The best war memoirs and what makes them special

Robert W. Baumer Author Of The Journey of the Purple Heart: A First Infantry Division Soldier’s Story from Stateside to North Africa, Sicily and Normandy during World War II
By Robert W. Baumer

Who am I?

When I was in my early 40’s I walked into the hospital room of a 99-year-old near-death relative who mistook me for my father’s brother who had been killed on the beachhead in Normandy during World War II. I was always a history buff, but this moment changed my life. I directed my energies to military history, starting with memoirs and writing a column for Armchair General magazine when it was in circulation. Published official histories (American Iliad, Aachen, Old Hickory) followed that were reliant on well-expressed memoirs written by participants, so full circle I’ve come back to my passion for writing, and reading war memoirs.


I wrote...

The Journey of the Purple Heart: A First Infantry Division Soldier’s Story from Stateside to North Africa, Sicily and Normandy during World War II

By Robert W. Baumer,

Book cover of The Journey of the Purple Heart: A First Infantry Division Soldier’s Story from Stateside to North Africa, Sicily and Normandy during World War II

What is my book about?

This memoir brings to life the challenges of an infantryman with the storied First Division during World War II, and the special camaraderie only soldiers who have fought in wars together understand. 

From stopping Rommel’s best in North Africa to saving the landings on Sicily and then establishing the beachhead on D-Day in Normandy, you will feel like you are on the front lines with the mortar squad the author’s uncle served with. Sharing their pride in victories with the worries of his family back home while they await word about his war, the pages of this book will both thrill and sadden those who read this engagingly written true story.

The books I picked & why

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Unknown Valor: A Story of Family, Courage, and Sacrifice from Pearl Harbor to Iwo Jima

By Martha MacCallum,

Book cover of Unknown Valor: A Story of Family, Courage, and Sacrifice from Pearl Harbor to Iwo Jima

Why this book?

I was putting the finishing touches on my book when I came across Unknown Valor in 2020. Like my book, Martha MacCallum’s was about an uncle she never knew who was killed at Iwo Jima. There was a lot of history about the Pacific Theater, as well as personal stories of those who served with her uncle. Like my book, except mine was about the European theater. Letters her uncle wrote home were sprinkled throughout the book, just like in my book. The anguish of her uncle’s death on his family was beautifully told. Just like I tried to do in my latest book.

A strong recommended read if you want to know more about the fate of soldiers during WWII in the Pacific.


Enemy North, South, East, West

By Robert Weiss,

Book cover of Enemy North, South, East, West

Why this book?

Imagine being 20 years old, and a freshly minted lieutenant with just two weeks in the line. You are a forward observer for a 105mm artillery battalion. Your first duty position is atop a 314-meter-high hill at Mortain France. It is early August 1944 and Adolf Hitler sends four panzer divisions to Mortain to stop the Allied breakout from Normandy. First they must take that hill.

Weiss’s stunning book details how he and 700 other men held Hill 314 for five long days. Chronicled more recently by an Aurora Award-winning documentary on PBS it is one of those World War II personal memoirs one never forgets.


Conquered, Not Defeated: Growing Up in Denmark During the German Occupation of World War II

By Peter H. Tveskov,

Book cover of Conquered, Not Defeated: Growing Up in Denmark During the German Occupation of World War II

Why this book?

In Europe it is a tradition to pass down from generation to generation the stories of survival during the German occupation of their countries. I have met some families that actually traveled to the United States to attend military reunions of the units who freed their homelands back in 1944-45. 

Tveskov takes you into the terrifying world of Copenhagen during the war and remembers it through the eyes and experiences of a young boy. His book makes one appreciate how G.I. Joe came to be loved by so many Europeans.


One More Hill

By Franklin A. Johnson,

Book cover of One More Hill

Why this book?

I found this original edition, published in 1949, in a used bookstore back in the early 1990s. It was the first memoir I read about a soldier and the higher-up officers he reported to who fought in the same regiment as my late uncle. 

Johnson contributed to two books I wrote on the official history of the 18th Infantry Regiment in World War II. His was a personal memoir up to the time his war was cut short after the Normandy Invasion. The writing style is sweeping and one of the better memoirs I’ve read about an anti-tank battalion during the big war.


A Patch of Ground: Khe Sanh Remembered

By Michael Archer,

Book cover of A Patch of Ground: Khe Sanh Remembered

Why this book?

This is one of the best military memoirs I’ve gotten into. Why? Because it’s about a different war. Not World War II, my passion. It’s Viet Nam this time, an experience too many in my generation didn’t come home from. Archer was a Marine during the pivotal battle of Khe Sahn, and he retells his experiences and that of his buddies in a heartfelt, necessarily graphic, and sometimes humorous way—the latter so often used to mask the horrors of war and losing close friends.


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