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With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa
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625 of 640 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
As I found outshortly after I first read With The Old Breed...Gene Sledge and I were in the same replacement draft which joined the 1st Marine Division on Pavuvu, British Russell Islands, but were in different units in the division. We both made the Peleliu and Okinawa landings, and his account of both battles--the savagery and bloodletting is exactly as it was. Coinicidentally, I was a stretcher bearer supporting Company K, 3d Battalion, 5th Marines, Gene's outfit but I didn't know that until long after the war. Gene became a close friend after his book was published and we exchanged experiences. With The Old Breed deserves every commendation it has received over the years, from Marine veterans and others We lost Gene to cancer several years ago, but his memory and memoir will live on and be an inspiration to Marines of this and future generations, as will the exploits of the 1st Marine Division in all of its combat operations. Benis M. Frank, Chief Historian of the Marine Corps, Retired.
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710 of 730 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
Although the cover and the title may not sound that eloquent or poetic, make no mistake, Sledge's elegy stands along perhaps 10 other wartime biographies written this century. He not only recounts war and the charnel houses of these two battles, but does it in a way that is both extremely moving in a prose style that is very reminiscent of the Robert Graves' WWI "Goodbye to all That" or WWII's Farley Mowat's "And No Birds Sang."

Sledge, who is not a professional writer like the above gentleman but writes, in my opinion, equally as well. As such Sledge has written the quintessential experience of the Marine in the Pacific War. it is one of the best, eloquent, haunting, and poetic reads I have every come across, and more than most war memoirs it is very, very scary.

I think that one should be able to read through it quickly. I also liked it cause I ended up clawing through the jungle in the Horseshoe region on Peleliu and seeing nothing but gun positions, caves, and small human shaped holes in the coral landscape with Sake Bottles and used and unused cartridges in the holes.

I took this book to Peleliu in 1998. The Jungle has mostly come back and there are few tourists on the Island, and none off the very few trails. The caves are littered with broken Japanese Army helmets, some rusted badly, others with the green in good condition.

One can see nothing but jungle cleaved coral. After passing the usual "squid pots" (what the Japanese called the small coral caves and holes the dot the island), I was suddenly standing on an old oil drum, now rusted the same colour as the brown moss of the jungle. Then another drum.... rows of drums filled with coral. About at least 50 of them lined to a depth of three of four-deep covering the entrance to a coral cave. The front of the drums were torn and shredded by large calibre fire -- probably .50 calibre I surmise by the size of the holes. Despite its layers of armour I could not help but think that the Marines probably knocked the position out early, though it would have done them little good,as this position was covered by innumerable others.

Sledge describes the caves and squid pots all up to the top of the ridge. Day after day the Marines in Sledges unit went into this horror. Okinawa was Peleliu magnified 10 times -- and they were dehumanised by the entire experience to a degree that those who have never, perhaps today few ever can, experience such a degree of fighting.

It should be noted that the Marines and, later, the Army siezed the ridge after 4 months of fighting. 10,000 Japanese soldiers and about 2000 Americans died on this island 3 Miles Long and 1 mile wide. I came across their bones --- femurs, skull shards, and shredded bodies all over the island. All along I had Sledge's book to keep me dark company.

