With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa Info

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“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.”—Tom Hanks

NEW
YORK TIMES 
BESTSELLER

In The Wall Street
Journal
, Victor Davis Hanson named With the Old Breed one of
the top five books on epic twentieth-century battles. Studs Terkel
interviewed the author for his definitive oral history, The Good
War
. Now E. B. Sledge’s acclaimed first-person account of
fighting at Peleliu and Okinawa returns to thrill, edify, and inspire a
new generation.
An Alabama boy steeped in American history and
enamored of such heroes as George Washington and Daniel Boone, Eugene B.
Sledge became part of the war’s famous 1st Marine
Division—3rd Battalion, 5th Marines. Even after intense training,
he was shocked to be thrown into the battle of Peleliu, where “the
world was a nightmare of flashes, explosions, and snapping
bullets.” By the time Sledge hit the hell of Okinawa, he was a
combat vet, still filled with fear but no longer with panic.

Based on notes Sledge secretly kept in a copy of the New Testament,
With the Old Breed captures with utter simplicity and searing
honesty the experience of a soldier in the fierce Pacific Theater. Here
is what saved, threatened, and changed his life. Here, too, is the story
of how he learned to hate and kill—and came to love—his
fellow man.
“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 actually was 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.”—Ken Burns

Average Ratings and Reviews
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Reviews for With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa:

5

June 26, 2017

Made a 6 foot 200lb man with a giant beard cry.
When I was in the military, my commander had a 'recommemded reading' list, which I ignored.

I read this after watching the HBO miniseries that was partially based on this book. I was really surprised at how faithful they were to this account.

This is very well written, and as a grown man who is also a veteran, I am not afraid to admit that it made me cry a few times.

I am disgusted by a lot of fictional media that uses WWII as a plot setting (Michael Bay's Pearl Harbor is the worst offender). A lot of documentaries I have seen and books i have read have looked at things from an almost sterile, strategic perspective.

A detailed account from a first-hand source is probably a better way to understand the horrors of the island campaigns. I won't say this is a fun book to read (war is terrifying), but I'd recommend it to anyone in the armed forces.

Also, if you are in the military, don't let your mom read this. She'll worry.
5

April 8, 2014

Possibly the best memoir I've ever read
I wouldn’t recommend this book to everyone, because war is very, very ugly, and Sledge doesn’t sugarcoat it. The book follows him through training, then to the Pacific outpost of Pavuvu, then into the battlefields of Peleliu and Okinawa. Warning: this review includes some spoilers. But it’s a first-hand account, so obviously Sledge survived, or he wouldn’t have written the book. The review is also long because the book gave me lots to think about.

Imagine yourself stuck in a foxhole. It’s been raining for weeks, so there’s a puddle at the bottom, and you can’t remember the last time your feet were dry. You might get a warm cup of coffee or bullion, if you heat it yourself, but you’ll have to hunch over while you’re heating it so the rain doesn’t put the sterno can out. Everything smells awful, because maggot-infested corpses are everywhere. If you sleep, it’s by the light of the flares the navy keeps sending up so you’ll see the enemy if they try to infiltrate. When you have to get out of your foxhole to haul up more ammunition or to get food, you’ll be shelled and shot at. You’ll also be shot at if you’re carrying someone on a stretcher. If you’re the one who’s wounded, and the Japanese get you, they’ll torture you. And if you get killed, and if the Japanese end up with your body, they will mutilate it. Welcome to Okinawa. Peleliu isn’t much different—only it’s dry and hot and covered in flies, and there aren’t many foxholes, because the coral is too hard to dig into.

On one hand, With the Old Breed is a gritty account of island warfare. Sledge (nicknamed Sledgehammer by his fellow Marines) is completely honest. He admits he was scared, he doesn’t hide that fact that Marines often “field-stripped” the enemy dead and the enemy almost-dead (trust me—Marines ripping out gold teeth is mild compared to what the Japanese did to Marine dead), and shows both hatred for the enemy and love for his fellow Marines and their navy corpsmen (with one exception).

But With the Old Breed is more than a brutally honest account of Pacific warfare. It’s also the story of one man’s struggle to keep his humanity and his sanity in the face of horrible circumstances. Sledge is a Southern, Christian boy. He doesn’t smoke until he arrives in combat, and he’s the only person I’ve read who says SNAFU stands for situation normal, all fouled up. On some level, he realizes he’s being trained to be cannon fodder, but the shock of combat is still a difficult burden for him to bear: the horrible conditions, the slaughter, the constant fear. I was touched by one scene, when Sledge is about to pull a few gold teeth out of a Japanese corpse (something he had seen others do, but hadn’t done himself). A corpsman tries to talk him out of it. First he suggests that Sledge’s parents wouldn’t like it. When that doesn’t work, the corpsman says “Think of the germs.” Yeah, germs on a battlefield—laughable. But it’s enough to make Sledge reconsider, and keep a little of his humanity.

