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Eugene Sledge's book of his personal experiences as an enlisted man in the US Marine Corps during WW2 is one of the most honest, visceral accounts of close-up infantry combat ever written. Sledge’s style is not that of a practiced professional writer but is simple, straightforward and direct, and this endows the book with its unusual power.

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.
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on 23 October 2017
After seeing the series about the WWII Pacific War, and the horrors that those involved must have witnessed, it was interesting to read a book about one of the actual Americans who was involved in some of the most fiercest battles, where the normal rules of war were seldom observed by both sides, seeing as the Japanese had not signed the Geneva Convention that laid down the rules and regulations that should end most of the savagery previous wars had seen.
This book, if read in the context of how the WWII war in the Pacific was actually fought, gives a good insight into the savagery facing those who were involved, and as to why the Geneva Convention was often ignored by those who wished to live.
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on 9 February 2018
Having watched HBO The Pacific I felt compelled to read the source material.

This is the story of one man's survival from some of the most brutal and dehumanising fighting in modern history.

You begin to get a real feeling for the horror that men can inflict on one another.

How this man survived uninjured is astonishing.

This story is told warts and all and is not pleasant reading but if you want an honest opinion of the fighting against the Japanese in the Pacific then read this book.
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on 26 April 2012
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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TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 3 February 2013
I wouldnt be at all surprised if many who come to read this now, like me, got here via HBO's incredibly powerful and moving Pacific mini-series.

Eugene 'Sledgehammer' Sledge served with K platoon of the 3rd battalion, 5th regt in the USMC, K/3/5 for short. As a pfc (private first class) he was, as he says himself, 'cannon fodder', and as a member of a 60mm mortar team he saw action as rifleman, gunner, stretcher bearer and runner/carrier. Serving in two extremely ferocious and bloody campaigns, the lesser-known Pelelieu and the more famous Okinawa, Sledge sees a lot of action on the front line, and relates what he saw and lived through in a humble and matter of fact manner.

The Pacific TV series gets over the visceral impact and constant nervous stress incredibly well, something that books about the same kinds of events rarely manage. This does as good a job as any, but still falls short of the shock and adrenaline the TV production can arouse. I guess the differences just reflect different strengths or propensities of the differing media. Nevertheless, this is still harrowing stuff.

Sledge went on to become a biology professor, passing on a love of nature that very occasionally makes itself felt in small observations of his environment, even amidst the hell of war. And Sledge, to his enormous credit, is unequivocal in his condemnation of the brutality and inhumanity of war, as when he says, on p. 261, that 'to me the war was insanity.' Shortly after this he reflects on the contrast between war and peacetime civilian life poignantly (p. 268): 'We just wished that people back home could understand how lucky they were and stop complaining about trivial inconveniences.' A recurrent theme.

Further reinforcing the anti-war element of his writing are such passages as the following (p. 311), where, having narrated a grim episode concerning the dispatch of two Japanese officers, Sledge says 'Replete with violence, shock, blood, gore, and suffering, this was the type of incident that should be witnessed by anyone who has any delusions about the glory of war. It was as savage and brutal as though the enemy and we were primitive barbarians rather than civilised men.'

In his 'End Of The Agony' summation Sledge remarks that 'War is brutish, inglorious, and a terrible waste. Combat leaves an indelible mark on those who are forced to endure it.' He does go on to say that bravery, loyalty and esprit de corps were also factors, and that until 'countries cease trying to enslave others' war will be necessary. But overall one senses that he hopes for a day when we might stop the senseless brutal waste.

I really enjoyed reading both Leckie's and Sledge's accounts of this mind-numbingly ferocious and wasteful conflict, but the more overtly anti-war note, and the quiet dignity, if you will, of Sledge's account give it the edge for this reader.

PS - As I noted in my review of Robert Leckie's Helmet for my Pillow, I find it somewhat odd that swearing is taboo: s*** becomes 'stuff' ('when the stuff hits the fan'), and SNAFU is rendered as 'situation normal all fouled up'! Considering the horror and squalor so vividly described, this nicety seems a little jarring (bordering on the hypocritical, perhaps?).
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on 6 April 2011
There are many other great reviews of this excellent book already in place, but having finished it, I felt moved to write my own. I can only imagine how horrific it must be to serve on the frontline in any war. Some books convey that horror better than others. Guy Sajer's iconic account of WW2 German army life on the Russian front, The Forgotten Soldier, is without doubt one of the best. But this book can stand proudly, four square alongside it.

