23 Mar

Book Rec: With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Iwo Jima (WW2 Memoir)

With the Old Breed book coverTLDR: The ultimate war memoir, very real, very historical, very visceral. If you’re disturbed by the image of throwing yourself down into maggot-infested corpses to save yourself from enemy artillery, this is not for you.

Eugene B Sledge, fresh recruit with the 5th Marines. That’s the 1st Marine Divisions, 5th Marine Regiment, 3rd Battalion. He’s the Sledgehammer, not because his big, or strong, or dangerous, but because his name is Sledge and they are gung-ho marines. Ergo, Sledgehammer.

Sledghammer’s first-person memoir is one of the best depictions of infantry warfare in WWII. That’s not my opinion, that’s the consensus of the war-journalist, WWII historian crowd. In my opinion, With the Old Breed is the best war memoir ever, period. It’s one of the best memoirs I’ve ever read (the other one being Educated by Tara Westover). It’s one of the most engrossing. Once I picked it up, I couldn’t stop reading.

It’s also one of the most disturbing books I’ve read.

Not so much for the depictions of battle, which are flashes of fear amidst a sea of confusion, but for the humanity of it all. Eugene B Sledge isn’t some blood-thirsty killer. Neither is he a reckless glory-hound or coward. No, the Sledgehammer is a young man, together with other young men, trying to do a dangerous job while saving each other’s lives. And their own.

Sledgehammer is also an amazing writer.

Working from his journals, in which he kept a meticulous record of when, where, and what on Peleliu and Iwo Jima, With the Old Breed is down-to-earth and incredibly detailed. The thirst of hot Peleliu, artillery fire turning dry coral into shrapnel, contrast with the rain, cold and maggots of Iwo Jima, as marines struggle to dig in on ground littered with the corpses of their predecessors, friends and enemies alike.

And yet, there is surprisingly little hate. While many servicemen who fought in the Pacific never forgave their opponents, Sledgehammer doesn’t focus on that. While it is mentioned, he focuses on the human angle, on the friends and comrades, the nights of fear and days of survival, the feelings of respect of loathing for the Marine officers, depending on the one one crucial factor: are they saving lives or getting good men killed.

With the Old Breed isn’t about grand strategy. It’s about rushing toward a small outcropping of coral that might shield you from the incoming machine gun fire, the crater that might hide you from the sniper, the trench that might protect you from the howling artillery shell. It is about being a regular person in extraordinary circumstances. It is about humanity, and war.

Read it, read it now!

Blurb

“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

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