Eugene Sledge’s With the Old Breed is a memoir of a junior soldier during the island hopping campaign in the Pacific theater during the Second World War. Written over thirty-five years after VJ-Day, his narrative carries the weight of emotion while brilliantly depicting the struggle of the individual soldier at the tactical level. As Sledge recounts his experience, he writes like a patriarch attempting to preserve his legacy through the account of his physically arduous and morally dubious ordeal. Already an established classic, Sledge’s memoir has resurged since becoming one of the narrative mainstays for the television mini-series The Pacific.
Frustrated by the commissioning programs of the time, Sledge begins his journey by resigning from the officer candidate program in an effort to more quickly reach combat. He subsequently volunteers to be a sixty millimeter mortar-man and joins Company K, Third Battalion, Fifth Marine Regiment (K/3/5) of the First Marine Division. It is within this command framework that Sledge experiences two of the bloodiest campaigns of the Second World War.
Sledge receives his baptism by fire on the rugged coral of Peleliu during a confused and violent amphibious assault into the teeth of the Japanese defenses. His recollection of the physical stress of combat is vivid and detailed. Of the Peleliu landing Sledge states, “[e]very muscle in my body was tight as a piano wire.” (Sledge, 63). Following an ensuing action Sledge recalls hearing what he believed to be the voice of God assuring that he would survive. On Okinawa he graphically portrays a struggle against not only the Japanese but the environment as well. Sledge paints a picture of corpses, stagnant water and mud saturating the island. As a result of these conditions he recalls being unable to sleep, a problem which culminates when he begins to see hallucinations of Marine corpses desperately trudging through the battlefield.
Although he has every reason to abandon hope and give in to the temptation of evil in war,...