Thursday, June 2, 2011

Book Review: With the Old Breed by E.B. Sledge

It seemed strangely fitting that I finished With the Old Breed while hunkered down through one of the worst summer storms I've seen in a long time. The driving wind and rain, coupled with the continuous barrage of lightning ripping down out of the sky and the never-ending boom and rumble of thunder, reminded me of nothing other than a heavy artillery bombardment during a Pacific tropical storm.

Yet even though I couldn't help but make the analogy, I felt guilty at the same time. The indescribable hell that the Marines and Army troops went through during the Pacific campaign is heroic, heart-breaking, and incredibly humbling in equal measures. I was loaned HBO's The Pacific last month and after watching it ("experiencing it" might be more appropriate), I was determined to read Sledge's memoir of his experiences in the war. If anything, his book is more vivid and brutal than the television series, and after reading chapters before bed, I'd often find myself tossing and turning, the terrible images conjured up by his narrative finding their way into my dreams.

War is always a terrible thing, and World War Two was one of the most terrible, if not the most terrible conflict in human history. Out of that war, after having read about the battles for such hellholes as Peleliu, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa, I feel that if I was ever sucked back in time and given a choice as to where I'd want to be dumped, the last place I'd ever want to wind up is on one of the Pacific islands fought over by the Japanese and the Marines.

If you have an interest in war memoirs, in particular World War Two, you really must read With the Old Breed. It's not overly long, extremely well-written, and provides an incredibly visceral, human, and honest account of those terrible battles. I cannot recommend it highly enough.


Tom Johnson said...

At the end of the war, 66 years ago, I was a boy of five. But my father and four uncles had served in WW11. I remember vividly my grandmother sitting beside the radio listening to every bit of war news that came through. To this day, I think the WW11 period was one of this country's - and maybe the world's - most fascinating times.

Andrew Byers said...

Great book, probably the single best combat memoir I have encountered (certainly the best Pacific campaign memoir I've found). I used it in a college history course I taught a few years ago.

Machine Trooper said...

What Tom said.