Author: E.B. Sledge

Category: Biographies & Memoirs

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NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • “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 HanksIn 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

Review "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“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 BurnsFrom the Trade Paperback edition. About the Author E. B. “Sledgehammer” Sledge was born and grew up in Mobile. In late 1943 he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps. After basic training, he was sent to the Pacific Theater where he fought at Peleliu and Okinawa, two of the fiercest battles of World War II. Following the Japanese surrender, Sledge served in China as part of the occupation force. Upon his return home, he obtained a Ph.D. in biology and joined the faculty of Alabama College (later the University of Montevallo), where he taught until retirement. Sledge initially wrote about his war experiences to explain them to his family, but he was persuaded by his wife to seek publication. Sledge died on March 3, 2001. --This text refers to an alternate kindle_edition edition. Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved. Chapter OneMaking of a MarineI enlisted in the Marine Corps on 3 December 1942 at Marion, Alabama. At the time I was a freshman at MarionMilitary Institute. My parents and brother Edward had urgedme to stay in college as long as possible in order to qualify fora commission in some technical branch of the U.S. Army.But, prompted by a deep feeling of uneasiness that the warmight end before I could get overseas into combat, I wantedto enlist in the Marine Corps as soon as possible. Ed, aCitadel graduate and a second lieutenant in the army, suggestedlife would be more beautiful for me as an officer.Mother and Father were mildly distraught at the thought ofme in the Marines as an enlisted man–that is, “cannon fodder.”So when a Marine recruiting team came to Marion Institute,I compromised and signed up for one of the Corps’ newofficer training programs. It was called V-12.The recruiting sergeant wore dress blue trousers, a khakishirt, necktie, and white barracks hat. His shoes had a shinethe likes of which I’d never seen. He asked me lots of questionsand filled out numerous official papers. When he asked,“Any scars, birthmarks, or other unusual features?” I describedan inch-long scar on my right knee. I asked why sucha question. He replied, “So they can identify you on some Pacificbeach after the Japs blast off your dog tags.” This wasmy introduction to the stark realism that characterized theMarine Corps I later came to know.The college year ended the last week of May 1943. I hadthe month of June at home in Mobile before I had to report 1July for duty at Georgia Tech in Atlanta.I enjoyed the train trip from Mobile to Atlanta because thetrain had a steam engine. The smoke smelled good, and thewhistle added a plaintive note reminiscent of an unhurriedlife. The porters were impressed and most solicitous when Itold them, with no little pride, that I was on my way to becominga Marine. My official Marine Corps meal ticket got me alarge, delicious shrimp salad in the dining car and the admiringglances of the steward in attendance.On my arrival in Atlanta, a taxi deposited me at GeorgiaTech, where the 180-man Marine detachment lived in HarrisonDormitory. Recruits were scheduled to attend classesyear round (in my case, about two years), graduate, and thengo to the Marine base at Quantico, Virginia, for officers’training.A Marine regular, Capt. Donald Payzant, was in charge.He had served with the 1st Marine Division on Guadalcanal.Seeming to glory in his duty and his job as our commander,he loved the Corps and was salty and full of swagger. Lookingback, I realize now that he had survived the meat grinderof combat and was simply glad to be in one piece with thegood fortune of being stationed at a peaceful college campus.Life at Georgia Tech was easy and comfortable. In short,we didn’t know there was a war going on. Most of the collegecourses were dull and uninspiring. Many of the professorsopenly resented our presence. It was all but impossible toconcentrate on academics. Most of us felt we had joined theMarines to fight, but here we were college boys again. Thesituation was more than many of us could stand. At the end ofthe first semester, ninety of us–half of the detachment–flunked out of school so we could go into the Corps as enlistedmen.When the navy officer in charge of academic affairs calledme in to question me about my poor academic performance, Itold him I hadn’t joined the Marine Corps to sit out the war incollege. He was sympathetic to the point of being fatherlyand said he would feel the same way if he were in my place.Captain Payzant gave the ninety of us a pep talk in front ofthe dormitory the morning we were to board the train for bootcamp at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego, California.He told us we were the best men and the best Marines inthe detachment. He said he admired our spirit for wanting toget into the war. I think he was sincere.After the pep talk, buses took us to the railway station. Wesang and cheered the whole way. We were on our way to warat last. If we had only known what lay ahead of us!Approximately two and a half years later, I came backthrough the Atlanta railway station on my way home. Shortlyafter I stepped off the car for a stroll, a young army infantrymanwalked up to me and shook hands. He said he had noticedmy 1st Marine Division patch and the campaign ribbonson my chest and wondered if I had fought at Peleliu. When Isaid I had, he told me he just wanted to express his undyingadmiration for men of the 1st Marine Division.He had fought with the 81st Infantry Division (Wildcats),which had come in to help us at Peleliu.