It’s been nearly 75 years since victory in WWII. And though the battle locales that constitute the War in the Pacific (Pearl Harbor, Midway, Tarawa, Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima) are common knowledge, locations and statistics alone can’t convey what it was like to have fought in those battles.
So we’ve put together a list of inspiring nonfiction reads that highlight and shed truth on those hardships: trudging through jungles, fighting for humanity, and ultimately learning the truth about war.
Related: 20 Historical Fiction Books About Life During World War II
December 1941: Pearl Harbor
Day of Infamy
This best-selling work of nonfiction uses detailed interviews, letters, and diary entries to recount the story of the Pearl Harbor surprise attack. With visceral eyewitness accounts, Walter Lord reveals the details of the event that began America’s involvement in World War II.
Miracle at Midway
Six months after Pearl Harbor, the seemingly invincible Imperial Japanese Navy prepared a decisive blow against the United States. After sweeping through Asia and the South Pacific, Japan’s military targeted the tiny atoll of Midway, an ideal launching pad for the invasion of Hawaii and beyond. But the United States Navy would be waiting for them in the battle that turned the tides of the war.
August 1942-February 1943: Guadalcanal
The Thin Red Line
In August of 1942, the first American marines charged Guadalcanal, igniting a six-month battle for 2,000 square miles of jungle and sand. In that gruesome stretch, 60,000 Americans made the jump from boat to beach, and one in nine did not return. James Jones fought in that battle, and The Thin Red Line is his haunting portrait of men and war.
Another firsthand account of the invasion of Guadalcanal, this book was penned by volunteer combat correspondent Richard Tregaskis. The book was an immediate bestseller when it was published in 1943, and became the inspiration for a film of the same name.
November 1943: Battle of Tarawa
Though it was a relatively short battle, lasting only three days, the fight for Betio Island in the Tarawa Atoll was one of the bloodiest in WWII. The island was heavily defended by Japan, but the Americans decided they wanted it for a staging point for their next big push. Journalist Robert Sherrod was there to chronicle the ensuing battle.
Sherrod saw firsthand as 35,000 US Army troops went ashore and battled against less than 5,000 Japanese defenders. Written with striking, harsh imagery, Sherrod’s account offers a vivid account of WWII as it really happened.
June-Jul 1944: Battle of Saipan
The Battle for Tinian
The battles of Saipan and Tinian go hand in hand: First, U.S. troops unleashed a horrific campaign on the 20,000 Japanese troops holding Saipan. Once the island was theirs, the U.S. turned their sights on Tinian, the Japanese stronghold just 3 miles away.
The U.S. Army’s actions in the battle of Tinian included, according to historian Samuel Elliot Morrison, “the most perfectly executed amphibious operation of the entire war.” The battle also marked the first time the U.S. used napalm, clearing the way for Marines to root out strongpoints. Once Tinian was secured, the U.S. built the world’s largest airport on the island, which would help bring the war to an end.
October 1944-August 1945: The Battle of the Philippines
Sloan Wilson, a veteran of both the Greenland patrol and the commander of a gas tanker, draws directly from his experiences to tell the story of Lieutenant Grant, commander of a small gas tanker tasked with bringing fuel for the invasion of the Philippines. The novel exemplifies the stressors of war at sea, fear of attack, boredom, and the struggle to trust shipmates when life and limb are on the line.
Related: 12 Epic World War II Novels
February 1945: Iwo Jima
Flags of Our Fathers
The son of John “Doc” Bradley, one of the original flag raisers in the iconic Iwo Jima image, James tells his father’s story of the battle for the most important island in the Pacific. Through machine gun fire and a hail of mortar shells, John Bradley and the men of his company advanced along the beach to take the island but at terrible cost. Of the men who raised the flag, only three survived Iwo Jima to return to the U.S. as unexpected heroes.
Want More Recommendations? Check out Reading Through History: The Battles of World War II
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Featured photo: USS Yorktown is hit by a torpedo in the Battle of Midway, Public Domain