Four Excellent Reads Written by Survivors

Author: Angel Pansini

Through literature, our journey of grief can feel less isolating. By reading stories written by other survivors we see into their grief and discover what gives them strength, which is a healing companion for ourselves. Here we highlight four books written by military survivors: two for adults and two for children.   


Books for Adults

Empty Branch

By Marilyn Weisenburg

With wrenching honesty, Marilyn Weisenburg has crafted Empty Branch to honor her son, National Guard Staff Sergeant David Weisenburg.  She recounts the heaviness, the uncomfortable moments, and the struggles she experienced while paving her way to a new normal under the profound weight of losing a child. Marilyn’s memoir shows her resilience and redemption as she invites readers to travel from the moment the two casualty officers arrived at her door bearing the news of her son’s death to the warmer memories of Maui and God’s grace that had a grounding presence in her journey. Marilyn’s account of her own wrestling and questioning with grief encourages those who are grieving to not settle on religious platitudes but to dig deep within our communities and the religions we too may find comfort in to embrace grief as it shapes life after tragedy. (Published by Credo House Publishers; available on Amazon)  

Empty Branch book cover

Selfless Beyond Service

By Pamela Zembiec   

Selfless Beyond Service honors Marine Corps Major Douglas Zembiec through the immeasurable love of his wife, Pamela Zembiec. Pamela’s story of her life as a Marine Corps wife reveals the authenticity of her husband’s character that extended far beyond his faithfulness to the Corps. The book in structured in such a way that some chapters explore the loss of Douglas some explore their life as a couple. The way the chapters dance back and forth in this way reveals the intensity of the loss through the intensity of the love they had for each other. Each chapter of love makes it difficult to proceed into the chapters on loss because readers become so intimately involved in the blossoming of the relationship that they feel struck by the heaviness of grief just as Pamela did during that first year. By allowing the reader to become embedded in her personal life with Douglas, Pamela perfectly captures how military widows and bereaved military families face the forever ache of sacrifice.  (Published by Outskirts Press; available on Amazon

Selfless Beyond Service book cover


Books for Children

My Daddy’s Heart Is Purple 

By Karl Porfirio 

After a military death, families can feel disconnected and children, especially, may not know, or remember, details about their loved one’s service. In this book for children, Karl Porfirio honors his son, Senior Airman Tre Porfirio, through a dialogue between a boy and his nonno (grandfather) that explores the meaning of the Purple Heart. The easy-to-follow dialogue demonstrates healing through conversation and is matched with sentimental drawings reflecting pride in Tre. The knowledge the boy gains from his nonno is meant to encourage other young survivors to learn about their own loved ones’ service. By asking questions and gaining answers, children can share the pride of their heroes and know that their legacy lives on in those memories. (Published by Covenant Books, Inc., available at Amazon

My Daddy's Heart is Purple book cover

Big-Hearted Charlie Series

By Krista Keating-Joseph

The Royal Palm Literary Award-winning Big-Hearted Charlie Runs the Mile kicks off a series of children’s books written by Krista Keating-Joseph in honor of her son, U.S. Navy SEAL Charles Keating IV. In this first book, the tenacity of a younger Charlie is shown as he embraces hard work to earn a spot on his track team, become a stronger runner, and later become a Navy SEAL. In the second book, Big-Hearted Charlie Never Gives Up, the lessons that ultimately gave Charlie the strength and stamina to become a Navy SEAL are depicted through his lifetime of adventures. In the third installment, Big- Hearted Charlie Learns How to Make Friends, Charlie’s mom once again reveals how her son had the courage to stand strong in the face of adversity by making and being a friend despite being bullied. Each book portrays Charlie’s enormous heart and continues his legacy by inspiring young readers to have the same positive attitude he had as they strive for their own goals. (Published by Legacies & Memories, available on Amazon)

Big-Hearted Charlie Runs the Mile book cover

Big-Hearted Charlie Never Gives Up book cover

Big-Hearted Charlie Learns to Make Friends book cover


From the pen of...

Angel Pansini, the surviving sister of Sgt. Nicholas Pansini and a TAPS legacy mentor, studies philosophy and linguistics at the University of Colorado Denver.