* He was a machinegunner, had been hit by Japanese fire on Bloody Nose Ridge,and was abandoned by his army comrades. He knew hewould either die of his wounds or be cut up by the Japanesewhen darkness fell. Risking their lives, some Marines hadmoved in and carried him to safety. The soldier said he was soimpressed by the bravery, efficiency, and esprit of theMarines he saw on Peleliu that he swore to thank every veteranof the 1st Marine Division he ever ran across.The “Dago people”–as those of us bound for San Diegowere called–boarded a troop train in a big railroad terminalin Atlanta. Everyone was in high spirits, as though we wereheaded for a picnic instead of boot camp–and a war. The tripacross the country took several days and was uneventful butinteresting. Most of us had never been west, and we enjoyedthe scenery. The monotony of the trip was broken with cardgames, playing jokes on each other, and waving, yelling, andwhistling at any and all women visible. We ate some meals indining cars on the train; but at certain places the train pulledonto a siding, and we ate in the restaurant in the railroad terminal.Nearly all of the rail traffic we passed was military. We sawlong trains composed almost entirely of flatcars loaded withtanks, halftracks, artillery pieces, trucks, and other militaryequipment. Many troop trains passed us going both ways.Most of them carried army troops. This rail traffic impressedon us the enormousness of the nation’s war effort.*Together with the 1st Marine Division, the U.S. Army’s 81st Infantry Divisioncomprised the III Amphibious Corps commanded by Maj. Gen. Roy S.Geiger, USMC. For the Palau operation, the 1st Marine Division assaultedPeleliu on 15 September 1944 while the 81st Division took Angaur Islandand provided a regiment as corps reserve. The 81st Division relieved the 1stMarine Division on Peleliu on 20 October and secured the island on 27 November.We arrived in San Diego early one morning. Collecting ourgear, we fell into ranks outside our cars as a first sergeantcame along and told the NCOs on our train which buses to getus aboard. This first sergeant looked old to us teenagers. Likeourselves, he was dressed in a green wool Marine uniform,but he had campaign ribbons on his chest. He also wore thegreen French fourragère on his left shoulder. (Later, as amember of the 5th Marine Regiment, I would wear thebraided cord around my left arm with pride.) But this mansported, in addition, two single loops outside his arm. Thatmeant he had served with a regiment (either the 5th or 6thMarines) that had received the award from France for distinguishedcombat service in World War I.The sergeant made a few brief remarks to us about thetough training we faced. He seemed friendly and compassionate,almost fatherly. His manner threw us into a falsesense of well-being and left us totally unprepared for theshock that awaited us when we got off those buses.“Fall out, and board your assigned buses!” ordered the firstsergeant.“All right, you people. Get aboard them buses!” the NCOsyelled. They seemed to have become more authoritarian aswe approached San Diego.After a ride of only a few miles, the buses rolled to a stop inthe big Marine Corps Recruit Depot–boot camp. As Ilooked anxiously out the window, I saw many platoons of recruitsmarching along the streets. Each drill instructor (DI)bellowed his highly individual cadence. The recruits lookedas rigid as sardines in a can. I grew nervous at seeing howserious–or rather, scared–they seemed.“All right, you people, off them damned buses!”We scrambled out, lined up with men from the other buses,and were counted off into groups of about sixty. Severaltrucks rolled by carrying work parties of men still in bootcamp or who had finished recently. All looked at us withknowing grins and jeered, “You’ll be sorreee.” This was thestandard, unofficial greeting extended to all recruits.Shortly after we debused, a corporal walked over to mygroup. He yelled, “Patoon, teehut. Right hace, forwart huah.Double time, huah.”He ran us up and down the streets for what seemed hoursand finally to a double line of huts that would house us for atime. We were breathless. He didn’t even seem to be breathinghard.