With the old breed, at Peleliu and Okinawa

by E. B. Sledge

Paper Book, 1990

Status

Available

Publication

New York : Oxford University Press, 1990.

Description

A former member of the First Marine Division gives a front line description of two World War II Pacific campaigns.

User reviews

LibraryThing member fourbears
This is a great memoir if you want to understand what it was like to fight in the Pacific in WWII. It affected me very much as my reading of Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead did when I first read that. I could feel the pain—the dirt or worse yet on Peleliu the coral one couldn’t dig into—the bad food and dirty water, dirty and wet clothes, the fear. It’s painful to read, though, and if you won’t want to know the gory details faced by young men barely out of school and inexperienced with the world, then you don’t want to read this book.I hate war, but I feel compelled to know what it’s like so I don’t take for granted what we asked young people to experience in war. Eugene Sledge (who became Sledgehammer to his buddies) had had one year of college when he joined up—as did most of his generation (few in fact staying to finish college which is one reason why we needed the GI Bill). He joined the Marines (the “old breed” of the title).This book is different from other memoirs because of the detail. It’s not brilliantly written or “literary”. That’s its genius says Paul Fussell who reviewed it for a 1990 edition (Fussell has written about both WWI and WWII and was a soldier in the Pacific himself). Sledge explains how comradeship worked with soldiers to form lifelong bonds. He talks about officers they admired and those they hated and feared. He details the hardships and how hatred of the Japanese developed and hardened even the most sensitive among them. He explains how everything worked or happened, from the human waste in foxholes they couldn’t leave, to stripping a Japanese corpse for souvenirs, to descriptions of wounds and dead Americans lying covered up on the battlefield until they could be retrieved, to water that was dirty because those in the rear had put it in insufficiently cleaned oil drums, to how the mortar he used worked and the problems placing it in the muddy ground of Okinawa. He explains how ammunition was delivered (or not in some cases) which the movies never show. He explains how everyone was afraid and how some handled it differently from others. He explains how Japanese soldiers who spoke English tried to move in on their foxholes at night and how occasionally a buddy was mistakenly shot for an enemy.Sledge never romanticizes war. The only good was the friendship and interdependency men developed, but he doesn’t romanticize that either.… (more)
LibraryThing member Miro
An honest and very well written memoir from an enlisted marine who fought on the first lines in the WWII Pacific island battles of Peleliu and Okinawa.
John Master's memoir, "The Road Past Mandalay" covers the Burma war against the Japanese from the British side (and is a great book), but Sledge's "With The Old Breed" is better, since he was at much greater personal risk and describes the psychological effects of this long exposure.… (more)
LibraryThing member PencilStubs
Intense. Heartbreaking. Horrifying. Mind-boggling.

This book was quite a read.

Sledge’s descriptions of his experiences on Peleliu and Okinawa are incredibly honest and straightforward—there’s no sugarcoating or glorifying war. He puts emphasis on how miserable, ghastly and appalling the fighting and living conditions were, and how wasteful and tragic the immense loss of young lives was. His book is a striking demonstration of how “war is hell.”

Despite all the atrocious things he wrote about, he did have some warm, humorous and inspiring stories to share that were a good reminder that he and the other marines were all just young guys, and many of them were quite admirable and heroic.

I'm glad he was willing to share his (and the other marines') story so that what happened, what they accomplished and what they sacrificed will never be forgotten.
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LibraryThing member read.to.live
The strength of this memoir rests on three pillars. One, Eugene Sledge's memory for detail is so vivid that I wonder if he had that rare condition known as autobiographical memory. Two, he had a masterful ability to put his detailed memories into words. Three, he experienced actual hell and lived to tell about it.

