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At the Library: Valor, sacrifice and the ugly realities of war

Yakima County is home to approximately 13,000 veterans.

On Monday, the nation will observe the Veterans Day holiday, but aside from marking a date on a calendar, it’s important to consider other ways we can show our appreciation for the service and sacrifices of the men and women who make up our armed forces.

Yakima Valley Libraries’ collection of military history is a good starting point for those of us looking for stories of valor and sacrifice, as well as an edifying glimpse of the ugly side of human conflict.

If you, like me, are both fascinated and humbled by stories of veterans and military history, check out:

“American Spartans” by James A. Warren is a quick history of the U.S. Marine Corps from World War II to Afghanistan, and does an outstanding job of placing the reader in the trenches with the soldiers.

“Embers of War: The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America’s Vietnam,” provides a thorough history of Vietnam’s war against the French, recounting how the conflict was handed off to the United States. Fredrik Logevall’s tome travels from boardrooms to bunkers, and sets the stage as a prologue to America’s Vietnam War, touching on the Gulf of Tonkin incident and the history of the Vietnamese fighting foreign powers before American troops arrived.

“Remembering and Honoring,” published by the First Presbyterian Church in Yakima, explores the memoirs of local veterans of World War II and Operation Desert Storm. It is a touching account told by Yakima-area veterans that personalizes the sacrifice of going to war.

“A Long Way Gone” by Ishmael Beah is the memoir of a child soldier in Africa. As a young boy, Ishmael and his friends are kidnapped and forced to fight alongside 300,000 child soldiers in Sierra Leone. It’s a tragic tale and portrays war as it comes to people involuntarily as well as what it means to be a soldier, and the circumstances that can turn a soldier into someone who is prepared to do things they would not otherwise do.

“The Iran-Iraq War,” by Pierre Razoux chronicles America’s involvement in the brutal, late 20th century war that impacted and shaped an entire region. The Iran-Iraq war saw elements of all the great wars of the 20th century: trench warfare, chemical weapons, armored divisions, mechanized infantry, air combat, massive artillery, and the involvement of multiple nations outside the principle actors. In some ways, it, and this book, are something of a time capsule of a war.

“The Ghosts of Cannae” by Robert L. O’Connell recounts the lowest point of the Roman Republic, in 218 B.C., when Hannibal’s armies annihilated a Roman legion, killing 48,000 soldiers in a single day and leaving the roads to Rome unobstructed for the invading Carthaginian forces. The dread of facing annihilation in war is palpable in this gripping account. O’Connell also masterfully conveys the toll taken on survivors of a losing cause, who were ostracized by the Roman citizens they had fought for but failed to protect.

“The Korean War” by Bruce Cumings is a brilliant recounting of the “Forgotten War” in Korea. Even though this book is a quick read at under 250 pages, it’s a great history in that it isn’t just merely a “this happened, then this happened” history book; it also provides context and meaning to the conflict, giving readers a level of emotional investment that other history books might not.

• Matt Kendall is a librarian at Yakima Valley Libraries. Learn more at www.yvl.org.

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