“Patoon halt, right hace!” He put his hands on his hips andlooked us over contemptuously. “You people are stupid,” hebellowed. From then on he tried to prove it every moment ofevery day. “My name is Corporal Doherty. I’m your drill instructor.This is Platoon 984. If any of you idiots think youdon’t need to follow my orders, just step right out here and I’llbeat your ass right now. Your soul may belong to Jesus, butyour ass belongs to the Marines. You people are recruits.You’ re not Marines. You may not have what it takes to beMarines.”No one dared move, hardly even to breathe. We were allhumbled, because there was no doubt the DI meant exactlywhat he said.Corporal Doherty wasn’t a large man by any standard. Hestood about five feet ten inches, probably weighed around160 pounds, and was muscular with a protruding chest andflat stomach. He had thin lips, a ruddy complexion, and wasprobably as Irish as his name. From his accent I judged him tobe a New Englander, maybe from Boston. His eyes were thecoldest, meanest green I ever saw. He glared at us like a wolfwhose first and foremost desire was to tear us limb from limb.He gave me the impression that the only reason he didn’t doso was that the Marine Corps wanted to use us for cannonfodder to absorb Japanese bullets and shrapnel so genuineMarines could be spared to capture Japanese positions.That Corporal Doherty was tough and hard as nails none ofus ever doubted. Most Marines recall how loudly their DIsyelled at them, but Doherty didn’t yell very loudly. Instead heshouted in an icy, menacing manner that sent cold chillsthrough us. We believed that if he didn’t scare us to death, theJaps couldn’t kill us. He was always immaculate, and his uniformfitted him as if the finest tailor had made it for him. Hisposture was erect, and his bearing reflected military precision.The public pictures a DI wearing sergeant stripes. Dohertycommanded our respect and put such fear into us that hecouldn’t have been more effective if he had had the six stripesof a first sergeant instead of the two of a corporal. One factemerged immediately with stark clarity: this man would bethe master of our fates in the weeks to come.Doherty rarely drilled us on the main parade ground, butmarched or double-timed us to an area near the beach of SanDiego Bay. There the deep, soft sand made walking exhausting,just what he wanted. For hours on end, for days on end,we drilled back and forth across the soft sand. My legs achedterribly for the first few days, as did those of everyone else inthe platoon. I found that when I concentrated on a fold of thecollar or cap of the man in front of me or tried to count theships in the bay, my muscles didn’t ache as badly. To drop outof ranks because of tired legs was unthinkable. The standardremedy for such shirking was to “double-time in place to getthe legs in shape”–before being humiliated and berated infront of the whole platoon by the DI. I preferred the pain tothe remedy.Before heading back to the hut area at the end of each drillsession, Doherty would halt us, ask a man for his rifle, andtell us he would demonstrate the proper technique for holdingthe rifle while creeping and crawling. First, though, he wouldplace the butt of the rifle on the sand, release the weapon, andlet it drop, saying that anyone who did that would have amiserable day of it. With so many men in the platoon, it wasuncanny how often he asked to use my rifle in this demonstration. Then, after demonstrating how to cradle the rifle, he orderedus to creep and crawl. Naturally, the men in frontkicked sand onto the rifle of the one behind him. With thisand several other techniques, the DI made it necessary for usto clean our rifles several times each day. But we learnedquickly and well an old Marine Corps truism, “The rifle is aMarine’s best friend.” We always treated it as just that.During the first few days, Doherty once asked one of therecruits a question about his rifle. In answering, the haplessrecruit referred to his rifle as “my gun.” The DI mutteredsome instructions to him, and the recruit blushed. He begantrotting up and down in front of the huts holding his rifle inone hand and his penis in the other, chanting, “This is my rifle,”as he held up his M1, “and this is my gun,” as he movedhis other arm. “This is for Japs,” he again held aloft his M1;“and this is for fun,” he held up his other arm. Needless to say,none of us ever again used the word “gun” unless referring toa shotgun, mortar, artillery piece, or naval gun.A typical day in boot camp began with reveille at 0400hours. We tumbled out of our sacks in the chilly dark and hurriedthrough shaves, dressing, and chow. The grueling dayended with taps at 2200. At any time between taps andreveille, however, the DI might break us out for rifle inspection,close-order drill, or for a run around the parade groundor over the sand by the bay. This seemingly cruel and senselessharassment stood me in good stead later when I foundthat war allowed sleep to no man, particularly the infantryman.Combat guaranteed sleep of the permanent type only.We moved to two or three different hut areas during thefirst few weeks, each time on a moment’s notice. The orderwas “Platoon 984, fall out on the double with rifles, full individualequipment, and seabags with all gear properly stowed,and prepare to move out in ten minutes.” A mad scramblewould follow as men gathered up and packed their equipment.Each man had one or two close buddies who pitched into help each other don packs and hoist heavy seabags ontosagging shoulders. Several men from each hut would stay behindto clean up the huts and surrounding area as the othermen of the