The mud was knee deep in some places, probably deeper in others if one dared venture there. For several feet around every corpse, maggots crawled around in the muck and then were washed away by the runoff of the rain. There wasn't a tree or bush left. All was open country. Shells had torn up the turf so completely that ground cover was nonexistent. The rain poured down on us as evening approached. The scene was nothing but mud; shell fire; flooded craters with their silent, pathetic, rotting occupants; knocked-out tanks and amtracs; and discarded equipment--utter desolation. The stench of death was overpowering. The only way I could bear the monstrous horror of it all was to look upward away from the earthly reality surrounding us, watch the leaden gray clouds go scudding over, and repeat over and over to myself that the situation was unreal--just a nightmare--that I would soon awake and find myself somewhere else. But the ever-present smell of death saturated my nostrils. It was there with every breath I took. I existed from moment to moment, sometimes thinking death would have been preferable. During the fighting around the Umurbrogol Pocket on Peleliu, I had been depressed by the wastage of human lives. But in the mud and driving rain before Shuri, we were surrounded by maggots and decay. Men struggled and fought and bled in an environment so degrading I believed we had been flung into hell's own cesspool.… (more)
LibraryThing member seoulful
An unusually compelling account of island warfare in the Pacific by infantryman, Eugene Sledge. The author tells us that he began writing notes of his experiences after the horrendous battle of Peleliu. He enlarged upon them and did research over the years but wasn't able to write this book until 1981. The battles haunted him and gave him nightmares, but also an obligation to put down what he remembered of the bravery of his fellow marines. Mr. Sledge became a professor of biology in later years with a specialty in ornithology which gives a poignant contrast to the soldier and the man. A classic of WWII.… (more)
LibraryThing member DJ_Johnson
This is a must read for anyone who fancies themselves knowledgeable about World War II, or war itself, for that matter. Eugene Sledge was in two of the most famous battles of the island hopping campaign that helped end the war against the Japanese. He fought on Peleliu (the main island in the battle named for the island group, Pelau), and Okinawa. His honesty is refreshing. There's no false bravado here. He writes of his terror under shelling and his biggest fear of all, the fear of fear. He was terrified he would fold under attack and let his buddies down. In telling this story he grinds no axes and he speaks from the heart at all times. There's none of the whitewashing you find in most first person accounts of battle, so this book is not for the squeamish. I've read dozens and dozens of books on this subject, but this one sometimes made me feel I might get sick. You begin to realize what he's describing as their daily environment must have been similar to a thousand other battlefields through history, but in this case you have someone unafraid to spell it out. My fascination with the subject isn't squashed, but I'll never picture a battlefield in the same way again. Highly recommended.… (more)
LibraryThing member apelph
To me this book is for the pacific theater what Ambrose's 'Citizen Soldiers' is for the european theater. It makes you feel like you know what it was like to be there, and makes you want to shake the hand of a vet and say 'Thank you'.
LibraryThing member fourbears
This is a great memoir if you want to understand what it was like to fight in the Pacific in WWII. It affected me very much as my reading of Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead did when I first read that. I could feel the pain—the dirt or worse yet on Peleliu the coral one couldn’t dig into—the bad food and dirty water, dirty and wet clothes, the fear. It’s painful to read though and if you won’t want to know the gory details faced by young men barely out of school and inexperienced with the world, then you don’t want to read this book. I hate war, but I feel compelled to know what it’s like so I don’t take for granted what we ask young people to experience in war. Eugene Sledge (who became Sledgehammer to his buddies) had had one year of college when he joined up—as did most of his generation (few in fact staying to finish college which is one reason why we needed the GI Bill). He joined the Marines (the “old breed” of the title).This book is different from other memoirs because of the detail. It’s not brilliantly written or “literary”. That’s its genius says Paul Fussell who reviewed it for a 1990 edition (Fussell has written about both WWI and WWII and was a soldier in the Pacific himself). Sledge explains how comradeship worked with soldiers to form lifelong bonds. He talks about officers they admired and those they hated and feared. He details the hardships and how hatred of the Japanese developed and hardened even the most sensitive among them. He explains how everything happened, from the human waste in foxholes they couldn’t leave, to stripping a Japanese corpse for souvenirs, to descriptions of wounds and dead Americans lying covered up on the battlefield until they could be retrieved, to water that was dirty because those in the rear had put it in insufficiently cleaned oil drums, to how the mortar he used worked and the problems placing it in the muddy ground of Okinawa. He explains how everyone was afraid and how some handled it differently from others. He explains how Japanese soldiers who spoke English tried to move in on their foxholes at night and how occasionally a buddy was mistakenly shot for an enemy. Sledge never romanticizes war. The only good was the friendship and interdependency men developed, but he doesn’t romanticize that either.… (more)
LibraryThing member jonmodene
Outstanding WW2 combat narrative.

Hard to find book, but a classic and a great read.

