Sledge’s memoir gives a firsthand and unapologetically honest perspective on the Pacific Theater of World War II. His memoir is a front-line account of infantry combat in the Pacific War. It brings the reader into the island hopping, the jungle heat and rain, the filth and malaise, the fear of potential “banzai attacks,” and the hopelessness and loss of humanity that so uniquely characterized the campaign in the Pacific. Sledge wrote starkly of the brutality displayed by Japanese soldiers during the battles and of the hatred that both sides harbored for each other. In Sledge’s words, “This was a brutish, primitive hatred, as characteristic of the horror of war in the Pacific as the palm trees and the islands.”
Sledge describes one instance in which he and a comrade came across the mutilated bodies of three Marines, butchered and with severed genitals stuffed into their mouths. He also describes the behavior of some Marines towards dead Japanese, including the removal of gold teeth from Japanese corpses, as well as other macabre trophy-taking. He details the process and mechanisms that slowly strip away a soldier’s humanity and compassion, making the thought process accessible to those who have never served in combat.
Sledge describes in detail the sheer physical struggle of living in a combat zone and the debilitating effects of constant fear, fatigue, and filth. “Fear and filth went hand-in-hand,” he wrote. “It has always puzzled me that this important factor in our daily lives has received so little attention from historians and is often omitted from otherwise excellent personal memoirs by infantrymen.” Marines had trouble staying dry, finding time to eat their rations, practicing basic field sanitation (it was impossible to dig latrines in the coral rock on Peleliu), and simply moving around on the pulverized coral of Peleliu and in the mud of Okinawa.
One of the themes of “With the Old Breed,” regardless of which battle Sledge is recounting, is the near impossibility of communicating the experience of combat to those who have not experienced it.
It’s time to move this book to a higher shelf, to that of nonfiction that is outstanding literature.
Readers’ Reviews of With The Old Breed
“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 was it 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.”
“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.”
This is the best first-person book on the Pacific war in World War Two that I have ever read. To be fair, I have many more books on the ETO, but ‘With The Old Breed’ stands out as a moving account of the miseries of the common soldier who fought eyeball to eyeball with his Japanese counterparts in the steamy jungles.
Eugene Sledge is an example of American manhood that I fear is lost. A young man from a good family who was anxious to defend his country, he and his fellow Marines willingly suffered for their country in a way I doubt many young people today would. I hope I’m wrong.
I’ve found the most moving stories of WWII don’t come from historians, but from the common fighting man. This is one of the best.
No doubt, the greatest book I have ever read. Leaving no emotion untouched, Sledge strips away any notion of glory in battle. I understand war is brutal and senseless, but I now have a new outlook that reinforces that opinion. Should be read by students and anyone who wants to join the military. Praise those who were forced to endure battle. No one can fully grasp the experience, without being there. I do know that I would be very reluctant to.
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.