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E B (Gene) Sledge's memoir of his time in the Pacific War has been an incredibly rich source for for television history. Ken Burns drew extensively upon his account for his brilliant series "The War" particularly in Episode 9 "FUBAR" and his words are read and quoted. Now it extensively figures again in the what will be one of the great series of modern television, HBOs "The Pacific" a 10-part mini-series from the creators of "Band of Brothers" telling the intertwined stories of three Marines during America's battle with the Japanese in the Pacific during World War II. "Helmet for My Pillow" by Robert Leckie is the other key primary source and you may wish to read the reviews elsewhere of that excellent book. It is Sledge's memoir however that in my subjective opinion is the definitive account of this terrible conflict.

Gene Sledge was no backseat General or causal observer, he gave up a graduation course leading to a commissioned officer's position to serve as a Private First Class in the Pacific Theater and saw combat at the raging infernos of Peleliu with its controversial airfield and Okinawa. He played others roles such as a stretcher bearer and constantly throughout his service, Sledge kept extensive "unauthorised notes" of what happened in his pocket sized New Testament. If you go over to the US Amazon site you will see that this book has nearly 300 reviews and Sledge is rightly compared to Robert Graves as a war author. This is no American hyperbole. Gene Sledge aside from his military feats is a great writer and remembrancer.

This is by no means a "jolly romp" war memoir it is a brutal and often terrifyingly honest account of a soldiers experience and the deep fear and boredom that underpins this. Slegdes account of the first man he kills throws into sharp relief the the unimaginable dread of taking another life. His deep reflections and anxiety about whether he might turn out "yella" are brilliantly articulated. His sheer dismay at the "terror compounded" of being out in the open in an artillery barrage is almost heart rending and you wish he wasn't there. Indeed Joseph Conrad's immortal phrase "Oh the horror" in the Heart of Darkness could be subtitle for this book. Sledge in one sense also prefigures the some of the disillusionment that would be rampant in the later Vietnam War. He talks of the "awesome reality that we were training to be canon fodder", the word "expendable" is used and the sheer ruthlessness of the combat and treatment of soldiers is set out in raw detail. Sledge was deeply religious but combined his faith with sharp intellectual analysis of his own and his comrades precarious situation. "Something of me died at Peleliu" he states in capturing an island which was deemed by the military planners to be a four day "in and out" exercise that eventually took 2 months and thousands of lives. The Japanese were blasted and burned out of these Islands but in turn gave new meaning to the term "never give an inch". The battle rolled onto the mainland but not before the "two scorpions in a bottle" to use Sledge's term went from island to island slugging it out in increasingly brutal combat. Sledge ended up in the the apocalypse at Okinawa in a mortar section which went into battle singing "Little Brown Jug" at the top of their lungs.

When you write a review of America's role in World War 11 some British reviewers get upset about the fact that our soldiers are often ignored or written out of history. The failure of British television in particular to undertake contemporary and exhaustive historical TV series of both World Wars and properly recognise the sheer effort/contribution of the British people is a travesty. The Thames production "World at War" is now nearly 40 years old and "The Great War" produced by the BBC in the early sixties. HBO should therefore be thanked alongside with recent American documentary makers for the important role they are playing. The same is true of Gene Sledge's brilliant book "With the old breed" since the messages it contains are timeless and universal, and we ignore them at our peril.
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VINE VOICEon 13 April 2010
The decision of HBO to use `With the Old Breed' as one the key sources for their $ 200 million mini-series ` The Pacific' has brought Eugene Sledge's war memoirs has a whole new global readership. First published in 1981 but using notes taken at the time of the battles in 1944/5, this is an account of the author's recruitment and training in the US Marine Corps and his participation in two of World War Two's most brutal and horrific battles . The original working title of was `Into the Abyss' and nothing comes closer to describing the particular forms of hell that were the battles of Peleliu and Okinawa. Whilst the author refers to the wider strategic picture, that is only reference events and this remains a very personal account.

