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Soldier Dead: How We Recover, Identify, Bury, and Honor Our Military Fallen Hardcover – May 21, 2005


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This is not a book for the faint of heart; Sledge's subject, from which he does not stray far throughout this dense work, is battlefield death and what becomes of soldiers' corpses. He presents a deeply researched, detailed history that features many photos, most of them depicting either freshly dead or decayed bodies of American military men arrayed on battlefields, mainly from the Civil War, the Korean War and WWII. That includes shots of the remains of GIs disinterred from cemeteries in Germany, unburied remains on a WWI battlefield in France, and African-Americans collecting the bones of dead soldiers on the Chancellorsville battlefield in Virginia. These photos, to say the least, do not make pleasant viewing. In his narrative, Sledge carefully and conscientiously examines such thorny questions as why soldiers put their lives at risk to recover the bodies of their fallen comrades and why the American military continues to expend enormous funds and personnel hours searching for the remains of Americans killed in the Vietnam and Korean wars. Oddly for a serious-minded book of this sort, Sledge injects himself, and his quest to find the answers to these questions, into the narrative in a very personal introduction and extended "Author's Notes" at the end of each chapter. The author recounts a "nighttime vision" he had of a dead soldier that led him to write the book and a dream he had three months later in which a room full of junior high school students in uniforms stood mutely before a large black door. 8-city author tour. (May)
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Review

"This superbly researched, beautifully written book should be read by every person in Washington with authority or responsibilities associated with American military forces and their families. This is a history that begged to be written out of loyalty to and respect for the American military men and women killed during their service in war or peace. No area of interest is left unexplored. This is an extraordinary book, written with compelling empathy, candor, and compassionate sensitivity." -- Harold G. Moore, Lt. General, U.S. Army, Ret., coauthor of We Were Soldiers Once and... Young: Ia Drang-The Battle That Changed the War in Vietnam



" Soldier Dead is a timely and detailed investigation into the moral conscience of American society which will be of interest to anyone concerned with the human costs of war. An important and passionate book which deserves a wide readership." -- Chris Shilling, University of Portsmouth, UK, author of The Body in Culture, Technology and Society





"He presents a deeply researched, detailed history." -- Publishers Weekly



"It is well-researched and respectful in its exhaustive examination of the history of the treatment of U.S. and enemy war dead." -- Clay Evans, Boulder Daily Camera



"The dense and often disturbing book shows the impact of soldiers' deaths on military staff." -- Samantha Sordyl, Washington Post



"Sledge has meticulously explored how our government treats the remains of fallen soldiers." -- Kathryn Eastburn, Colorado Spring Independent



"Sledge...has penned a meticulously researched and detailed book that takes a hard--but pensive--look at the traditions and practice of how the U.S. military treats its dead." -- John Andrew Prime, The Times (Shreveport)



" Soldier Dead is not an easy or pleasant book, but it is an important and compelling one." -- Jules Wagman, St. Louis Post-Dispatch



"Michael Sledge...homes in on the U.S. military's treatment of its fallen in his groundbreaking Soldier Dead." -- John Prados, Washington Post Book Review



"This splendid book... fills the gap in the literature of war, and does so in an informative and sensitive way." -- Lawrence D. Freedman, Foreign Affairs



"Michael Sledge... has written a daring new book about a topic Americans turn their literal and figurative heads from." -- Dan Smith, Blue Ridge Business Journal



"An engaging but sobering account... a fine work that... should be widely read by military historians." -- Timothy K. Nenninger, Journal of Military History



" Soldier Dead is a valuable addition to the body of literature on American military history." -- Matther J. Seelinger, On Point: Journal of Army History



"Edifying and powerful... This timely, yet enduring book deserves a place in the annals of American history." -- Amy O'Loughlin, Mothertown Monthly



"Sledge reminds us that the cost of war in lives must be continually evaluated." -- James E. McCarroll, Armed Forces & Society

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 376 pages
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press; 1St Edition edition (May 21, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0231135149
  • ISBN-13: 978-0231135146
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.1 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,057,388 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I've always read...and I imagine you have, too. While Soldier Dead is my foray into the nonfiction world (thank you, Columbia University Press for your support), fiction is my long standing and ever constant love.

Fiction that interests me, and which I try to write, is neither totally plot nor character based. Rather, I imagine and try to bring to life interesting characters whose actions in an unusual setting provide a reader the opportunity to sidestep day-to-day affairs and to embark upon a journey of the mind and spirit.