platoon struggled under their heavy loads to thenew hut area.Upon arrival at the new area, the platoon halted, receivedhut assignments, fell out, and stowed gear. Just as we got intothe huts we would get orders to fall in for drill with rifles,cartridge belts, and bayonets. The sense of urgency andhurry never abated. Our DI was ingenious in finding ways toharass us.One of the hut areas we were in was across a high fencefrom an aircraft factory where big B-24 Liberator bomberswere made. There was an airstrip, too, and the big fourengineplanes came and went low over the tops of the huts.Once one belly-landed, going through the fence near ourhuts. No one was hurt, but several of us ran down to see thecrash. When we got back to our area, Corporal Doherty deliveredone of his finest orations on the subject of recruits neverleaving their assigned area without the permission of theirDI. We were all impressed, particularly with the tremendousnumber of push-ups and other exercises we performed insteadof going to noon chow.During close-order drill, the short men had the toughesttime staying in step. Every platoon had its “feathermerchants”–short men struggling along with giant strides atthe tail end of the formation. At five feet nine inches, I wasabout two-thirds of the way back from the front guide of Platoon984. One day while returning from the bayonet course, Igot out of step and couldn’t pick up the cadence. CorporalDoherty marched along beside me. In his icy tone, he said,“Boy, if you don’t get in step and stay in step, I’m gonna kickyou so hard in the behind that they’re gonna have to take bothof us to sick bay. It’ll take a major operation to get my footouta your ass.” With those inspiring words ringing in my ears,I picked up the cadence and never ever lost it again.The weather became quite chilly, particularly at night. Ihad to cover up with blankets and overcoat. Many of us sleptin dungaree trousers and sweat shirts in addition to ourSkivvies. When reveille sounded well before daylight, weonly had to pull on our boondockers [field shoes] beforefalling in for roll call.Each morning after roll call, we ran in the foggy darknessto a large asphalt parade ground for rifle calisthenics. Atop awooden platform, a muscular physical training instructor ledseveral platoons in a long series of tiring exercises. A publicaddresssystem played a scratchy recording of “Three O’-Clock in the Morning.” We were supposed to keep time withthe music. The monotony was broken only by frequent whisperedcurses and insults directed at our enthusiastic instructor,and by the too frequent appearance of various DIs whostalked the extended ranks making sure all hands exercisedvigorously. Not only did the exercises harden our bodies, butour hearing became superkeen from listening for the DIs aswe skipped a beat or two for a moment of rest in the inkydarkness.At the time, we didn’t realize or appreciate the fact that thediscipline we were learning in responding to orders understress often would mean the difference later in combat–between success or failure, even living or dying. The eartraining also proved to be an unscheduled dividend whenJapanese infiltrators slipped around at night.Shortly we received word that we were going to move outto the rifle range. We greeted the announcement enthusiastically.Rumor had it that we would receive the traditionalbroad-brimmed campaign hats. But the supply ran out whenour turn came. We felt envious and cheated every time wesaw those salty-looking “Smokey Bear” hats on the range.Early on the first morning at the rifle range, we began whatwas probably the most thorough and the most effective riflemarksmanship training given to any troops of any nation duringWorld War II. We were divided into two-man teams thefirst week for dry firing, or “snapping-in.” We concentratedon proper sight setting, trigger squeeze, calling of shots, useof the leather sling as a shooting aid, and other fundamentals.It soon became obvious why we all received thick pads tobe sewn onto the elbows and right shoulders of our dungareejackets: during this snapping-in, each man and his buddypracticed together, one in the proper position (standing,kneeling, sitting, or prone) and squeezing the trigger, and theother pushing back the rifle bolt lever with the heel of hishand, padded by an empty cloth bandolier wrapped aroundthe palm. This procedure cocked the rifle and simulated recoil.The DIs and rifle coaches checked every man continuously.Everything had to be just so. Our arms became sorefrom being contorted into various positions and having theleather sling straining our joints and biting into our muscles.Most of us had problems perfecting the sitting position(which I never saw used in combat). But the coach helpedeveryone the way he did me–simply by plopping his weighton my shoulders until I was able to “assume the correct position.”Those familiar with firearms quickly forgot what theyknew and learned the Marine Corps’way.Second only to accuracy was safety. Its principles werepounded into us mercilessly. “Keep the piece pointed towardthe target. Never point a rifle at anything you don’t intend toshoot. Check your rifle each time you pick it up to be sure itisn’t loaded. Many accidents have occurred with ‘unloaded’rifles.”We went onto the firing line and received live ammunitionthe next week. At first, the sound of rifles firing was disconcerting.But not for long. Our snapping-in had been so thorough,we went through our paces automatically. We fired atround black bull’s-eye targets from 100, 300, and 500 yards.Other platoons worked the “butts.”