Highly reccomended.
LibraryThing member mjmorrison1971
A brutal book that really pulls no punches about the brutality of war. Much of the book cover the combat experience of Sledge on firstly Peleliu, a small Pacific atoll that Gen. MacArthur deemed necessary to retaking the Philippines. From the point of a Private in a Mortar squad it is simply brutal and inhuman. The book is frank in the callous behaviour of the US marines as witnessed by the author, though he takes pains to hid the identify of the perpetrators. He his also very strong in his descriptions of the treatment meted out by the Japanese to the Marines - it makes it very clear both side were equally nasty. The second part of the book covers the more critical battle - Okinawa, which is covered in the same detail. In the end you can appreciate the relief the two atomic bombs brought to the Marines and other service personal in the Pacific campaign - it also makes the arguments for dropping them more real and with the numbers of people, both combatants and civilians killed in campaign to take Okinawa probably does justify them. The book in places made me feel physically sick but really does convey the true horror war.
A compelling read
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LibraryThing member kcslade
Great account of two island battles from a sensitive Marine.
Not much held back. War in all its gruesomeness.
LibraryThing member jcbrunner
E.B. Sledge is one of the few who absolutely merit the label of Greatest Generation. With a humble devotion to duty, Sledge declined to complete his officer training while his fellow citizens died in battle and joined the marines as a private soldier instead.

It is a dirty secret of warfare that casualty rates differ sharply among different services, infantry being the most lethal. Sledge himself was fortunate (and smart) to join the mortar section, an indirect support weapon considerably less exposed to direct fire. While Sledge suffered from the same deprivations as his fellow marines, his chances of survival were vastly superior to them. At least, his account is a testament to their bravery in the face of fanatic, barbaric opposition with a shocking disregard for the Geneva convention. Sledge's account shows the good and bad behavior of his comrades and the US military in general, warts and all. The strength of the US military lies in its experienced NCO's, its weakness in its green officers and privates.

Sledge gives a good, contrasting account of his two meat grinder battles, the battle of Peleliu and Okinawa. Two months of intense, close and lethal hell, made worse by nature. Peleliu was a waterless, rock-hard inferno. Okinawa a muddy exercise in frustration. Sledge's perspective out of the foxhole lets one appreciate the little creature comforts. Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member SteveRambach
I wanted to watch the HBO miniseries THE PACIFIC which was based on two books HELMET FOR MY PILLOW by Robert Leckie AND WITH THIS OLD BREED by E.B.Sledge. Together they take you through Guadalcanal through Okinawa. Leckie has a rich vocabulary and Sledge writes with his heart. Both powerful books with Sledge's book is extraordinary. Ken Burns featured Sledge in his documentary THE WAR. Reading done and not I can reward myself and watch THE PACIFIC.… (more)
LibraryThing member emlzcole
A great historical novel that depicts the reality of war first hand from a participant of the Pacific battles in WWII.
LibraryThing member rapikk
We recently watched the HBO mini-series The Pacific. It was a fascinating and horrifying look at the American Marines who served in the Pacific theater during World War II. One of the featured Marines was a private named E. B. Sledge. Sledge's journey from his country home in Alabama to the war-torn islands in the Pacific, and his transformation from boy to Marine were powerful stories. As we completed the series, we discovered that Sledge had written a book about his service with the Marine Corp. Eager to find out more about his story, I immediately checked out the book from our library.

Sledge's book is a straightforward account of his beginnings as a Marine, and of the battles that he fought. Some of the movements of the troops were confusing to me, as were the references to various Marine regiments and divisions. I'm sure that readers who know more about the military wouldn't be confused at all. But Sledge's account isn't just a retelling of troop movements. Rather, it's his personal story of the sights, sounds, horrors, defeats and triumphs of war. It's graphic at time, but matter-of-fact. As I ended the book, I was overwhelmed with admiration and respect for the thousands and thousands of troops who have served so faithfully in combat for our country.

