Much of what Americans learn about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq is filtered by the press, the politicians and the Pentagon brass.
A new book seeks to offer another point of view.
"Operation Homecoming" compiles the letters, journals, emails, short stories and poems of soldiers. The writings in it are raw, graphic and sometimes highly critical of the government, even though the government is putting out the book.
After months of watching his friends die in al Anbar province, Iraq, Army Sgt. John McCary fired off an anguished e-mail.
"I'm ok, mom. I'm just a little… shaken, a little sad," he wrote. "I know this isn't any divine mission. No God, Allah, Jesus, Buddha or other divinity ever decreed, 'Go get your body ripped to shreds, it's for the better.' "
The consequences of war bubbled up doubt in McCary.
"What do you say to your men," he wrote, "after you've scraped up the scalps of an entire Iraqi family off the road, right next to the shattered bodies of your soldiers, held together only by their shoelaces, body armor or helmets? 'We're fighting the good fight?' I don't think so."
Air Force Capt. Ed Hrivnak, who helped medevac injured troops out of Iraq, wrote about caring for a young soldier.
"He looks at me and our eyes are locked. His eyes say, 'Tell me I'm going to be okay. Tell me that I'm going to be fine, tell me that I'm going to be whole again,' " he wrote. "I'm sure less than two seconds passed before I gave him a big smile and a thumbs-up. Those two seconds felt like an hour. He broke into a big smile of relief and I felt broken for lying to him."
Staff Sgt. Jack Lewis, an Army reservist, described the aftermath of a traffic accident. An Army vehicle hit an Iraqi civilian car, killing a young man. Lewis looked after the victim's wailing father.
"It's hard to describe what we found in the car," he wrote. "It had been a young man only moments earlier that night. … It was as bad a mess as I've seen."
The young man was in the car with his father.
"While the medic worked on him, the colonel's interpreter came over and fired a few questions at the [older] man," Lewis wrote. "The younger man had been taking his father back from shopping. They were minutes from home. We didn't find any weapons in the car -- either piece of it. … The young man had been a student. Engineering. With honors. Pride of the family. What we like to think of as Iraq's future. Finally, I had to ask, 'What does he keep saying?' the 'terp looked at me. Disgusted, resigned, or maybe just plain tired. 'He says to kill him now.' "
The writings were solicited by the National Endowment for the Arts, a branch of government under the control of President Bush. To help inspire soldiers to write, the endowment sent best-selling authors like Mark Bowden, Jeff Shaara and Tom Clancy out to military bases to hold writing workshops.
While some of the entries are critical of the government, the soldiers ABC News spoke with believed in what they've fought for.
"We will not give up," wrote Sgt. McCary. "We cannot. Our lives are forever tied to the lost, and we cannot leave them now, as we might have were they still living."
The book provides a window into soldiers' inner lives -- humor and horror, boredom and bravery. And, in the case of Army Capt. Montgomery Granger, the power of coming home to an infant child.
"He didn't cry, he didn't squirm, he just rested there gently, as if it were the most normal thing in the world," Granger wrote. "As if, I realized with tears in my eyes, I had never left."