And so I recommend you the book. In the same way that Robert Graves kept me company in my wet soujourns to Vimy Ridge and Ypres in Belgium, so too did Sledge keep me company in that hot hell in the South Pacific.
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421 of 440 people found the following review helpful
on January 4, 2000
Format: Paperback
This account by E.B. Sledge, a Marine PFC who landed on Peleliu and
Okinawa, details the violence and brutality of these two battles so
realistically that it is a disturbing and haunting book. Peleliu was
supposed to last 3 to 4 days, but went on for 2 months and cost the
Marines 1,262 dead and 5,274 wounded. The statistics from Okinawa
contain a action, and 26,221 neuropsychiatric "non-battle
casualties." At Peleliu, Sledge "had tasted the bitterest
essence of war, the sight of helpless comrades being slaughtered, and
it filled me with disgust." Peleliu was a jagged coral island
which caused cuts and tears on contact with human flesh, and there was
a lot of such contact. "It was almost impossible to dig a
protective foxhole in the rock." Once inland one's senses were
overwhelmed by the sight and smell of corpses filled with maggots,
human excrement on top of coral everywhere, dysentery, rotting
American and Japanese rations, huge flies, knee deep mud, rainstorms,
tropical oven heat, snapping bullets, and exploding shells. More than
once Sledge saw a Marine slide down a ridge into rotting Japanese
corpses to find himself covered with maggots and vomiting from the
smell. Peleliu was an "assault into hell;" the landscape
"hell's own cesspool." After the landing, with Marines
suffering from heat prostration, even the water came from hell --it
came in old oil drums, and the oil residue caused the troops to retch
in the broiling sun. When Sledge sees his comrades cutting gold teeth
from the Japanese--some while they are still alive--he is disgusted
and sickened. But war, Sledge notes, made savages of them all, and
one day Sledge finds himself bending over a Japanese corpse with a
knife to cut out gold teeth. A corpsman tries to dissuade him, first
with one argument and then another, finally succeeding by pointing out
the threat from germs involved. Relentlessly, Sledge and his comrades
move steadily forward, forward into the "meat grinder,"
losing more and more men to injury and death, the grim
"inevitable harvest." The sight of dead Marines who had been
tortured and mutilated by the Japanese hardens Sledge and his comrades
against the enemy. Sledge tells of the terror of walking across an
open field facing Japanese machine gun fire while at the same time
receiving friendly fire from the rear from a Marine tank. But there
was something "Artillery is hell," and of all the terrors,
"the terror and desperation endured under heavy shelling are by
far the most unbearable." Sledge learned to steer clear of any
and all second lieutenants, who invariably did not know what they were
doing and were highly dangerous to the troops. Sledge made two
amphibious landings on Peleliu and one on Okinawa. The rule
recognized among the troops was that if you made more than two
landings you had used up your luck. Even so, Sledge was one of less
than 10 in his company of 235 men to escape alive and
unwounded--thereby beating the "mathematics of death."
("Statistically," Sledge tells us, "the infantry units
had suffered l50 per cent casualties in the two campaigns.")
Dr. Sledge, who is now a college biology professor, writes: "War
is brutish, inglorious and a terrible waste. Combat leaves an
indelible mark on those who are forced to endure it. The only
redeeming factors were my comrades' incredible bravery and their
devotion to each other." From Sledge's viewpoint, Peleliu and
Okinawa were very close battles. His experience showed him that the
success of the Marines was grounded on their discipline, esprit de
corps, tough training, the ability to depend on one's comrades, and
boot camp, which developed an expectation to excel, even under
stress. Of all the books on combat, this ranks in the very highest
tier. Reading it is an experience--a new and terrible experience--of
what Marine infantrymen went through during and after an amphibious
landing in the Pacific in World War II. Without Marines like
Dr. Sledge, who put their arms and legs and lives on the line in these
savage battles, history would have taken a far different course. I,
for one, am profoundly grateful for what he and his comrades did, and
want to thank him for what he endured. We owe him and his comrades
more than we realize.
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94 of 97 people found the following review helpful
on July 30, 2002
Format: Paperback
"With The Old Breed" is a stunning eye witness account of one Marines trip from Boot Camp to the South Pacific during World War II. Sledge writes an autobiographical and historical account of his own experiences as a member of K Company, Third Battalion, Fifth Marines, First Marine Division. Coming late to the war in 1944, Sledge "only" participates in two of the famous 1st Marine battles - Peleliu and Okinawa. Throughout his account he speaks of his training, the closeness of combat and the horrors of war.
