With the Old Breed by Eugene Sledge
With the Old Breed presents a stirring, personal account of the vitality and bravery of the Marines in the battles at Peleliu and Okinawa. Born in Mobile, Alabama in 1923 and raised on riding, hunting, fishing, and a respect for history and legendary heroes such as George Washington and Daniel Boone, Eugene Bondurant Sledge (later called "Sledgehammer" by his Marine Corps buddies) joined the Marines the year after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and from 1943 to 1946 endured the events recorded in this book. In those years, he passed, often painfully, from innocence to experience.
Sledge enlisted out of patriotism, idealism, and youthful courage, but once he landed on the beach at Peleliu, it was purely a struggle for survival. Based on the notes he kept on slips of paper tucked secretly away in his New Testament, he simply and directly recalls those long months, mincing no words and sparing no pain. The reality of battle meant unbearable heat, deafening gunfire, unimaginable brutality and cruelty, the stench of death, and, above all, constant fear. Sledge still has nightmares about "the bloody, muddy month of May on Okinawa." But, as he also tellingly reveals, the bonds of friendship formed then will never be severed.
Sledge's honesty and compassion for the other marines, even complete strangers, sets him apart as a memoirist of war. Read as sobering history or as high adventure, With the Old Breed is a moving chronicle of action and courage.
In his renowned memoir With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa, Eugene B. Sledge does more than chronicle his experiences as a Marine infantryman in the Pacific Theater of World War II; he provides an insight into human nature, and what separates good men from bad. The detailed accounts of the fighting and strategy used on both islands make the work invaluable to history, but it is the meticulous human interest vignettes he includes that take hold in the mind of the reader and refuse to let go. These provide great insight into the type of man Sledge was, even at such a young age, as well as his ideas about character and integrity. As the two battles in which he participates rage around him, miraculously leaving him untouched, he sheds his innocence and gains new understanding about human nature all while his principals and worldview remain solidly in place. Sledge, and the reader along with him, learns the definition of character from both his comrades in arms and the enemy soldiers they struggle to defeat.
What strikes me the most about Dr. Sledge's account of fighting in the Pacific during WWII is his ability to hold fast to his tender heart. Unthinkable living conditions, demoralizing green officers, unspeakable violence and brutality. Here is a man who recites the Lord's Prayer and the Psalms under heavy fire, a man who after witnessing his brothers' bodies posthumously mutilated cringes when the enemies' bodies are also defiled. Here is a man who loathes the enemy soldier but gives his candy rations to Japanese children. Here is a man who feeds his sugar rations to a found horse and weeps when he has to leave it behind. He was so incredibly sweet. I am glad the war did not steal that from him. And I wish I'd been able to meet him before he passed away. How cool that this guy taught at my alma mater and current workplace.