It’s not all dark and depressing. There were funny moments as well—the men reminding their green lieutenant of his earlier pledge to charge the Japanese with his knife and pistol and turn the tide of war all by himself, as said lieutenant is frantically digging a really deep foxhole after his first taste of combat. Or the part when Sledge decides to take a nap on a stretcher while the graves crews are working, and pulls his poncho over his head to keep the rain off. Not surprisingly, the graves crew almost carts him off with the corpses. (I totally saw that coming, but I’ve been sleeping in a dry, warm bed instead of a wet foxhole, and my sleep isn’t interrupted by shells and threats of Japanese paratroopers.)

Sledge sums up the book best in his own words: 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. Marine Corps training taught us to kill efficiently and to try to survive. But it also taught us loyalty to each other—and love. That esprit de corps sustained us.

A remarkable book, and a vivid reminder that even those who are not killed or wounded in combat pay a terrible price.
5

Nov 16, 2008

With the Old Breed should be required reading in our classrooms, for this is the brutal reality of war at its most horrific. No sensationalism here; E. B. Sledge merely tells it the way it was. There is no glory in war, in the shedding of another man's blood; in digging a foxhole in a torrential downpour only to uncover the badly decomposing body of a Japanese soldier crawling with maggots; in watching helplessly as four of your comrades retrieve, on a stretcher, a wounded Marine amid machinegun With the Old Breed should be required reading in our classrooms, for this is the brutal reality of war at its most horrific. No sensationalism here; E. B. Sledge merely tells it the way it was. There is no glory in war, in the shedding of another man's blood; in digging a foxhole in a torrential downpour only to uncover the badly decomposing body of a Japanese soldier crawling with maggots; in watching helplessly as four of your comrades retrieve, on a stretcher, a wounded Marine amid machinegun fire ("If it were me out there," Sledge recounts, "I would want to know I wouldn't be left behind."); in enduring a night while being shelled by enemy artillery; in stumbling upon fellow Marines that have been tortured, decapitated and butchered in the worst way imaginable; in suffering sleep deprivation, from malaria and jungle rot, and from hunger, thirst, and, alternately, heat and cold. This is why war should be avoided at all costs, and this is why no one man should ever be given the authority, with a flourish of his signature, to risk the lives of young men and women.

My dad fought on Okinawa, receiving a citation from the office of the president for his participation in the taking of Shuri Ridge. I never knew my dad as a Marine, as he retired from the Corps before getting married and starting a family. I asked him once, when I was a boy, to tell me about his service, but he refused. I asked him again, about six and a half years ago, during the final year of his life, and he again refused. I had hoped that by sharing his pain a healing could take place. Unfortunately, what he saw, what he endured, died with him.

Sledge, in this memoir of his service on Peleliu and Okinawa, told me everything my dad withheld from me. This incredible account, told with frank detachment, is hailed as the best World War II memoir of an enlisted man, and with good reason. Part adventure, part history, "Sledgehammer" not only relates many of the clichés every Hollywood movie depicted on the subject, but also everything they left out.

Thanks, Sledgehammer, for sharing your story, and my dad's, with me. He perhaps felt I couldn't understand what he endured. Perhaps no civilian can. Yet after having read With the Old Breed, I understand a little better why he was the way he was.

Your generation is truly the greatest generation. ...more
5

January 6, 2018

A painful read and an essential one.
I had an uncle who fought in the Pacific in World War II. He came back with a box of medals and never spoke about what he had survived. Only after reading this book did I understand his silence on what he had experienced. E.B. Sledge's elegant prose describes battles that are metaphors for hell. With the Old Breed allowed me to understand much of these veterans endured. A painful read and an essential one.
5

July 17, 2017

Timeless
I call this story timeless, not because I'm a military expert by any means, but for the following two reasons. In researching my genealogy I came across a wartime diary kept by one of my ancestors, a confederate infantryman in the Civil War. I could literally replace many of the passages about Sledgehammer's experience with passages from my ancestor's diary. They are almost eerily similar. In addition, the son of one of my husband's co-workers is a Navy S.E.A.L. His father related that when his son comes home for R&R, the pettiness of complaints made by the civilians at home send him into a barely controlled rage. The passage from this book describing the difficulty faced by Marines who went directly from battle back home could have been written by our friend's son. Again, it is eerily similar.

I was stunned by how the basic experiences of a front line soldier, spread over 150 years, and whether facing an enemy of one's own culture or of a foreign culture are the same. I have always had tremendous respect for our military men, but after reading this book my viewpoint is forever changed to something deeper than words can convey. My father-in-law was an officer in the army in Europe during WWII. I can understand now why he very seldom spoke of his wartime experience, and when he did, he only told funny stories.

