Eugene Sledge, a US Marine, wrote a memoir of World War II called With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa, which was first released in 1981. The book details Sledge’s experiences as a Marine in the Pacific theatre during one of the United States bloodiest wars. Sledge’s narrative provides a personal glimpse into the gruesome reality of war and accompanies the reader through battle, death, injury, loss, and love.
Eugene B. Sledge was born in Mobile, Alabama, on November 4, 1923. He served in the Pacific Theater as a US Marine in World War II. Eugene graduated from the University of Alabama with a degree in biology. He became a professor and an author. He died on march 3, 2001, after suffering a stroke at the age of 78. Sledge joined the Marine Corps on December 23, 1942, in Marrion, Alabama, because he wanted to receive physical training to fight for his country during the second world war. After the second world war, Eugene B. Sledge returned to Auburn University to continue his education, which was interrupted by the war. He obtained a master’s at the University of Montevallo in Biology faculty and later became a professor at the university.
As a U.S. Marine in San Diego, Eugene thought his men were preparing to invade Japan. He believed they had no plans for what to do after the first attack. When he arrived at Pavuvu, Sledge learned that his unit (Strong once again) would be assigned to Peleliu, one of the most important islands near Alor Island in the Pacific theatre, for the invasion of Japan. The island was about nine hundred miles from Okinawa, the largest island outside Japan.
The day before they left, Japan bombed the island, and no one knew what would happen to them. The bombardment on Peleliu lasted for two weeks. Sledge recalls some scenes from the invasion of Peleliu: “The next morning, we walked five miles over Shell Beach, where Peleliu lies below us, and we didn’t know until the last moment that there were Americans there” (Sledge, p.93). A week after arriving in Peleliu at the beginning of November 1944, he was on the beach at dawn searching his unit for wounded men when he found Private First-Class Paul Knight Jr., who had a visible leg wound.
A series of events and changes in these events in his life were the main reason why Eugene changed dramatically. His time in boot camp and then on Pavuvu island was when he became affected by the harsh reality of war. He writes about a time when he was sleeping at night, and he heard some machine gun fire near his tent. He attended three sets of explosions at regular intervals, got up, and looked out to see what was happening. He saw men digging foxholes everywhere, but they had no weapons to defend themselves if attacked. He also says, “The Japanese soldiers were very insidious fighters; contrary to our beliefs that they would attack us with reckless abandon” (p.56).
From the first day he arrived at Peleliu, Sledge began a long physical struggle with the enemy. This story is about his personal experiences and thoughts during the invasion. Sledge recalls some scenes from the invasion of Peleliu: “The next morning we walked five miles over Shell Beach, where Peleliu lies below us, and we didn’t know until the last moment that there were Americans there” (Sledge, p.93). In his memoir, Sledge describes how he was frightened when his boat landed on Peleliu island. He was stuck underwater at one point. He saw some dead Japanese soldiers, and they were holding rifles that they had killed themselves with.
He describes how he got into a tank after it stopped rolling on the beach: “We rolled into the front lines three-quarters full of water, tanks straddling and collapsing into each other like so many dominoes. I turned around in my vehicle and saw a machine gunner being pulled by two soldiers who had been trying to get him out of his turret.” As Sledge puts it, “By my third day on Peleliu I was swimming from one end of the island to the other” (p.102).
Sledge lost his best friend, Sid” Phillips Jr, in the battle of Peleliu. He says the two were inseparable, and he had to carry Jerry’s body back on a stretcher. Eugene B. Sledge is convinced that he will never forget anything from his countless days under siege on Peleliu Island in the Pacific during World War II. Memories of combat and comradeship are fresh and heart-wrenching as they were 50 years ago when they happened. His most vivid recollections are of friends being killed or wounded – one by one – as relentless artillery fire and mortars reduced their encampment to a blasted wasteland following the U.S.
When Sledge learned that the war was over, he was not surprised as he believed it would end soon after the second attack on Japan. He was glad that it was over and that he could return to Alabama and finish his education. Sledge decided to finish his education at Auburn University. Sledge returned to Auburn University, where he received his master’s degree in biology in 1948.
One of the events during his time as a combat Marine that helped Eugene to change is when he and Sid are stuck in a tank together on the frontline in Peleliu. Sid reminded him that they must stay alive until the battle was over, so they would not be like those who died on their first day at Peleliu. Another event was when Eugene was swimming from one end of the island to the other and saw the dead bodies of dead Japanese soldiers who had killed themselves with their weapons. He says, “these men were brave because they knew that if captured there was no mercy for them” (p.95).
I think he can describe his experiences and keep them alive for people like me, who are reading his memoirs, to read. This is something that I could never do because I could never write about the things that happened to me or my friends.
Eugene B. Sledge has taken nothing of himself out of this story, and I think that he speaks from the heart when he writes about what happened to him as a combat Marine on Peleliu Island during World War II. I am surprised by how Eugene B. Sledge has written this book because I have never read a memoir like his before. I have never read a memoir by a combat soldier who was also educated and could speak clearly about his experiences as he did. Eugene B. Sledge is a fantastic person to read his story because it is so personal and so full of stories that you cannot avoid being affected by them.
I have never read a book by a combat soldier that was so personal, making me feel like I was there with them. I recommend this to all readers with spare time because this book is truly remarkable. This story of Eugene B. Sledge is one that you will never forget, especially if you read it while sitting in your bed on the edge of your bed, where you can hear the fire burning in the woodstove or at home with your family around you.
I would recommend this book to any reader interested in reading a memoir. I think everyone should read this book because it will make you appreciate what you have and your life. This book is truly a “must read” because it will teach you many things about the war and the lives of those soldiers who fought in World War II.
Eugene B. Sledge was a brave soldier and a good leader who shared his experiences with the public in his memoir With the Old Breed. If you ever have time, I think you should read this book to learn what it was like to be a Marine in the Pacific theatre during World War II.”
Sledge, E. (n.d.). Ending the Pacific War: The new history – lower dauphin school district. Retrieved October 31, 2022, from https://www.ldsd.org/cms/lib/PA09000083/Centricity/Domain/93/Frank_Ending%20the%20Pacific%20War.pdf
Sledge, E. B. (2007). With the old breed: at Peleliu and Okinawa. Random House Digital, Inc…
Trehub, A. (2020). Eugene B. Sledge and Mobile: 75 Years After” The War.”