Growing up as the son of Vietnam War protestors, Benjamin Busch wasn't allowed to play with guns or toy weapons of any kind. But when his father saw he'd fashioned a rifle out of a board, a pipe, and some wire, he gave in and bought his son a M1 Garland, the same kind Benjamin's grandfathers had carried as soldiers. Busch grew up to be a soldier, too, serving two tours in Iraq as an infantry officer with the Marine Corps. He's also an actor who has appeared on "The Wire" and "Homicide," but at heart remains the country boy who spent days building forts in the woods. As he writes in "Dust to Dust," his recently published memoir of his childhood and wartime experiences, "war was wilderness, and I went there, too."
Many soldiers -- some enthusiastic, some reluctant -- have written memoirs of their experiences on the front lines. While the battlefield may not seem the best place for reflection and contemplation, the following writers spent the rest of their lives making sense of their experiences with conflict on both foreign and domestic ground.
"The Civil War Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant" by Ulysses S. Grant
An abridged version of Grant's "Personal Memoirs," this book focuses on the former president's Civil War experiences, including battles at Shiloh, Vicksburg, and Richmond. Convinced that the war was never about states' rights, but was purely slavery, Grant praises both his own troops as well as the opposition, and includes his correspondence with generals Lee and Sherman, as well as assessments of Lincoln and Sheridan as military leaders.
"Beyond Band of Brothers: The War Memoirs of Major Dick Winters" by Dick Winters and Cole C. Kingseed
Winters was the commander of Easy Company, the group of World War Two parachute infantry soldiers who inspired Stephen Ambrose's bestselling "Band of Brothers" and the HBO series of the same name. Starting from the moments the company's previous commander was killed on D-Day and Winters took charge, the book chronicles the tactical decisions Winters made in leading his men through the Battle of Bulge, into Germany, and on to the end of the war. Despite winning the Distinguished Service Cross for his bravery, Winters is a modest narrator throughout, writing, "the company belonged to the men -- the officers were merely caretakers."
"Homage to Catalonia" by George Orwell
In 1936, journalist and novelist Orwell traveled to Spain to fight alongside the Republicans against Franco in the Spanish Civil War. Writing about anarchist-occupied Barcelona, he observed "there was much in it I did not understand, in some ways I did not even like it, but I recognized it almost immediately as a state of affairs worth fighting for." Orwell spent ten days on the front and was shot by a sniper through the neck. After recovering from the injury, he went to France and began writing his account of what he'd seen as a soldier and a journalist.
"A Rumor of War" by Phillip Caputo
"War is always attractive to young men who know nothing about it," writes Caputo in this memoir of his service in Vietnam. An idealistic, Kennedy-inspired college grad when he enlisted in the Marines in 1965, Caputo spent the next sixteen months having his illusions shattered and his spirit tested. (He returned, a decade later, to cover the fall of Saigon.) He describes the heat, the insects, the monotony, and the ever-present terror of attack that slowly eroded his sense of self. Of his fellow soldiers, he writes, "we kept the packs and rifles; the convictions, we lost."