* When the range officerordered, “Ready on the right, ready on the left, all ready onthe firing line, commence firing,” I felt as though the rifle waspart of me and vice versa. My concentration was complete.Discipline was ever present, but the harassment that hadbeen our daily diet gave way to deadly serious, businesslikeinstruction in marksmanship. Punishment for infractions ofthe rules came swiftly and severely, however. One man nextto me turned around slightly to speak to a buddy after “ceasefiring” was given; the action caused his rifle muzzle to angle away from the targets. The sharp-eyed captain in charge of the range rushed up from behind and booted the man in the rear so hard that he fell flat on his face. The captain thenjerked him up off the deck and bawled him out loudly and thoroughly. We got his message.*“Butts” refers to the impact area on a rifle range. It consists of the targetsmounted on a vertical track system above a sheltered dugout, usually madeof concrete, in which other shooters operate, mark, and score the targets forthose on the firing line.Platoon 984 took its turn in the butts. As we sat safely inthe dugouts and waited for each series of firing to be completed,I had somber thoughts about the crack and snap ofbullets passing overhead.Qualification day dawned clearly and brightly. We were apprehensive,having been told that anyone who didn’t shoothigh enough to qualify as “marksman” wouldn’t go overseas.When the final scores were totaled, I was disappointed. I fellshort of “expert rifleman” by only two points. However, Iproudly wore the Maltese Cross—shaped sharpshooter’sbadge. And I didn’t neglect to point out to my Yankee buddiesthat most of the high shooters in our platoon were Southernboys.Feeling like old salts, we returned to the recruit depot forthe final phases of recruit training. The DIs didn’t treat us asveterans, though; harassment picked up quickly to its previousintensity.By the end of eight grueling weeks, it had become apparentthat Corporal Doherty and the other DIs had done theirjobs well. We were hard physically, had developed endurance,and had learned our lessons. Perhaps more important,we were tough mentally. One of our assistant drillinstructors even allowed himself to mumble that we mightbecome Marines after all.Finally, late in the afternoon of 24 December 1943, we fellin without rifles and cartridge belts. Dressed in servicegreens, each man received three bronze Marine Corps globeand-anchor emblems, which we put into our pockets. Wemarched to an amphitheater where we sat with several otherplatoons.This was our graduation from boot camp. A short, affablelookingmajor standing on the stage said, “Men, you havesuccessfully completed your recruit training and are nowUnited States Marines. Put on your Marine Corps emblemsand wear them with pride. You have a great and proud traditionto uphold. You are members of the world’s finest fightingoutfit, so be worthy of it.” We took out our emblems and putone on each lapel of our green wool coats and one on the leftside of the overseas caps. The major told several dirty jokes.Everyone laughed and whistled. Then he said, “Good luck,men.” That was the first time we had been addressed as menduring our entire time in boot camp.Before dawn the next day, Platoon 984 assembled in frontof the huts for the last time. We shouldered our seabags, slungour rifles, and struggled down to a warehouse where a line oftrucks was parked. Corporal Doherty told us that each manwas to report to the designated truck as his name and destinationwas called out. The few men selected to train as specialists(radar technicians, aircraft mechanics, etc.) were to turnin their rifles, bayonets, and cartridge belts.As the men moved out of ranks, there were quiet remarksof, “So long, see you, take it easy.” We knew that manyfriendships were ending right there. Doherty called out, “EugeneB. Sledge, 534559, full individual equipment and M1 rifle,infantry, Camp Elliott.”Most of us were designated for infantry, and we went toCamp Elliott or to Camp Pendleton.* As we helped eachother aboard the trucks, it never occurred to us why so manywere being assigned to infantry. We were destined to take theplaces of the ever mounting numbers of casualties in the rifleor line companies in the Pacific. We were fated to fight thewar first hand. We were cannon fodder.After all assignments had been made, the trucks rolled out,and I looked at Doherty watching us leave. I disliked him, butI respected him. He had made us Marines, and I wonderedwhat he thought as we rolled by.*Camp Elliott was a small installation located on the northern outskirts ofSan Diego. It has been used rarely since World War II. Thirty-five miles northof San Diego lies Camp Joseph H. Pendleton. Home today of the 1st MarineDivision, it is the Marine Corps’ major west coast amphibious base. --This text refers to an alternate kindle_edition edition.