I'm recommending this book to my adult children for insight into what their grandfather, and friends who currently serve, have experienced.
5

Apr 03, 2012



You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye
Who cheer when soldier lads march by,
Sneak home and pray you'll never know
The hell where youth and laughter go.
~Sigrfried Sassoon

William Tecumseh Sherman said it. "War is hell."
As a veteran of the Mexican War and the Civil War, he should know.

What is it about war which makes us glorify it?
Little boys tear around with swords and guns fighting off imaginary enemies.
Larger boys now sit glued before gaming devices doing essentially the same thing, complete

You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye
Who cheer when soldier lads march by,
Sneak home and pray you'll never know
The hell where youth and laughter go.
~Sigrfried Sassoon

William Tecumseh Sherman said it. "War is hell."
As a veteran of the Mexican War and the Civil War, he should know.

What is it about war which makes us glorify it?
Little boys tear around with swords and guns fighting off imaginary enemies.
Larger boys now sit glued before gaming devices doing essentially the same thing, complete with pixellated blood and gore.

I will admit to holding a longstanding fascination with "The Greatest Generation." I've always said if I could time travel back to a specific era, the 1940's would be at the top of the list.
The patriotism, the sense the country pulling together, the neighborhoods where people still knew one another, the clothes, the cars, the music...
Eugene Sledge's book didn't lessen my love for that time period, nor my awe and gratitude for the men who served ... but, by God, did it slap me in the face.

As graphic and as detailed as some more recent movies focusing on WWII have gotten, there always still seemed to be gaps (at least in my mind). I always wondered about goofy specifics of battlefront life and fox hole warfare.
Sledge's memoir hit every one of those questions-- and then some. The horrific sights, the deafening noises, the putrid odors, the physical maladies running from annoying to disabling. All encircled by the overarching twist of fear which never quite left their guts while they were on their missions. (I won't even try and relay so much of what he saw and experienced because without it being in the context of the rest of his thoughts, it would come off as a) gratuitous and b) unbelievable. Trust me ... if you read it, you'll never again take for granted things like: eating out of the rain, regular-sized house flies, running water, a bed, a change of clothes, dry socks and shoes, warm food, letters from loved ones, clean water, fresh air).

Eugene Sledge takes you with him every step of the way. From basic training, to the pre-launch nervous intestinal visits to the head, to landing in the fray of battle and wondering which bullet was going to kill you.

Along the way, he interposes his deeper thoughts. His wonderings at how men can be so cruel and can become animalistic so quickly within the confines of a battlefield.
But he laments more for those whose core runs toward tenderness and sensitivity.

As I crawled out of the abyss of combat and over the rail of the Sea Runner, I realized that compassion for the suffering of others is a burden to those who have it. As Wilfred Owen's poem "Insensibility" puts it so well, those who feel most for others suffer most in war.

As horrific as his experiences were, as often as he had to watch his friends and comrades die, he summed up his thoughts thusly:

War is brutish, inglorious, and a terrible waste. Combat leaves an endelible mark on those who are forced to endure it. The only redeeming factors were my comrades' incredible bravery and their devotion to each other.

Until the millenium arrives and countries cease trying to enslave others, it will be necessary to accept one's responsibilities and to be willing to make sacrifices for one's country-- as my comrades did. As the troops used to say, "If the country is good enough to live in, it's good enough to fight for." With privilege goes responsibility.

To Eugene Sledge, and to the many others who have fought (and many who have died) to preserve for us so many things we take for granted ...

thank you seems so not enough. ...more
5

May 01, 2011

Eugene Sledge would seem an unlikely author of what I consider the most powerful memoir of war in the Pacific theater. The son of a Mobile, Alabama, doctor, Eugene began his military career as a candidate in an academic college program that would have made him an officer. However, he deliberately failed to become a Marine assigned to infantry in the Pacific. Sledge's account is told in frank, straight forward and understated language. The Pacific war was a fierce world of barbaric conduct by Eugene Sledge would seem an unlikely author of what I consider the most powerful memoir of war in the Pacific theater. The son of a Mobile, Alabama, doctor, Eugene began his military career as a candidate in an academic college program that would have made him an officer. However, he deliberately failed to become a Marine assigned to infantry in the Pacific. Sledge's account is told in frank, straight forward and understated language. The Pacific war was a fierce world of barbaric conduct by troops on both sides. Sledge understood the ease with which a man could lose his sense of humanity and recognized how close he came to that outcome.

Sledge quietly states the futility of war and the unnecessary sacrifice of life in the Peleliu campaign. The battle had no strategic effect on the outcome of the war. The island could have easily been hopped over as other pockets of Japanese resistance were.

He wrote,"To the non-combatants and those on the periphery of action, the war meant only boredom or occasional excitement, but to those who entered the meat grinder itself the war was a netherworld of horror from which escape seemed less and less likely as casualties mounted and the fighting dragged on and on. Time had no meaning, life had no meaning. The fierce struggle for survival in the abyss of Peleliu had eroded the veneer of civilization and made savages of us all."

