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The 5 best books about Recon Marines and warfare — according to Recon Marines

Swift, Silent, Deadly. These are the books Recon Marines recommend.
Joshua Skovlund Avatar
Recon Marine books
(Marine Corps photo/Task & Purpose composite).

The U.S. Marine Corps tasked Recon Marines with setting up the Marine Corps Special Operations Command (MARSOC) in the late aughts, making them the first modern-day Marine Raiders. That’s not to be confused with the World War II Marines, the original Raiders.

But, the WWII Marine Raiders would later form the Recon Marines. It’s arguably one of the best full-circle unit lineages in the U.S. military. They have a diverse and long-standing history that is packed with heroism and selfless service, and some of that history can be found in several books. Many of these books served as a foundation to motivate civilians and Marines alike to earn a spot in the ranks of Recon, while a few are cautionary tales about war and the horrible things that happen in the name of combat. 

We asked a few salty Recon Marine veterans which books they recommend.

All It Takes: Become a Recon Marine

“All It Takes” by Travis Nardi unpacks the rigors of earning the title of Recon Marine. This book is one of the top how-to’s for those wanting advanced knowledge of the Basic Reconnaissance Course (BRC) or for parents who want to know what their child is taking on.

Nardi, a former BRC instructor, and several of his fellow cadre gathered lessons learned throughout their time as Recon Marines to create this guide. Nardi states in the introduction that reading his book isn’t necessary to pass the course and doesn’t guarantee that you will pass even if you do read it.

But, it will give you advanced knowledge on how to prepare and what to expect from the instructors who have molded the Recon Marines before you. 

Fixing Your Feet: Injury Prevention and Treatment for Athletes

Clint Trial served as a Recon Marine before becoming a plank holder at MARSOC. He deployed multiple times around the world and actively forged the path for many Marines who followed him. He went on to serve at the very tip of the special operations spear before an IED claimed his legs in Afghanistan, leading to retirement. 

That never slowed him down, and he’s proven you don’t need legs to jump out of planes or shoot effectively. Trial recommended “Fixing Your Feet” for anyone who wants to be a Recon Marine or for those who want to serve in America’s premier special operations forces. 

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“Man, I have probably recommended that book to more guys looking to make the long walk or take selection or whatever. When they come to me for advice, I don’t tell them shit other than get the book ‘Fixing Your Feet,’” Trial said. “The only way a guy who doesn’t know how to take care of his feet will make it through is if he’s dumb and hard. That’s just kind of the truth. It’s one of those unspoken things. People say, ‘Wait, you told me to read a book about my feet?’ Well, yeah, motherfucker. That’s your fucking vehicle.”

Be like Trial. Know how to take care of your feet during those long walks with a heavy ruck in BRC.  

Fortune Favors the Brave

Erin Switzer spent four years as a Recon Marine. While in BRC in 2000, Bruce Meyers’ book was published, and the author visited the course at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California. Switzer said the book breaks down the history of early Recon Marines.  

“[Fortune Favors the Bravy] was an interesting read in regard to the history of some of the tactics, and how insert/extract methods were developed,” Switzer said.

Recon Marines were often the difference between life and death during WWII combat in the Pacific. This book details Test Unit 1 and how they developed new methods to get Marines in and out of areas behind enemy lines, whether by land or sea. They set standards that Recon Marines uphold to this day. 

Force Recon Diary, 1969

“Force Recon Diary, 1969,” by former U.S. Navy Hospital Corpsman Bruce Norton, details the missions carried out by 3rd Force Recon in the A Shau Valley of Vietnam in 1969. Norton is the only Navy Corpsman to act as a Marine Force Recon Team Leader, and he sheds light on the often zero room-for-error missions they carried out. 

“As far as motivational books, I’d have to say ‘Force Recon Diaries’ creates great pride in the Reconnaissance community and shows what amazing warriors our men were that went before us,” Switzer said. “It is these stories that drove me to constantly strive to uphold their tremendous reputation.”

The 3rd Force Recon is one of only two Marine units during the Vietnam War to receive the U.S. Army’s Valorous Unit Citation. It’s awarded to units demonstrating “extraordinary heroism in action against an armed enemy of the United States.” 

This book will brief Recon Marine hopefuls on the history that took place before them and what set the standard they will be held to. 

The Devil’s Guard

Most controversial on Trial’s list is “The Devil’s Guard,” a book he said would never have crossed his mind to read because of the book’s protagonist – antihero? — being an avowed Nazi. But when he reported to 3rd Recon Battalion, he was told it was on the Recon reading list as a unique read for any student of warfare. Although sold as non-fiction, many consider the book to be a fictional account taking place during France’s war in Vietnam.

“​​That was the first book I was given when I showed up and checked into 3rd Recon as a new guy. It was like, ‘Hey, you will read this fucking book and give us a book report on it, or you’re gonna sweat and thrash,” Trial recalled. “It’s still, to this day, one of the most profound books I’ve read — it had some of the most profound effects on me in terms of a book,” Trial said.

Trial hesitated to recommend this book because of the former Nazis it is about, specifically the French Foreign Legion’s Nazi battalion that fought in Vietnam. It’s a controversial book for obvious reasons, but Trial said some lessons can be drawn from the stories told.

Often these lessons can take the form of cautionary tales, or what not to do even in the face of moral dilemmas unique to warfare. If anything, the book is an account of atrocities that took place in Vietnam. The book includes a publisher’s note, which reads, “This book is being published to provide the reading public with a clear insight into the mind and personality of an unregenerate Nazi, to show the dehumanization of men in war, and to illustrate the ironies and hypocrisies to which men are driven in defense of their actions. The publication of this book in no way indicates that the publisher agrees with or condones the points of view it expresses.”

Some reports suggest that the book was also popular in SEAL culture but for the wrong reasons. And, according to The Telegraph, in 2006, internet bookseller AbeBooks said “Devil’s Guard” was among its top 10 most-ordered books delivered to combat outposts in Iraq, alongside classics like “The Catcher in the Rye” and “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.”  

Never Without Heroes: Marine Third Reconnaissance Battalion in Vietnam

“Never Without Heroes” by Lawrence Vetter was required reading for Trial when he checked in for his assignment at 3rd Recon Battalion. It was one of the books the older guys in his unit required the new guys to read. 

“Books like this deal more directly and specifically with what we do. There are so many more commonalities, like doing recon patrols out in the bush in Vietnam. We’re doing recon patrols in the desert or in an urban environment, but principles are the same,” Trial said. “The mentality or the mindset is all very similar, you know, have your shit wired at all times and be ready to move on a moment’s notice — know every fucking job in your team.”

Vetter served as a platoon leader in 3rd Recon Battalion. He wrote his book based on his own memories, Marine Corps records, and exhaustive interviews with fellow veterans. This book is a must-read for anyone who wants to be a Recon Marine. 

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