03 May 2010
E.B. Sledge's With the Old Breed
I am trying to read all the books by the men who are depicted in the HBO series The Pacific. The latest one I finished was With the Old Breed at Peleliu and Okinawa by Eugene Sledge.
It was another powerful account of the war in the Pacific. Again, it makes we wonder why we did not learn these stories in school. I am fairly well versed in both WWI and WWII, but I did not realize I had such a gap in understanding the horrific nature of the island campaigns.
Sledge writes honestly and gives the reader a clear picture of his world with the Marines in combat.
I found that he was particularly insightful in the way he explained the mental aspect of war. He wrote, "fear is not just of being killed or wounded, it is the fear of something even worse- fear of not being able to take it and exhibiting the symptoms of cowardice to an audience of men who have trusted you (xiv)."
Many times he mentions the mental strain on men who were good combat soldiers, they simply had reached capacity for the amount of trauma they could absorb. They had had all that they could take. His stories make it clear that we should treat these men with an abundance of compassion. We cannot truly understand what they went through and should give them the benefit of the doubt in matters related to post-traumatic stress.
Sledge's account of his war is a remarkable one. One cannot read it and not be reminded yet again that the heroes of the Pacific were heroes, but they were also just men.
I have had the great privilege of meeting a Marine, who served in numerous island campaigns with the 1st Marine Division. Sledge's book gave me an even deeper appreciation for the man and his efforts. This humble, gentle, remarkable man was a part of something historic, for both its brutality and its ultimate success. But like Sledge and Leckie, after the war he built a life for himself. Despite a full, successful life, the war remains an ever-present shadow.
Like Leckie, Sledge closes by attempting to figure out what his war means to him. He concludes, "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...But it also taught us loyalty to each other--and love (315)."
If there is one thing I have learned about Marines from my family, my best friend, and the incredible men of the Marine veterans group I worked with, it is that Marines know how to love, each other and those they embrace.
Marines are a special breed.
Sledge shows us that the Marines of Peleliu and Okinawa were more special than we could have imagined.