Thursday, 25 July 2013

With the Old Breed - E.B. Sledge

Title: With the Old Breed
Author: E.B. Sledge
ISBN: 978-0-89141-906-8
Pages: 326
Illustrations: 42 B/W, 10 maps
Publisher: Ballantine Books

                EB Sledge was a soldier. Like soldiers everywhere who have experienced and lived through war, he was profoundly affected by it. His memoire of his experiences, originally drafted for his family, has become a classic of the wartime genre. Joining the Marine corps in 1942, he took part in the battles of Peleliu and Okinawa. Originally slated to become an officer, Sledge transferred to the ranks in order to get to the front faster. This was not because he was enamored with the idea of fighting but because of a simple desire to do his part on behalf of his country. He became a rifleman in the 1st Division, 3rd Bn, 5th Company and remained with that unit as a mortar man for the rest of the war.

                Sledge’s writing style is very straightforward and direct. He does not glorify his participation (if anything he downplays his role) in the fighting but focuses his attention at trying to relate what he saw and did to those who can hardly imagine the horrors that he and his buddies experienced. Given that he was writing as a rifleman, his view and perspective was very local and has little if any vision beyond the tactical. This is enlightening because so many memoirs are written by those who were removed from the front line due to rank or task.

                He related the good and bad in his peers, the enemy and himself. Such things as a Gunnery Sergeant that makes him dig his foxhole through a buried Japanese corpse (literally) or a Lieutenant that actually briefs the men on  where they are and what they are to do and why (with maps) is indicative of the spectrum of experience that he sees. The description of the environment in which he and his fellow marines fight and the brutality that he witnesses beggars belief. That so many of the marines not only functioned effectively but were able to recover to civilian life once the war ended  is testament, as Sledge puts, to the outstanding esprit des corps within his unit, the Marine Corps and the mental toughness developed through realistic training.

                Sledge is a quiet, humble man who returned to civilian life following the war as a professor in a small university. He is adamant that what he experienced and accomplished was unremarkable within the context of the Pacific war. While this may be true (as far as it goes), what he has written for himself, his family and really, as a testimony to the Marine Corps in the Pacific war, is anything but unremarkable. He has created a lasting legacy for future generations of the scope of sacrifice and dedication that he and his peers gave for future generations.

                This is, quite simply, mandatory reading for anyone, regardless of whether they are military or civilian, who strives to understand the true meaning of the word selflessness.

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