Sledge adjusted to his return to civilian life with great difficulty. He wrote "With the Old Breed" over a number of years, originally intending it to be a memoir to be read by his family. Following the war he became a professor of botany and zoology at the University of Montevallo in Alabama. His students would have been hard pressed to understand the horrific memories that lay beneath his gentle exterior as he led them on field trips identifying native botanical plants.

Sledge's story was published in 1981. His story was later central to Ken Burns' series, "The War." His memoir later served as one of the key sources for Spielberg and Hanks HBO series, "The Pacific."

Eugene Sledge died in 2001 after a lengthy battle with cancer. His memoir of men at war should be read throughout the coming generations by anyone ever inclined to take the matter of war with an attitude of indifference.

Do not think that Sledge should ever be considered a pacifist. He should not. Nor should his work ever be considered a polemic against any war. These are his concluding words: "Until the millennium arrives and countries cease trying to enslave others, it will be necessary to accept one's responsibilities and be willing to make sacrifices for one's country - as my comrades did. As the troops used to say, "If the country is good enough to live in, it's good enough to fight for." With privilege goes responsibility."

...more
5

Jun 20, 2009

Not much can be added to the previous reviews of this excellent book. I have read many fine books covering the Pacific campaign during WW2 and so many referred to this book that I had to find a copy for myself. It was well worth the time and effort. I have since bought a copy for a friend here in Australia and he also ranks it in his top 10 military history books.

The author offers an insight into what its like to be in combat rarely found in most books nowadays. This is an honest, at times sad Not much can be added to the previous reviews of this excellent book. I have read many fine books covering the Pacific campaign during WW2 and so many referred to this book that I had to find a copy for myself. It was well worth the time and effort. I have since bought a copy for a friend here in Australia and he also ranks it in his top 10 military history books.

The author offers an insight into what its like to be in combat rarely found in most books nowadays. This is an honest, at times sad and occassionaly funny, look at the life of a combat Marine during the final battles in the Pacific. This book cannot be recommended highly enough!

This has to be one of the best first-hand accounts of the fighting in the Pacific during WW2. Anyone serious about military history should have a copy in their library. Well done to these brave men who fought and served, may they never be forgotten. ...more
5

Apr 24, 2016

I would give it six stars if I could. This was gripping. I have been reading military history all my life but I have never read anything quite like PVT Sledge’s first-hand account of his war experience as a member of a front-line infantry unit in the 3rd battalion, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division. I couldn’t believe what I was listening to (It was an audio book.) This book is considered by many as the best first-hand account, battlefield memoir ever written and I cannot disagree.

If you have I would give it six stars if I could. This was gripping. I have been reading military history all my life but I have never read anything quite like PVT Sledge’s first-hand account of his war experience as a member of a front-line infantry unit in the 3rd battalion, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division. I couldn’t believe what I was listening to (It was an audio book.) This book is considered by many as the best first-hand account, battlefield memoir ever written and I cannot disagree.

If you have ever wondered what it was like to be a member of a rifle platoon in the Marines or Army, fighting the Japanese in the Pacific theatre, you need to read this book. If you ever wondered why the men of the greatest generation – the survivors of the Pacific theater – are going to their graves with a deep-seated hatred in their hearts for all things that are Japanese, you need to read this book. The Old Breed is full of stories about Nippon infiltration in the pitch black of night, routing out a fanatical cave-dwelling enemy, being fired at by hidden snipers and machine guns, the accidental killing of fellow Marines, incompetent replacement officers that deserve to be “fragged,” the frustration of dealing with rear echelon troops that do not deserve the same accolades as the sleep deprived, malnourished men of the front line rifle platoons. These are men – mostly teenagers - that literally live for months on end, wet and dirty, in filth and gore surrounded by the smell, sight, and sometimes feel of rotting, maggot infested corpses of both friend and foe.

All hail the men of the Marine Corp and Army infantry that fought that ghastly campaign. O-hail, o-hail, o-infantry, the queen of battle.... ...more
5

Nov 11, 2019

Absolutely great book, hands down the best memoir of a rifleman. Sledge takes you deep into the horrors of being a Marine rifleman in the Pacific campaigns of Pelilu and Okinawa. He does not hide any of the grim details that faced thses men daily, both physically and mentally. After reading this I will not look at European battlefield memoirs in the same way, as these men fighting against the fanatical Japanese really went to hell and back. Highly recommended to any history buff.
5

March 10, 2017

Front Line Combat as Witnessed by a Pacific Theater Marine
I absolutely loved this book, from the military combat that is the primary topic to the honest sharing of the personal impact of being a rifleman in a combat zone to the writing style it was right up my ally. Sledge writes in an unassuming and transparent manner that does not come across with the bragging and entitlement that I have noted in other military autobiographies. This low key writing style allows the reader to appreciate the contents of the book - a very blunt sharing of the invasions of Peleliu and Okinawa as witnessed by a Marine private. Sledge utilIzed both his personal notes and historical documents to ensure he accurately shared the details of the battle so it is both a personal account as well as a historically accurate one. No one who appreciates military history will be disappointed in this book.
4

Oct 20, 2015

A memoir of a soldier of one of the finest and most famous elite fighting divisions of the second World War, the Marine 1st Division, during the Peleliu and Okinawa campaigns. They forged a bond that time would never erase. They were brothers.