The author, Eugene Sledge, kept illicit notes of his experiences on the islands of Pelelieu and Okinawa, and later used them to write this book. Written in an unassuming but compelling way, it lays out in horrifying detail the depravities of modern war, and the depths to which man can stoop when surrounded by utter carnage. Those with weak stomachs, stay away. I still have some of the images that I read about engraved in my mind's eye. Yet the book is not just about violence. It's also about the comradeship and love that the soldiers felt for each other, and the humour they used to help them survive.

It's an incredible read. I heard about the book because of the HBO miniseries The Pacific. I'm currently reading another book, written by a contemporary of Sledge's, Robert Leckie. Helmet for my Pillow is another absorbing read, although it's written in an entirely different style. Like other reviewers, I've also wondered why there aren't more accounts of WW2 by British soldiers. I've read the brilliant The Railway Man by Eric Lomax, but not seen much else. Thanks to Amazon's lists, I've recently come across First Light, an account of the Battle of Britain, by a former fighter pilot. I aim to read it soon, and hope and expect that it will live up to the American books.

Ben Kane, author of The Forgotten Legion.
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on 28 December 2011
This book was one of the main inspirations behind the HBO series THE PACIFIC. It is a brutal story encompassing the total horror of the war in the Pacific as seen through the eyes of twenty year old US Marine Eugene Sledge. From the beach landings at Peleliu in 1944 to Okinawa in 1945, E.B. Sledge can only try desperately to survive the inhuman terrors of these Pacific battlefields. Sledge is involved in two of the fiercest and filthiest Pacific battles of WWII and witnesses the inhuman brutality displayed by both sides and the vicious hatred man can have for another man. As well as the horror of battle the conditions portrayed by Sledge is one of filth, rotting corpses, mud, constant fear, fatigue, illnesses, combat stress and all the despicable conditions one would have encountered in the trenches in WW1. Yet through all his near death experiences, the horror and the terrible conditions, Sledge manages to keep notes of his own journey through the Pacific war zone. The resulting book is a cornerstone of war literature involving a marine's story of his war against the Japanese. It is told with compassion and honesty but with terrible brutality, a book that made E.B.Sledge a legend. A great but terrible war story that is incredibly well written and holds your attention to the last page. Simply brilliant!!!
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on 12 March 2016
I think the fact I read this 340 pages memoir in two days speaks for itself.
And it wasn't a hasty reading at all, I savoured each page, commented on favorite passages together with a friend, and have most of those bookmarked for rereading.
It's a haunting story, it's terrible, brutally honest and yet you come to love it, and at times you also smile at the few moment it describes what little good could be found in the hell that was the Pacific war -like funny anecdotes in brief moments of respite, or descriptions of love and camaraderie. A story overlooked by most history textbooks finds justice in the tale told by Eugene Sledge.
I'm so happy I picked this up. It gave me reflections and awareness on how we should not take little things for granted, and respect people and life in general more.
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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 16 March 2011
Over the years I have read many books on warfare, but this book is significantly different in that it was written by a Private soldier, and not an officer, the author is not glorifying his own achievements nor does he seek to judge friend or foe. This is in many ways a brutal book, stripping away any illusions of the glory of war, instead giving the reader a sense of the horror of the experience by the description of sight, sound and smell. Unusually, Sledge is extremely frank in his descriptions of his fellow Marines and of their behaviour, which to some of us will appear barbaric. He admits openly to a hatred of the Japanese and how that hatred impacted on his and others behaviour, but he does not judge, merely explain what he saw. What also comes out strongly is the esprit e corp of the Marines, and how that helped them achieve a victory, all be it at a terrible price to both sides.
It is also a fabulous study of leadership, but seen from the bottom up, rather than the top down. Sledge praises great leadership, but is also tactfully critical of those charged with the responsibility of leadership, but who manifestly failed in their duty. All managers should read, digest, learn and reflect.
This book should be compulsory reading for all students, but more importantly, for all politicians who still are ready to sacrifice the life of other to achieve their own aims. This book could just help them realise just what they are asking others to do on their behalf.
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