The son of a World War II veteran, Karl Marlantes grew up in a small logging town in Oregon. In 1964, at age 19, he completed a Marine training program and was subsequently placed in the Marine Corps Reserve. He attended Yale, was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship in his senior year of college, and went to Oxford University to continue his studies.
After a semester there, however, Marlantes chose to leave school to join many of his peers who were fighting in Vietnam. He landed in Vietnam in October 1968, was placed in charge of a platoon in the 4th Marine Regiment. Marlantes served for a year, and was awarded the Navy Cross, two Navy Commendation Medals for Valor, two Purple Hearts, and ten air medals.
After leaving Vietnam, Marlantes returned to Oxford where he continued his graduate education, earning an MA in philosophy, politics and education. He spent the next 30 years raising a family and working as a business consultant for various international energy companies, while grappling with his memories of the war.
In the late 1990s, Marlantes asked the Veterans Administration for help with symptoms caused by post-traumatic stress disorder. He entered counseling, and a decade later finished Matterhorn, the novel he’d been working on since returning from Vietnam. The book draws from his own war experiences, and he credits the process of writing it with helping him come to terms with what he saw.
Marlantes’ most recent book is the non-fiction What It Is Like to Go to War, which weaves his personal recollections of Vietnam with analysis of the effects of war on those who fight, and how we can better prepare soldiers for the experience of war.