I don't need to add anything to the other reviews of my fellow Goodreads members. This book should be on everybody's list.

Instead, I want to highlight a few sentences from the book that in my mind capture the book as a whole:

On the chances of survival and A memoir of a soldier of one of the finest and most famous elite fighting divisions of the second World War, the Marine 1st Division, during the Peleliu and Okinawa campaigns. They forged a bond that time would never erase. They were brothers.

I don't need to add anything to the other reviews of my fellow Goodreads members. This book should be on everybody's list.

Instead, I want to highlight a few sentences from the book that in my mind capture the book as a whole:

On the chances of survival and knowing that you would probably not survice the war:
Soldiers like me, who never got hit, can claim with justification, that we survived the abyss of war as fugitives of the law of averages.

And on hearing of the surrender of Japan and the ending of the war:
Sitting in stunned silence, we remembered our death. So many death. So many maimed. So many bright futures consigned to the ashes of the past. So many dreams lost in the madness that had engulfed us. Trying to comprehend a world without war.

And on war as a whole:
War is brutish, inglorious and a terrible waste ...more
3

June 23, 2017

Read the actual book
I have read the actual book and it was outstanding! This version was heavily edited, leaving out Sledges history pre Marine Corps, which I feel was germain to the whole story. It showed the changes in Sledge from a starry eyed kid with a preconcieved idea of what being a Marine entailed and what combat would actually be like.
I was stationed on Okinawa twice when I was in the Marine Corps and I walked the battleground that Sledge fought over. There is an area near Shuri ridge that had a machine gun emplacement that had the brush cleared away so you could see it,you could see see bullet marks all over the front and a large chunk blown off one corner. The chilling part for me was , when you walk around the back to the entrance,there were just as many bullets marks as the front! Those Marines had to assult it from the rear in order to take it out! I always wondered how many men were wounded to take out this one position.
When I was exploring this position I began to wondering if I could find one that hadn't been cleaned up,so I started walking parallel on the ridge. I almost tripped over the next one I found due it being so low to the ground and covered by folidge.I stood behind it to see it's field of fire , it was chilling to see how wide open it was and how difficult it would've been to take out this position along with the covering fire of the other positions. My admiration of those Marines who fought on Okinawa is beyond measure, I am in awe of their courage to endure through the Carnage and deprivations of that battle.I have met a a few of those men who fought there through my being in the Marine Corps League.I related a story of taking a trip with some of my friends to the South end of the island where they have a Peace Park( there version of a war memorial) where the have large granite​ pieces with names of the Japanese units and their dead . There was a fairly large group of older Japanese men looking at the these memorials, some bowed very deeply to them, some were in tears,and I thought,My God , these are the survivers of the fighting! One man was eyeballing us pretty hard so I turned to him and looked him in the eye and in broken English he asked if we were American Marines, I said yes. He looked at me all the harder and said" perhaps I have met your grandfather's"I said " perhaps you did" , we bowed to each other and walked away. I related this story to the Okinawa vet and this older man who was one of the nicest people you'd ever meet looked at me and his soft blue eyes turned a hard glacial blue and he said" that SOB is Lucky to be ALIVE!
5

Dec 14, 2012

This might be the best memoir I’ve ever read. I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone, because war is very, very ugly, and Sledge doesn’t sugarcoat it. The book follows him through training, then to the Pacific outpost of Pavuvu, then into the battlefields of Peleliu and Okinawa. Warning: this review includes some spoilers. But it’s a first-hand account, so obviously Sledge survived, or he wouldn’t have written the book. The review is also long because the book gave me lots to think about.

Imagine This might be the best memoir I’ve ever read. I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone, because war is very, very ugly, and Sledge doesn’t sugarcoat it. The book follows him through training, then to the Pacific outpost of Pavuvu, then into the battlefields of Peleliu and Okinawa. Warning: this review includes some spoilers. But it’s a first-hand account, so obviously Sledge survived, or he wouldn’t have written the book. The review is also long because the book gave me lots to think about.

