Bacalao, by J.T. McDaniel. This title has been featured on the front page of this site just about forever because, well mostly because the webmaster wrote it. As to why you should buy it, best-selling author Homer Hickam said: “Bacalao is an impressive and exciting novel of undersea warfare that follows an American attack sub from the moment its keel is laid and on into the deep, blue Pacific Ocean to do battle against the Japanese Empire. Her commander and crew are individuals we come to respect, even worry over. The Bacalao also becomes one of those individuals, a steel spirit with a great heart and persevering soul. J.T. McDaniel, an authority on World War II submarines, is a terrific writer who has created a classic of wartime adventure. Heartily recommended!”
M*A*S*H, by Richard Hooker. This has been around for quite a few years now, and the characters are perhaps more familiar from the movie and television show, but if you haven’t done so in a while, revisiting the source should be on your list of things to do. Hawkeye, Trapper John, Radar, Hotlips, and Colonel Blake are familiar to TV watchers. Spearchucker Jones and Duke Forrest inhabit the book and movie, but only briefly made it onto the small screen. The TV Frank Burns is actually a combination of two characters from the book (only one of whom was having an affair with Major Hoolihan; the other was too busy with his continuous praying). If you’ve never read this, you need to do so. It’s funny as hell, and any veteran, especially any veteran who ever served in a combat zone, is going to recognize how true to life these lunatics are. Then again, Hooker actually was an Army surgeon in Korea.
The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, by William L. Shirer. It’s been 70 years since the German surrender ended World War II in Europe, and this book is still one of the best on the subject of Nazi Germany. Shirer lived in Germany as a correspondent from 1934 until 1940, when he realized it had become too dangerous to stay, and saw much of what he chronicled in his best know book first hand. There have, perhaps, been academically more comprehensive texts written on this subject, most commonly today by scholars who were not even born before the end of the war, but few have the same sense of immediacy that Shirer brought to the subject. He really was there, and he writes not as an academic or historian, but as a newspaper and radio journalist who not only wants to get the information down on paper, but wants it to be clearly readable and understandable.
To Hell and Back, by Audie Murphy. Today perhaps best known as a journeyman actor and improbably small leading man in old B-westerns, Murphy was also the most highly decorated American soldier in World War II, receiving every award for valor the United States offered at the time, including a Medal of Honor, along with honors from France and Belgium. He died in a plane crash in 1971. Initially turned down by the Marines, Navy, and Army, Murphy eventually made it into the Army, serving in Africa, Sicily, Italy, France, Belgium, and Germany and ending the war as a first lieutenant. He would eventually advance to major in the Texas National Guard, before permanently leaving the active military in 1957 (he retired from the Army Reserve in 1969).
Jimmy Stewart, Bomber Pilot, by Starr Smith. Obviously best known as an actor, Jimmy Stewart enlisted before Pearl Harbor, rising to the rank of colonel by the end of the war. A licensed pilot, holding a commercial rating, before the war, he became a bomber pilot (B-17, B-24) in the Army Air Forces, and continued to serve in the Air Force Reserve after the war, eventually becoming a major general. Some have suggested that this book has more history than biography, but there’s really nothing wrong with that. Stewart was a highly skilled pilot, and unlike most actors in the military, flew a number of combat bombing mission as aircraft commander, and as squadron leader. After World War II, he continued to fly as a reservist, qualifying in B-36, B-47, and B-52 bombers. He was also the subject of considerable debate by higher ranking officers who wanted to keep the actor safe, yet had to recognize that his skill and leadership abilities deserved ever higher rank and duties. Among his awards were the Air Force Distinguished Service Medal, two Distinguished Flying Crosses, four Air Medals, and the Army Commendation Medal, along with campaign and service medals.*