Many of the things that Sledge experienced were documented in the mini-series. If you haven't yet watched the mini-series, I would highly recommend reading With the Old Breed first.
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LibraryThing member keithkv
While Tim O'Brien's account of the Vietnam War's horror and tragedy was poetic, E.B. Sledge's memoirs of the WWII island hopping campaign is told without artistic license. It is simply a brutal narrative of the events that happened as told by one who went through that abyss. Both books share the same message on war, but the narrative styles are on opposite side of the spectrum. I would highly recommend this book to anyone still clinging to the notion that war is in some way anything other than a blight upon mankind.… (more)
LibraryThing member creighley
Realistic view of what the infantry men went through on the Pacific islands during WWII.
LibraryThing member anno0530
With the Old Breed was a really good book and it involve war and peoples story in the war and what they went through. I really liked it and i would recomend it to anyone who likes action books.
LibraryThing member DireWeevil
This is a gritty and real account of war in the Pacific during the Second World War. Sometimes a disturbing read it is alway enlightening and a great wartime telling of someone who was actually there.
LibraryThing member seabear
Sledge is a US Marine from a well-off background who was originally in training to become a Marine officer but chose to go instead as a private. The book covers his training, both in the USA and on Pavuvu awaiting his first campaign, and then the two campaigns he fought make up the bulk of the text: first Peleliu in late 1944 and then Okinawa in mid 1945. There is no detail on anything else: it ends shortly after the surrender and "mop-up" on Okinawa.

It's the first war memoir I've read, so I'm not sure how it fits into the genre. He talks openly about his (and other Marines') interactions with the Japanese, and what it was like to live on the battlefield. There is memorable discussion of the heat, thirst, mud, rain, and the smell. I read it shortly after watching the HBO series "The Pacific" and found that the show had elaborated or changed several scenes, which I was disappointed in! But that merely serves as an endorsement for this book.
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LibraryThing member Stbalbach
With the Old Breed (1981) is one of the most popular American WWII memoirs, in particular of the US Marines. It contains many of the same themes found in WWII fiction: the path from innocence through experiences never imagined, from boy to man, survival where others perish, an involvement in some bigger event which couldn't be fully fathomed at the time, the horror and alienation of modern war, paying homage to the previous generation (the "Old Breed"). Essentially an allegory of America's emergence from provincial innocence (boyhood) to world power (manhood) through a hardening violence. Thus, it's a "classic" as an archetype of a genre, appropriately for a US Marine named "Sledgehammer". Sledge didn't publish it until 1981 which provided plenty of time for the tropes of the genre to solidify and thus for his diary to adopt the expected form. Then Hollywood did its thing and it became a pop-culture phenomenon. Not to say it's false or bad faith, but neither is it challenging or breaking with (old) conventions, mainly interesting for incidental scenes and anecdote (and thus well suited for the screen). Is there anything in the memoir I didn't already didn't know from 1940s and 1950s WWII movies? As Walt Whitman said "I was the man, I suffered, I was there." War is hell, as the Red Badge of Courage taught us, there are no heroes and glory, just the obscenity of the banal made grotesque.… (more)
LibraryThing member chriskrycho
A haunting memoir from the Pacific front. Well written, appropriately horrifying, and powerful.
LibraryThing member lamour
As other reviewers have noted, this is one of the best descriptions of a battle field I have ever read. The picture Sledge paints of the mud and decaying bodies he dug foxholes in Okinawa will always stay with me when I think of the war in the Pacific. If you are looking for a ode to the absurdity of war, here it is.

The HBO series, The Pacific, used material adapted from this memoir. R. V. Burgin whose book Islands of the Damned was also used to make the series was a Corporal in Sledge's mortar squad and is mentioned several times in this work.… (more)
LibraryThing member HaroldTitus
A broad chasm separates those of us who have not served in the armed forces or served in times of peace from the combat veteran. We can only intellectualize what he has experienced: the fear of immediate death; the horror of obliteration of flesh, bones, and sinew; the dehumanization of conscience; the numbing constancy of endless combat; the inevitable realization that the longer a combat soldier survives the greater are the odds that he will perish. E. B. Sledge's narration of his World War II marine experiences on Peleliu and Okinawa communicate all of this vividly.

There are those in public office that refuse to stand at the edge of this separation of experience, that view Americans in uniform as expendable instruments of ideological, unilateralist policy. Standing with them too often are the malevolent, the deluded, and the disinterested. Apart from them are the rest of us. We must heed our veterans' experiences and makes our voices heard.
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LibraryThing member Ronrose1
It is not often I have to put down a book momentarily because I am overcome with emotion. This story of our Marines giving their all for each other and their country, told with openness, honesty, and without bombast, has affected me in that way not once but a number of times. E. B. Sledge came through the fierce fighting against the Japanese on the Pacific islands of Peleliu and Okinawa, without being wounded although not without the deeper scars only troops who have been in combat can attest to. The book is more a tribute to his comrades and the Marine Corps than it is a history of the war. Sledge tells us that "war is brutish, inglorious, and a horrible waste". This book is the basis of the HBO miniseries, The Pacific.… (more)

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