Sledge doesn't shy away from describing in detail the horror of the battlefield with its rotting corpses, mangled body parts and human excrement. Too often in other literature comparisons with the First World War's trenches are drawn, yet on Okinawa the combination of multiple assaults against a well entrenched enemy and a rain saturated battlefield lead to a repeat of those conditions. It was only the lack of Japanese re-enforcements that ensured this campaign did not develop into the same stalemate.

Despite all the horror around him and the killing he had to do, Sledge's own humanity, whilst tested, survives and shines through. There is no sense of blood lust for the death of the Japanese, even though their conduct is often appalling, and Sledge finds no glory in war even in the eventual US victory.

The writing is one of the great strengths of this book. The author was well educated and after the war went on to become a Professor of biology. The narrative is always clear, events are easy to follow and there is the avoidance of poetic prose and unnecessarily over descriptive passages but still you are carried along by the events.

I have no doubt that Spielberg, Hanks and HBO will try to do justice to this book and Sledge's story. However, they can never cover all the events and detail it contains. This is highly recommended for anyone interested in the frontline combat experience of war.
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on 30 May 2000
By the end of this book I felt a real attatchment to the author and the men who shared the experiences described in the book.
It is not one of the best works of literature I have come across, however it is one of the best accounts of the reality of war on a group of men I have read.
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on 25 November 2003
I would defy anyone, having started this book, to put it down before the final page. A plainly narrated and therefore haunting personal account of bitter and bloody conflict. How human nature succumbs or survives in 'survival conditions', the unfiltered realities of battle experience in the mechanised era, and the loyalty that binds fighting men together.
No political preambles and chapters devoted to strategy here - this is the life of the enlisted men and some of the officers they knew.
I sincerely hope that EB Sledge, by writing of his experiences without artifice or literary illusion, realised he created required reading for anyone interested in the realties of war.
Read it and be awed.
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VINE VOICEon 23 December 2008
a book that just tells you what it was like for one man sitting in deaths lap. sheer brilliance in style and content. If you read one book to find out what it was like to be there this would be the man to walk you through it. you can smell the death and and you can feel the fear, but you also feel a love for these men. A true credit to the marine corp and the men of his generation. truly the old and missed breed. now go click the button and buy it.
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on 24 October 2009
I can't add anything to the many five-star reviews that already appear. This is one of the finest books of any description I have ever read. Irrespective of the subject matter, it is simply great literature. One of the best books to emerge from World War II, it surely must be the best and most vivid account by a Marine fighting the Pacific War. No wonder these men are so proud of their corps - and thank God they won, because had the Axis coordinated their efforts there was a brief period when they might have been able to impose their filthy regimes upon the world. Sledge embodies so many of the virtues that the western allies fought for - if you think that's corny just imagine your life under Nazi Germany or Imperial Japan. A staggeringly good book. Believe the reviewers who say you won't be able to put it down - start it in the evening and accept that you're going to be short of sleep that night, but not half as short as the Marines were on Peleliu and Okinawa. Buy it, read it, recommend it; this is one superb book.
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on 7 April 2010
This book is a very simple honest look at the life of the US marine in the Pacific campaigns of Peliliu and Okinawa.#

This books brilliant narrative is what impressed me the most. I found that the sheer honesty with which Sledge tells his story makes the entire reading expreince very real to the reader. One sees the true thought processes of the Marines as they fought a suicidal and highly tactical enemy, in what must be described as some of the worst campaigns of WW2. Little is known aboout the Pacific theatre of WW2, and it is only now thanks to HBo's The Pacific, that the history of it all is seeing a revival of sorts. This is absolutely necessary to do justice to the men who fought and died and indeed those who like Sledge survived a horrendous ordeal.

The book to me tapped into another aspect through its honesty. It engaged in the psycology of warfare. It showed how in fighting a suicidal enemy who showed no respect for their foe, i.e. the US Marines, they then also lowered their moral standards top the point that they too became entirely desensitised to barbarity and cruelty to their enemy the Japanese soldier.