After initially enlisting in the Marines in 1942, Sledge enrolled in Marine ROTC but like may others in his class, he felt the call of the war and after a semester he went to boot camp. It was here that he got his first taste of Marine training. By this time the Marines had plenty of combat veterans who had been rotated home to fill the ranks of instructors. The effect of having veterans train the newest can be measured by their initial survival in combat. The instructors prepared Sledge and his peers well with tough, realistic training - training that would keep them alive in the first days in combat. His state side training was followed up with more once he reached the Pacific and a healthy dose of iron discipline. Again, the hard training paid off for Sledge. Later in the war the Marines ran out of time for proper training and integration of new troops. The result was dead Marines, to new to know what to do. Training and discipline were the difference between life and death in the initial days in combat. Sledge received and absorbed his training and went home without a scratch.
Though Sledge does not specifically address it, I was struck by the closeness of the combat he faced. Peleiu was a only 12 square miles - 6 miles long by 2 miles wide. Given that the average artillery piece of the day could range more than 6 miles, Peleiu was a division sized knife fight that lasted 30 days. 30 horrible days of almost non-stop fighting. Even when sent to the "rear" artillery and snipers were a constant danger. Okinawa was more of the same but on a larger scale. 60 miles long and between 2 and 18 miles wide, the Americans put a Field Army up against more than 100,000 entrenched Japanese. The vast majority of the island was covered by indirect fire and snipers were again a constant danger. Multiple Corps fought side by side where the island was barely 3 miles across. That anyone survived let alone prevailed through 80 days of bullets filling the air is amazing.
Unlike many military writers who only saw combat in pictures, Sledge was there. He writes a Marines thoughts in Marine words. And unlike writers who wax poetic about the intense experience of men under fire, Sledge repeatedly calls warfare what it is - a waste. A waste of men and material. A destroyer of lives and land. The only good he finds in his service are the friendships that were born and continue. Okinawa is an "abyss" and he tells of a battlefield so littered with dead that pieces of flesh fly with the shrapnel and mud flung by exploding artillery and mortars. He recalls a friend tricking him into not pulling the gold teeth out of a dead corpse by warning him of germs. Only later does he realize that his friend was trying to save his soul not his health.
When old men sit and decide to send young men to kill and be killed, they should be forced to read Sledge's words. War not only kills but also justifies killing. There are times and places where there is no other way. Times when the greater good can only come from the horror of war. But those times are few and I doubt someone like Sledge could find many after seeing first hand what war does to both those who die and those who survive.
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43 of 45 people found the following review helpful
on November 6, 2001
Format: Paperback
Dr. Sledge wrote that in the slaughtering days of Peleliu there was no sound -- no sound because there was ALL sound, deafening assaults on the ear's physiology. Of the 9000 Marines who landed on the island's shores, 1 out 7 were dead within 24 hours. Ocean water was dyed red to 4 feet out. On shore, and weighted down with 90 pounds of survival gear and weaponry, men ran and fired and fought in 110-degree heat, with no water to drink. And that was only the beginning.
Accounts of organized slaughter abound, from Thucydides' "History of the Peloponnesian Wars" to the Civil War's "Andersonville," from Leon Uris's factual writings shaped as novels to Canada's Farley Mowat in his 40-years-after-the-war eloquent memoir "And No Birds Sang," and to Larry Heinemann's wrenching exposures of Viet Nam. All these writings are unspeakably moving, and when we close the covers, we think we understand ... until we come across a book like that of E.B. Sledge.
The accounts of Dr. Sledge touched me immeasurably of their own accord but also because I once loved a casualty of that South Pacific island's horrors, who, unfortunately, never quite found a way back to normalcy. I was too young and self-involved to comprehend. As he continued his fateful journey into alcoholism, my own soul stiffened and I left that tortured man.
Twenty-six years later I sought out Dr. Sledge, and after some time found a way to reach him. His words, in a letter to me, ought to be shared. Dr. Sledge wrote that his physician father offered advice that put Sledge "on the road to a postwar life of happiness and success." Some of the advice was this: "Don't ever feel bitter or sorry for yourself. You served your time in Hell, but you survived."
Survive he did, and well. Dr. Sledge went on to earn degrees in science and to become "Uncle Eugene" to his friends on the Alabama campus where he taught biochemistry and zoology. "Science was my salvation," he told me. "When combat memories bore down on me I lost myself in a difficult problem [in science]."