Hopefully, at the end, a reader will leave the story feeling as though he or she has lived in the pages.

Mike Sledge

Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
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See all 15 customer reviews
Overall it was very interesting.
John M. Lummis
To my knowledge this book is a primer for anyone wishing to know more about the subject.
Lynn H. Hahn
It is a book filled with pathos intermixed with cold facts.
John Matlock

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By John Matlock on April 18, 2005
Format: Hardcover
One thing with which the military has had a lot of experience is handling the dead. Over time the procedures have changed, the reverence and dignity shown to the dead and to their survivors has increased. The amount of effort expended to find and identify any remains has grown significantly down through the years to include the latest scientific techniques. We have come a long way since the soldiers at Cold Harbor wrote their names on pieces of paper and attached them to their backs for later identification purposes.

This book is the story of how the American military treats their dead. It is a book filled with pathos intermixed with cold facts. Some of the stories told reflect the horror of the situations, some tell of times when the procedures failed and the survivors were not treated as well as they could have been. After all, the military is filled with people just like the rest of us, some less capable than others.

To go with this book there are a couple of other recommendations: First the book: 'Shane Comes Home',the true story of the return of a body from Iraq. Second the movie 'Saving Private Ryan' which is based on a true story of one GI returned from combat after all of his brothers were killed, and showes the effort that the military can expend.

I really don't know how to rate this book. It is supurb in what it does, but what it does not not very plesant.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By L. Ulibarri on August 20, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Although death in war is usually a grisly subject, the author has handled it with a compassion and reverence that helps us put a human face on the ultimate act of sacrifice of our military. He does not dwell on the macabre, instead giving a very poignant account of the social aspects of death. "Soldier Dead" gives insight in to our culture and values in dealing with "casualties", and how media treatment of this subject has changed over the years--one example being turning a human "Soldier Dead" into a euphemistic "casualty". The author compassionately maintains focus on the fact that a Soldier Dead is a person, not a faceless "troop", as well as examining the social aspects of soldiers giving their lives for a cause, and how it affects their comrades and families. I recommend this to those interested in the human costs of war, as well as those seeking insight in to how our society deals with death in general. Certainly any leader who puts our soldiers in harm's way should read this book. Although war can sometimes be a necessary evil, our society should never be allowed to ignore the the human cost.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Lynn H. Hahn on June 11, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Having served in Graves Registration during the Korean War I have an appreciation for the content in Mr. Sledge's book. He has accomplished some serious research on the subject of how we recover, identify, bury and honor our military fallen. For me the book provides a true picture of this country's efforts to do its best for our military dead. It is backed up with detailed references, index and notes. To my knowledge this book is a primer for anyone wishing to know more about the subject.

Lynn H. Hahn

Served with the 148th Graves Registation Company in Korea, 1952-53
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Brian Buege on May 19, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I would just like to say that I was honored to have my family featured in this book. My father SMSGT Paul Buege was killed in the Gulf War, and my family went through many struggles and fights with the military to honor my father in the way we wished. This book is excellent in helping the general public realize ways in which the military handles fallen heros returning home, in good and not so good ways.

Brian Buege
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By A. Courie on June 18, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Michael Sledge's "Soldier Dead: How We Recover, Identify, Bury, and Honor Our Military Fallen" is an interesting and incisive account of America's treatment of our war dead.

Sledge's discusses how we recover dead both during combat, after combat, and after the war. He discusses policies and difficulties of identifying war dead, our changing policies on returning the remains to families, and burial practices. Although Sledge does cover some the treatment of dead during the Civil War and Spanish-American War, most of his focus is on the 20th century wars.

Sledge is not a historian, nor does he have a military background; instead, he has extensively studied sociology and psychology. However, his perspective works because he brings in outside analyses to help explain why we treat our military dead this way, why it is difficult for families whose loved ones are still missing, and the ways people react to their losses.

The book is well-researched, although it is apparent that sometimes the available material on the subject is slim. Because the book is organized thematically and not chronologically, he has to re-cover the same ground repeatedly, and this detracts from the work. Still, although this book can be difficult to read at times, it tells the important and compelling story of how America uses our vast resources to try to recover and honor our war dead.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Dr. B. Dexter on January 22, 2006
Format: Hardcover
As a military psychologist, I will recommend this book to all of my colleagues. This book has much more than just how we handle the dead. It is rich with details about military culture, what goes on in combat, and how people respond to the stressors of combat. But the author does a wonderful job of not pathologizing behavior that someone without military experience might not understand.
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