This book is not just about the pacific in WW2, it is about the effects war can have on the human psyche and how thankful we should all be that those men gave all they had so that we can live as we do today.

A true salute to the bravery of the men of the US Marine Corps. "Semper Fi" !!
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on 22 June 2008
While reading the book I repeatedly wondered how the author could emerge as a whole person. As the book explains the memories haunted him for years and only found release after completing the book.

The honesty is amazing, its clarity unusual. The details are numerous, but always important and add to our understanding of what it was really like.

Sobering, impressive, well-written, ever-relevant. Thoroughly recommended.
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As a young man, Eugene Sledge joined the US Marines "to do his bit" in World War 2 and because of his choice of arm, he was sent to fight in the Pacific War against the mighty and tenacious Imperial Japanese Army. "With the Old Breed" describes his experiences in two of the nastier campaigns in that theatre, Pelelieu and Okinawa (and was one of the references for the HBO mini-series "The Pacific").

We are perhaps more used to hearing of the European war, in which the combatants treated each other (for the most part) with a good deal of respect, even chivalry. Admittedly the truth may differ somewhat and the non-combatants were dealt with with rather less regard, but we generally consider the European war to have been a "civilised war". There was nothing civilised about the Pacific war. Lives were thrown away on both sides for posession of tiny coral atolls with a reckless abandon that matches the waste of the Great War. It was fought with a savagery and hate that beggars belief and Sledge pulls no punches in describing the horror; witness the scene is where a fellow marine removes the gold teeth of an injured Japanese soldier. This is not a comfortable book to read.

Neither is this a military history. There are notes at the end of each chapter that add a little context, but Sledge wrote the account from the point of view of a private soldier, working from a battle diary that he kept in his pocket bible. He had little or no idea of the big picture and in most cases he had no idea of what was going on, full stop. His perspective comes from over the sights of his carbine; all he can see is the wall of his dugout, the bodies of friends and foe scattered around him. All he can hear is the rattle of rifle fire, the screech and crash of artillery and the screams of the dying. Sledge fully understood his position in all of this - as cannon fodder and no more - but he also understood the horror and waste of what was happening around him and he conveys the brutality and futility very well indeed.

Reading some of the other reviews, however, you will see him described as a great writer, even to the extent that he is compared with Robert Graves. I have not read Graves but I am certainly not convinced that "With the Old Breed" counts as great writing. I don't want to dwell on the point, but the prose is awkward, unpolished, even clumsy in places. It was clearly not written by a professional, or even particularly experienced writer. Does this detract from the story? No, not at all* (or at least, not much), but unfulfilled expectations of literature do detract. However, these shortcomings do lend the story a certain honesty that you won't find in Dispatches (a book that I have come to detest for its smug self-importance), a naiivety that you wont find in All Quiet on the Western Front and it is, perhaps, better for it.

Despite this lack of eloquence, Sledge successfully conveys the filth and stench of a tropical combat zone and the fear and fatigue of a battle where it was understood by all that the victor was (almost literally) the last man left alive. This is an eye-opening, gut-churning and deeply humbling account and it is well worth a read.

* Perhaps, when we remember wars, we should take off our clothes and paint ourselves blue and go on all fours all day long and grunt like pigs. That would surely be more appropriate than noble oratory... Kurt Vonnegut

The review title is from Frank Herbert's Dune series
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on 26 July 2011
Having never been a fan of the Pacific theatre during WW2 i struggled to get into watching the mini series that was made using the books and characters as it material. After i've read this book i am now a convert and will do my best to read up on more of the Pacific campain.

The way Sledge comes across in his is book is a real breath of fresh air and at some parts while reading it i felt like i was there with him. This is now in my list of top 5 favourite WW2 books and thats not bad considering i didn't enjoy anything to do with the war fought in the Pacific.

In short if you enjoy WW2 books you enjoy this and even if you don't enjoy WW2 books and enjoy reading it a cracking good book.
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