Imagine yourself stuck in a foxhole. It’s been raining for weeks, so there’s a puddle at the bottom, and you can’t remember the last time your feet were dry. You might get a warm cup of coffee or bullion, if you heat it yourself, but you’ll have to hunch over while you’re heating it so the rain doesn’t put the sterno can out. Everything smells awful, because maggot-infested corpses are everywhere. If you sleep, it’s by the light of the flares the navy keeps sending up so you’ll see the enemy if they try to infiltrate. When you have to get out of your foxhole to haul up more ammunition or to get food, you’ll be shelled and shot at. You’ll also be shot at if you’re carrying someone on a stretcher. If you’re the one who’s wounded, and the Japanese get you, they’ll torture you. And if you get killed, and if the Japanese end up with your body, they will mutilate it. Welcome to Okinawa. Peleliu isn’t much different—only it’s dry and hot and covered in flies, and there aren’t many foxholes, because the coral is too hard to dig into.

On one hand, With the Old Breed is a gritty account of island warfare. Sledge (nicknamed Sledgehammer by his fellow Marines) is completely honest. He admits he was scared, he doesn’t hide that fact that Marines often “field-stripped” the enemy dead and the enemy almost-dead (trust me—Marines ripping out gold teeth is mild compared to what the Japanese did to Marine dead), and shows both hatred for the enemy and love for his fellow Marines and their navy corpsmen (with one exception).

But With the Old Breed is more than a brutally honest account of Pacific warfare. It’s also the story of one man’s struggle to keep his humanity and his sanity in the face of horrible circumstances. Sledge is a Southern, Christian boy. He doesn’t smoke until he arrives in combat, and he’s the only person I’ve read who says SNAFU stands for situation normal, all fouled up. On some level, he realizes he’s being trained to be cannon fodder, but the shock of combat is still a difficult burden for him to bear: the horrible conditions, the slaughter, the constant fear. I was touched by one scene, when Sledge is about to pull a few gold teeth out of a Japanese corpse (something he had seen others do, but hadn’t done himself). A corpsman tries to talk him out of it. First he suggests that Sledge’s parents wouldn’t like it. When that doesn’t work, the corpsman says “Think of the germs.” Yeah, germs on a battlefield—laughable. But it’s enough to make Sledge reconsider, and keep a little of his humanity.

It’s not all dark and depressing. There were funny moments as well—the men reminding their green lieutenant of his earlier pledge to charge the Japanese with his knife and pistol and turn the tide of war all by himself, as said lieutenant is frantically digging a really deep foxhole after his first taste of combat. Or the part when Sledge decides to take a nap on a stretcher while the graves crews are working, and pulls his poncho over his head to keep the rain off. Not surprisingly, the graves crew almost carts him off with the corpses. (I totally saw that coming, but I’ve been sleeping in a dry, warm bed instead of a wet foxhole, and my sleep isn’t interrupted by shells and threats of Japanese paratroopers.)

Sledge sums up the book best in his own words: 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. Marine Corps training taught us to kill efficiently and to try to survive. But it also taught us loyalty to each other—and love. That esprit de corps sustained us.

A remarkable book, and a vivid reminder that even those who are not killed or wounded in combat pay a terrible price.

***update February 2018***

Just read it for the second time. It's one of those books that is worth reading more than once, and I still consider it a favorite. ...more
4

Aug 04, 2017

You've read the other reviews, so you already know how good this is. Written by a young Marine, this is a straight forward, no-nonsense, gritty account of life (and frequently death) on the front line in the Pacific in WW2. It's well written, with plenty of insights into military life - the friendships, the stink & grime, the horror & occasional humour. But what really sets this apart are the author's honest descriptions of how he felt and his motivations in combat - comradeship, You've read the other reviews, so you already know how good this is. Written by a young Marine, this is a straight forward, no-nonsense, gritty account of life (and frequently death) on the front line in the Pacific in WW2. It's well written, with plenty of insights into military life - the friendships, the stink & grime, the horror & occasional humour. But what really sets this apart are the author's honest descriptions of how he felt and his motivations in combat - comradeship, bravery, anger, fear. ...more
5

Sep 10, 2008

If you only read 1 book on fighting in the Pacific Theatre in WWII, this should be the one. With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa is the classic story of modern ground combat and amphibious warfare. It is so good because E.B. Sledge does not go in for drama, he tells a straightforward story of tragedy and bravery. He explains clearly where he knows what is going on and also explains what he was thinking when it was SNAFU. He covers his first campaign at Peleliu and then his second campaign If you only read 1 book on fighting in the Pacific Theatre in WWII, this should be the one. With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa is the classic story of modern ground combat and amphibious warfare. It is so good because E.B. Sledge does not go in for drama, he tells a straightforward story of tragedy and bravery. He explains clearly where he knows what is going on and also explains what he was thinking when it was SNAFU. He covers his first campaign at Peleliu and then his second campaign in Okinawa. If you saw the mini-series "The Pacific" you will recognize some scenes. Belongs on the permanent war history shelf. ...more
5

