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With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa Mass Market Paperback – 1 Sep 2007
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Eugene Sledge became more than a legend with his memoir, With The Old Breed. He became a chronicler, a historian, a storyteller who turns the extremes of the war in the Pacific the terror, the camaraderie, the banal and the extraordinary into terms we mortals can grasp. Tom Hanks
In all the literature on the Second World War, there is not a more honest, realistic or moving memoir than Eugene Sledge s. This is the real deal, the real war: unvarnished, brutal, without a shred of sentimentality or false patriotism, a profound primer on what it actually was like to be in that war. It is a classic that will outlive all the armchair generals safe accounts of not the good war but the worst war ever. Ken Burns
From the Trade Paperback edition."
"Eugene Sledge became more than a legend with his memoir, With The Old Breed. He became a chronicler, a historian, a storyteller who turns the extremes of the war in the Pacific--the terror, the camaraderie, the banal and the extraordinary--into terms we mortals can grasp."--Tom Hanks
About the Author
E. B. "Sledgehammer" Sledge was born and grew up in Mobile. In late 1943 he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps. After basic training, he was sent to the Pacific Theater where he fought at Peleliu and Okinawa, two of the fiercest battles of World War II. Following the Japanese surrender, Sledge served in China as part of the occupation force. Upon his return home, he obtained a Ph.D. in biology and joined the faculty of Alabama College (later the University of Montevallo), where he taught until retirement. Sledge initially wrote about his war experiences to explain them to his family, but he was persuaded by his wife to seek publication. Sledge died on March 3, 2001.From the Trade Paperback edition.
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Sledge recounts his struggle to get accepted into the Marine Corps, as he felt a patriotic duty to fight for his country against the Japanese. Offered an officer’s commission, Sledge turned it down (twice) to be an enlisted man on the front line. The tough but thorough training in boot camp and then in southern California prior to being shipped overseas sets the scene. Then he recounts his part in two long campaigns to take the islands of Peleliu and Okinawa, the first in boiling tropical heat in late 1944 and the second in a sea of rain-drenched mud during May and June 1945.
The fanatical Japanese resistance and the high toll the entrenched Japanese army exacted on the Marines relentlessly ground down the morale of Sledge and his dwindling number of buddies. Two aspects in particular stand out in memory: the terror of being helpless in an artillery barrage, and the continuous horror of being surrounded by the decaying corpses of Japanese soldiers which couldn’t be moved due to the danger of snipers, so they had to remain there while the Marines ate, slept and fought next to them. Sledge pulls no punches for the reader, yet retains his humanity throughout as he continues to perform his duties and obey orders.
The narrative is spiced with acid comments about poor junior officers (as well as highly respected ones such as Ack Ack Haldane, killed on Peleliu) and contempt for “rear echelon types” who rarely get near the fighting but pester the front-line marines for Japanese weapons as trophies to take home, during the marines’ brief periods of rest in the rear areas.
Sledge was one of a minority in his regiment who somehow, miraculously, survived these campaigns, and one of an even smaller minority who suffered no battlefield injuries despite being in constant danger. He kept his religious faith throughout - though does not dwell on this in the book - and used his New Testament to record his battlefield experiences and inner thoughts in the margins (combat troops were not supposed to keep diaries in case they were captured by the enemy and inadvertently revealed information useful to them). Remarkably, he didn’t write his book until 1980, 35 years after the events. We should be thankful he did, as it’s one of the true classics of the 20th century.
‘The Old Breed’ BTW are those full-time professional Marines in the Corps prior to the influx of thousands of young volunteers and conscripts following the outbreak of WW2.
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.
Reading these 3 books will give you an incredible insight into what the USMC, infantry, privates and young men went through during WW2 capturing the Japanese controlled Islands of Guadalcanal, Okinawa, Iwo Jima and Peleliu to name a few.
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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