of War, Veterans of Peace, Koa Books, 2006.

Please comment below to suggest additions or changes to this list. Thanks for your contributions.

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