Jul 28, 2018

Probably not right place to begin, but, more than anything, this book was the perfect companion to Leckie's equally graphic, disturbing, compelling, shocking, gut-wrenching, and poignant, Helmet For My Pillow. These days (many years after they were published), I can't imagine that many military history readers consume one without the other (and, in retrospect, I wish I had read them closer together). Among other things, what's so remarkable is how different Leckie and Sledge were (as Probably not right place to begin, but, more than anything, this book was the perfect companion to Leckie's equally graphic, disturbing, compelling, shocking, gut-wrenching, and poignant, Helmet For My Pillow. These days (many years after they were published), I can't imagine that many military history readers consume one without the other (and, in retrospect, I wish I had read them closer together). Among other things, what's so remarkable is how different Leckie and Sledge were (as individuals, as observers, as survivors, as reporters) and how successful - in incredibly different ways - they both became after the war. Ultimately, I liked (or, I dunno, related to or sympathized with) Sledge more than Leckie, but that's neither here nor there. Both books are well worth reading (even if I probably enjoyed, and would recommend, this one more).

For better or worse, this is a micro, not a macro, view of one Marine's combat experience on the Pacific islands during WWII. (It's a lousy analogy, but, at times, it felt like watching Pixar's Bug's Life.) Frankly, it's almost unnerving how little perspective and context inform the tale. This is Sledge's experience, Sledge's observation, Sledge's community, Sledge's reality, and ... basically ... not much more. Indeed - this (apparently) cathartic retelling is at times almost weirdly, disconcertingly devoid of the larger, bigger picture. For me (as a former military officer), one of the most jaw-dropping and unnerving passages (minor spoiler here) was Sledge's depiction of a single, unique, memorable moment when a leader/officer actually explained (and showed) Sledge's company what their role was in the larger military exercise. (Alas, Sledge was so tired, he concedes he couldn't take it in ... but he remembered that it happened.) Sledge's story is what he saw, with his own eyes, ... what he experienced, ... describing months of vicious, costly, horrific fighting within an incredibly small sphere.

This is raw stuff ... entirely appropriate for the subject matter. Sledge is an astute observer, and his discipline shines through ... he's not glorifying, but simply describing. It's this largely (surprisingly) dispassionate, unvarnished recollection - often spun out in painstaking detail - that makes this book a classic that has (deservedly) stood the test of time. ...more
5

May 18, 2018

Memoir or Masterpiece?
Possibly the best insight on an individuals perspective from WWII that you can possibly find.
You hear so much of the European front that it is such a shock reading from an Americans perspective about the Pacific Theater.

It’s not for the faint of heart. It’s violent, raw, aggressive. But more importantly it’s raw, and it’s true. The honesty from Sledge in regards to war is just something you’ll never get anywhere else. He manages to depict the hatred and savagery between Marines and Japanese, the horror and brutality of war, and the change that happens within the individuals around him (including himself). He does this without being anti-war as well.

Truly a fantastic read, and it makes me sad I’ll never meet Eugene Sledge.
5

November 23, 2017

Should be required reading
This is the type of person, and his account of endurance by young men that is missing in today’s culture. The lack of appreciation of the hardships endured for freedom is demonstrated in this book. The authors humility is apparent through out this book, and is a real inspiration for all those that disrespect our country.

Every NFL player that kneels for the National Anthem should be required to read this. Maybe it would help them to understand what a joke they are.
5

Oct 12, 2015

Readable! was my initial impression. On my way to the airport I selected ‘With the Old Breed’ from the to-read pile. Knowing history books can be chewy, I had a bit of apprehension till I began reading on the 2 hour flight to Atlanta. I couldn’t put it down. Sledge tells a flowing tale from an enlisted Infantryman’s perspective, a modest, down to earth, or perhaps I should say corral reef, view of the war.

I almost immediately took the return flight so I could finish the book, but since my Readable! was my initial impression. On my way to the airport I selected ‘With the Old Breed’ from the to-read pile. Knowing history books can be chewy, I had a bit of apprehension till I began reading on the 2 hour flight to Atlanta. I couldn’t put it down. Sledge tells a flowing tale from an enlisted Infantryman’s perspective, a modest, down to earth, or perhaps I should say corral reef, view of the war.

I almost immediately took the return flight so I could finish the book, but since my sister was waiting for me I paused reading the tale, but got back to it as soon as I could.

Author Sledge, Sledgehammer, takes you from civilian life to the last days of the war in the Pacific. Occasionally he provides an overall view of the war, but it is primarily his memoir of day to day life, some routine, some in the middle of combat.

On another note - the good folks in the Goodreads WW2 group
recommended the book so I first gave it to my Dad to read and he loved it. It was also suggested by a friend who was with the Marine First Armored Amphibian Battalion -Marshalls-Guam-Okinawa, so I’d say this book has a good track record.
...more
5

Nov 03, 2011

A wonderful read. I had trouble putting this brutal but heartfelt book down. It hides nothing about the inhumanity of the Pacific conflict that Sledge was part of but in the end his prose shows a retention of his own humanity.
5

Jan 08, 2009

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 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
5

Oct 30, 2019

This has become my favourite WWII memoir from the Allied side, and ironically it's all about the battlefront I know the least about: the island-hopping war in the Pacific.

