The best books about the Vietnam War from an infantryman who served there

Who am I?

I served as an infantryman in Vietnam with both the 25th ID and the 101st Airborne. Curiosity about what other units did during the war drove me to read about their exploits and learn about what else took place outside of my little part of the war. I am also the admin of a website dedicated to the Vietnam War and its Warriors. My intent over the last eleven years is to educate the public and continue our legacy.  

I wrote...

Cherries: A Vietnam War Novel

By John Podlaski,

Book cover of Cherries: A Vietnam War Novel

What is my book about?

In 1970, John Kowalski is one of many young, naive teenage soldiers sent to Vietnam to fight in an unpopular war. Dubbed “Cherries” by their more seasoned peers, these newbies suddenly found themselves thrust into the middle of a terrible nightmare. On-the-job training is intense, however, most of these teenagers were hardly ready to absorb the harsh mental, emotional, and physical stress of war. When coming under enemy fire and witnessing death first-hand, a life-changing transition that can't be reversed.

The author is an excellent storyteller, readers testify that they're right there with the characters, and joining them in their quest for survival; sharing the fear, awe, drama, and sorrow, witnessing bravery, and sometimes, even laughing at their humor. Cherries tells it like it is and when finished, readers will have a much better understanding of what these young men had to endure for an entire year. It's a story that is hard to put down.

The books I picked & why

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Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War

By Karl Marlantes,

Book cover of Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War

Why this book?

Karl did a wonderful job in writing Matterhorn. As a Vietnam infantry vet myself, it was easy for me to relate to many of the hardships experienced by the Marines in this story. I also remember those constant never-ending humps through the jungle – at times for days on end and sometimes without sufficient food or water. The story moved easily and I found myself reading way late into the night because I wasn’t able to put my Kindle down. Karl developed his characters and brought the reader into his platoon; I was extremely saddened when many were lost. 

Last Stand at Khe Sanh: The U.S. Marines' Finest Hour in Vietnam

By Gregg Jones,

Book cover of Last Stand at Khe Sanh: The U.S. Marines' Finest Hour in Vietnam

Why this book?

The Last Stand at Khe Sanh was an intriguing read that documented the 77-day siege of the Marine basecamp. It seems like the author took the after-action reports about the events and then humanized the report and breaking it down to squad-level action to make it more readable. I especially like how he listed names of personnel and followed them through the battle where they either portrayed valor or shows how they died. My close friend, Doc Cecala was wounded during an ambush while on a patrol with B 1/26; most of his platoon was killed and at least half of the second which came to reinforce them. Shot in the shoulder and legs, he managed to crawl back to the gates of the firebase and be rescued.

The book also does justice to the hill fights surrounding the base, showing how they worked through their difficulties: ground attacks, incoming, lack of water, food, and ammunition.

Legend: The Incredible Story of Green Beret Sergeant Roy Benavidez's Heroic Mission to Rescue a Special Forces Team Caught Beh

By Eric Blehm,

Book cover of Legend: The Incredible Story of Green Beret Sergeant Roy Benavidez's Heroic Mission to Rescue a Special Forces Team Caught Beh

Why this book?

Tells the story of a Special Forces group inserted into Cambodia who unknowingly landed on the fringes of an NVA Division basecamp. They are compromised and fight to survive. Meanwhile, other units are trying to rescue the beleaguered troops and Americans are dying in their attempt. Sgt. Benevidez repels to the ground, treating wounded soldiers, organizing their retreat, and battling the enemy – severely wounded and left for dead. His actions warranted the Medal Of Honor. An uplifting story about a special soldier who actually survived the ordeal.

Marble Mountain: A Vietnam Memoir

By Bud Willis,

Book cover of Marble Mountain: A Vietnam Memoir

Why this book?

Bud Willis does a wonderful job with this well-told story and offers the reader an in-depth look at the everyday life of these helicopter flying Marine warriors, which isn’t, by the way, a nine to five job. The book follows “BOO” through training and then during his tour as a chopper pilot in Vietnam; his tour lasting 13 months from March, 1966 through April, 1967. The author also has a fantastic sense of humor and wit that sometimes catches me off-guard, making me laugh out loud. When I thought about the antics and games these officers orchestrated – I had to remind myself that even as officers, many of them were only 19 – 21 years old and still kids themselves. However, war steals that naivety and innocence, leaving in its place deep scars, both physically and mentally.

Call Sign Dracula

By Joe Fair,

Book cover of Call Sign Dracula

Why this book?

Readers will follow the author during his acclimation to war and witness his transition from a scared, naïve and inexperienced eighteen-year-old soldier into a skilled, savvy leader within the course of a year. The author shares his memories, both good and bad. I sometimes found myself laughing out loud at some of the antics he and his fellow soldiers pulled. Joe doesn’t pull any punches and tells it like it was…when friends die, it is very hard to keep a stiff upper lip and continue to function as if nothing happened. He also shows us that the military has both good and bad leaders within its ranks, errors in judgment often resulted in the death of many innocent people.

The life of a grunt is difficult, indeed, Call Sign Dracula will educate civilians – infantry veterans will relate.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in the Vietnam War, Cambodia, and Vietnam?

5,215 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about the Vietnam War, Cambodia, and Vietnam.

The Vietnam War Explore 128 books about the Vietnam War
Cambodia Explore 15 books about Cambodia
Vietnam Explore 85 books about Vietnam

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like West to Cambodia, A Dragon Apparent: Travels in Cambodia, Laos & Vietnam, and Death in the A Shau Valley: L Company LRRPs in Vietnam, 1969-70 if you like this list.