On November 11, America will pause to honor all those who have served in its Armed Forces. Veterans Day as we know it was established in 1954, when Congress changed the name of Armistice Day and broadened its definition—what had been primarily a celebration of World War I vets was redefined as a day dedicated to all military veterans.
Here at HPB, we’re thankful for all who’ve donned the uniform to fight for our country. But being the bookish types we are, we thought it’d be interesting to consider a few of the great American writers who spent time in the military. Most of these authors wrote about their war experience, and it’s safe to say that all of them were shaped by it in profound ways. The writer Norman Mailer called it the worst experience of his life but also the most valuable.
The novelist of Catch-22 fame joined the U.S. Army Air Corps at age 19, shortly after America entered World War II. He was sent to the Mediterranean island of Corsica, and from there flew 60 combat missions as a B-25 bombardier. After the war, Heller went to college on the G.I. Bill and worked as an advertising copywriter before the publication of Catch-22 established him in the literary world. The satirical novel, published in 1961, is decidedly anti-war, but it has been used by the U.S. Air Force Academy to teach about the dangers of bureaucracy. Heller even appeared at the Academy in 1986 for a celebration of the book’s 25th anniversary.