Being more familiar with the European theatre, I kept thinking that this memoir gives vibes of the Pacific as the United States's Eastern Front, because of the savagery, the suicide charges, the ignoring of basic combat conventions and decency, the futile targets, the shitty weather and shittier terrain, the long distanes, the This has become my favourite WWII memoir from the Allied side, and ironically it's all about the battlefront I know the least about: the island-hopping war in the Pacific.

Being more familiar with the European theatre, I kept thinking that this memoir gives vibes of the Pacific as the United States's Eastern Front, because of the savagery, the suicide charges, the ignoring of basic combat conventions and decency, the futile targets, the shitty weather and shittier terrain, the long distanes, the ever-present mud, the hostile civilian population, etc., etc. Not to diminish the Western front's importance, but that one looks way too "gentlemanly" in comparison to what you'll find in this memoir (or in any other memoir set in the Russian front, for that matter).

What I liked most about Eugene B. Sledge's account is how candiddly it's written. He is rather matter-of-fact, but not dull. Innocent and hopeful at times, bitter and biting at other times. And he doesn't go for self-aggrandising or glorifies his experience. There's points here in which the Marines aren't portrayed kindly and come off as the bad apples in the basket. It's nothing like the we're gonna fight Nazis and save the world all by outselves, har! mentality of the American troops engaging the Germans. It's a moral mud puddle. Precisely why it brought to mind the Eastern Front, no easy answers.

Also, I liked it because With the Old Breed is that rare book that describes war trauma as it's happening. The HBO show "The Pacific," which used Sledge's alongside others Marines' memoirs for its plot, addresses PTSD after the war is over, having Sledge break down during a hunting trip with his father. But in the book, Sledge breaks down thrice. We can see his trauma in "real time," and not as a post-script little note like in the show. If I am not misremembering, the actor playing Sledge said in an interview that Sledge's widow had told him not to portray her late husband as a wimp because of his traumatic breakdown, so that may have informed the showrunners. But moving it to the end of the story wasn't the best idea either, war trauma isn't something that waits until the guns go silent. Other Marines in Sledge's outfit break down during combat, too. At least the show kept the iconic scene in which Sledge is stopped from losing his humanity and becoming entirely brutalised by war, only that in the book it isn't Snafu but Doc Caswell who does it.

It's a memoir worth reading. Since it's a "grunt's eye view," you won't find grand strategy and discussion of tactics and logistics here; go read the generals'memoirs for that if you're looking for the big picture, you won't find it here. Instead, you'll be put in a grunt's boondockers and live it through his eyes in the rain and the mud. ...more
4

Mar 03, 2017

Let's start off by saying that in general, I do no care for low-level personal accounts of the war. They tend to be either poorly written (not surprising since most Infantry in the war were the least intelligent of the Branches.) or they tend to be so stylish that it is easy to tell that they were ghostwritten. For me, this tends to detract from my enjoyment of the book. Another loss for my reading enjoyment is they also have such a close order view of what is going on, that you loose any big Let's start off by saying that in general, I do no care for low-level personal accounts of the war. They tend to be either poorly written (not surprising since most Infantry in the war were the least intelligent of the Branches.) or they tend to be so stylish that it is easy to tell that they were ghostwritten. For me, this tends to detract from my enjoyment of the book. Another loss for my reading enjoyment is they also have such a close order view of what is going on, that you loose any big picture overview. So at times, it is hard to decide where the action is taking place and how it fits in with what is going on around the individual who is writing the account. This is also a symptom of small unit reading, which I also tend to avoid.

Happily enough, this book does neither of those things. The author is very literate, more so than myself by any reckoning, but he doesn't have a style that makes it seem like it is being done by a professional writer. While he does pay attention to the day to day grind of the war, he also breaks it up with incidents that in general, he considers to be either humorous or haunting. Thus giving a good insight into the life of the lowest level of a combat soldier in the war. He was in the infantry but wasn't a rifleman, he was a support weapon team member. In his case 60mm Mortars, so he was fairly close to the front line, in some cases on it. So the details he provides are pretty grim on many occasions.

On the other hand, he provides an overview after each of his memory revelations that help keep things in context with what is going on around. This makes for a very interesting and informative read.

All in all, I would consider this a must read for anyone that is into the first person revelation of the war and for those how are interested in combat in the Pacific. For anyone else, it is still a very good, very enjoyable read. ...more
5

Aug 24, 2014

This is without doubt one of the best first-hand-accounts i've ever read about the war in the pacific during world war two.

A book that you just can't put down. It will stop in your memory long after you have read it. If you want to read about the true horror's of war then this book is a must read.

A truly epic read.

P.s I don't go into much details about what is contained under it's covers(so-to-speak) as I don't want to give anything away.

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