Monday, May 27, 2013

Memorial Day: War Stories

For many Americans, Memorial Day means the unofficial kickoff to summer, a three-day weekend, possibly a picnic or a trip to the mall to scour the holiday sales. Not to put a damper on the fun, but let's not forget the real reason behind Memorial Day: to remember and honor those who have lost their lives serving their country.

I've compiled this short, completely subjective list of my "favorite" war literature. I put "favorite" in quotation marks because I can't say that a war novel is the first thing I reach for when hunting down a good read. Yet for one reason or another, each of these stories etched images on my heart that have haunted me for years and shaped how I think about war.

This is by no means a comprehensive overview of war fiction, just a smattering choices to consider this Memorial Day as we remember the fallen:

Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Laugh if you must, but the Civil War as experienced through the eyes of that Southern belle with a spine of steel, Scarlett O'Hara, affected me deeply as a young teen.

The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane
Like many high-schoolers, I read this book on assignment, not long after reading Gone With the Wind.  Henry Fleming dreams of the thrill of battle and performing heroic deeds in the American Civil War. But his illusions are shattered by the reality of war, and he experiences both fear and self-doubt. Interestingly, Stephen Crane had never fought in a war. (Neither, of course, had Margaret Mitchell.)

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
An American ambulance driver and English nurse find love and heartache on the battlefields of Europe, based on Hemingway's experience in World War I.

The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien
A haunting, almost poetic rendering of the Vietnam War, based loosely on O'Brien's own memories of combat.

What are some of your favorite or most memorable war stories or poems?


Jennifer Rova said...

Thoughtful post. My favorite is the poem "In Flanders Field the poppies blow between the crosses row on row..." by John McRae. It remembers WWI service people who died. The poem is the reason we wear a red poppy on Memorial Day honoring our men and women who served in the armed forces. I received a red poppy at the grocery store at the grocery store from a veteran volunteer group.

Jennifer Lamont Leo said...

Thanks for the reminder! I remember Memorial Day poppies from my youth. I haven't seen them in recent years though. I guess I haven't been looking in the right places.