Read his noble book. In honoring him, we honor all who have served, and are now serving, the ideals of our country.
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61 of 66 people found the following review helpful
on July 5, 1998
Format: Paperback
When reading about historical events, one must consider the source. Dr. Sledge is an excellent source on the subject of Marines in combat in WWII. Dr. Sledge was really there at Peleliu and Okinawa, and on the front lines. No post-war historian could possibly describe the realities of combat with the accuracy of one who was really there. This book is a treasure not only because of its accuracy, but because it is so rare. Bookstores today are full of first-person accounts of Vietnam War veterans, but similar writings by veterans of WWII are extremely rare. If you want to read a generalized, sanitzed version of combat in the Pacific war, pick up a typical history book. However, if you want a definitive description of young American Marines fighting the ghastly horrors of combat-the worst reality of war-then this book is a must read. In my opinion, books such as this should be mandatory reading for high school students, so that they might have some understanding of how many Americans have fought and died to preserve the freedoms they now enjoy.
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44 of 47 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon January 1, 2001
Format: Paperback
With the Old Breed is the best memoir I have read on the Second World War. After a brief chapter about his introduction into the Marine Corps, Sledge brings us with him into the fetid, humid hell that was the Pacific theater. Sledge, a mortarman with 3/5, 1st Marine Division, graphically details his experiences at Peleliu (a pointless battle) and Okinawa.
His tales are moving and brutal. In one account, his vivid description of digging a fighting hole only to find the rotting corpse of a Japanese soldier 2 feet down literally made my skin crawl. Elsewhere he recounts the bitter personal brutality that was all too common between US Marines and Japanese soldiers. After reading this book, you will understand what Sledge meant when, in the introduction he writes, "it has been a burden to retain this story." We should be thankful that Sledge decided to share his burden with posterity, lest we forget the awful price paid by all who were involved.
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77 of 86 people found the following review helpful
on August 30, 2000
Format: Paperback
Three veterans of the First Marine Division have written accounts of WWII in the Pacific. E.B. Sledge in this book, William Manchester in "Goodbye Darkness," and Robert Leckey in "Strong Men Armed." Sledge's book gives an honest, plain spoken, first hand account of two horrific campaigns. He pulls no punches in describing the brutality and the horror, but he doesn't dwell on it. He merely describes it in a matter of fact fashion.
Leckey's book ("Strong Men Armed") doesn't dwell on personal experiences, but gives the vast panorama of the Navy/Marine Corps island hopping campaign, and helps to put Sledge's personal memoir into the context of the whole war in the Pacific.
Manchester's book ("Goodbye Darkness") reads something like the out-loud ruminations of a mental patient working through unresolved issues on the psychiatrist's couch.
Leckey is a noted military historian who has written a number of very good books on the subject. Manchester is a noted author, and of the three has the most recognizable name. Sledge, however, although not a professional writer, is the First Division alumnus who has written the best book on the Pacific War. (Leckey runs a close second and Manchester a distant third).
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29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
on March 15, 2001
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
Eugene B. Sledge died this week at the age of 78 from cancer. With the Old Breed is perhaps the finest personal account of combat ever written. It should be required reading in every high school in this country. Dr. Sledge wrote this book for his children: it has transcended that, and become a book for all our children.
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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on June 30, 2006
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
Sledge's writing is without guile or artistic embellishment. He tells his view of the battles simply and clearly and he reveals all the horror, brutality and waste of war. For those unfamiliar with how vicious the fighting was in the Pacific, this is a great primer. Many know of the bloody fight for Okinawa and there is much personal detail here on that battle. Few know of Peleliu because it turned out to be of little strategic value. Even so, one month of fighting cost the Marines & Army nearly 10,000 casualties. The battle was important to the Marines in that they learned to adapt to the new, more lethal tactics the Japanese tried there.

If you are looking for a novel or a historical text, this is not the book for you. If you want to become more intimately familiar with the nature of the fighting in the Pacific, you will not find a better book.
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