Memoir a raw glimpse of war | AspenTimes.com

Memoir a raw glimpse of war

Scott CondonAspen Times Weekly
Title: With the Old Breed at Peleliu and OkinawaAuthor: E.B. SledgePrice: $16.95
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A book by E.B. Sledge about fighting as a U.S. Marine in the Pacific Theater during World War II re-ignited interest in 2007 even though it was written 26 years ago.This hard-hitting memoir called With the Old Breed at Peleliu and Okinawa was cited often and with devastating effect in Ken Burns epic documentary about WW II and with good reason. It is a searing indictment against the folly of war and its effects on young lives even when the war is for a just and noble cause.A reader looking for poignant, stirring prose tackling the horrors of war on a philosophical level need not turn these pages. What Sledge offers instead is a raw, captivating look at what the grunts on the front line face while shouldering the burden of war.Sledge volunteered to serve with the Marines and purposely flunked out of officer training to speed his entry into battle. He was a well-heeled Southern boy whose sense of duty led him to serve as a mortar man with a rifle company.The reality of battle tempered his gung-ho approach as soon as he landed on the beach of an island called Peleliu. While scrambling off the beach, he saw fellow Marines getting cut down by machine gun and small-arms fire as they fled a burning half-track.My own plight forgotten momentarily, I felt sickened to the depths of my soul. … I had tasted the bitterest essence of war, the sight of helpless comrades being slaughtered, and it filled me with disgust.Sledge gives you a taste of what a long, bitter campaign like Peleliu is like. The days were an endless cycle of mounting assaults, repulsing counter-attacks by the Japanese or being pinned down by enemy fire fierce enough that a soldier didnt dare look out of a foxhole. Sleep was impossible at night. Even when a soldier wasnt on watch for infiltrators, flare shells constantly exploded overhead to illuminate the area. He doesnt tell you that war is hell; he shows you.Typically, the Marines went to great lengths to remove their dead from the battlefield for a proper burial and to shovel dirt on enemy casualties. But the fighting was so intense on Peleliu that friends and foes sometimes went unburied for days. Sledge paints the grim picture of watching, helpless, as the bodies decomposed. You can smell the stench he describes and imagine the flies and maggots crawling.Sledge survived Peleliu and an equally harrowing campaign on Okinawa without physical injury, but he was convinced as were many veterans that surviving a third major battle unscathed would be impossible. The U.S. decision to drop the atomic bomb on Japan spared him.My burning desire is that the masters of war from this country or any other be forced to read this book before sending soldiers to their slaughter.scondon@aspentimes.com


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