Gloria's Reviews > With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa

With the Old Breed by Eugene B. Sledge
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it was amazing
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You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye
Who cheer when soldier lads march by,
Sneak home and pray you'll never know
The hell where youth and laughter go.

~Sigrfried Sassoon

William Tecumseh Sherman said it. "War is hell."
As a veteran of the Mexican War and the Civil War, he should know.

What is it about war which makes us glorify it?
Little boys tear around with swords and guns fighting off imaginary enemies.
Larger boys now sit glued before gaming devices doing essentially the same thing, complete with pixellated blood and gore.

I will admit to holding a longstanding fascination with "The Greatest Generation." I've always said if I could time travel back to a specific era, the 1940's would be at the top of the list.
The patriotism, the sense the country pulling together, the neighborhoods where people still knew one another, the clothes, the cars, the music...
Eugene Sledge's book didn't lessen my love for that time period, nor my awe and gratitude for the men who served ... but, by God, did it slap me in the face.

As graphic and as detailed as some more recent movies focusing on WWII have gotten, there always still seemed to be gaps (at least in my mind). I always wondered about goofy specifics of battlefront life and fox hole warfare.
Sledge's memoir hit every one of those questions-- and then some. The horrific sights, the deafening noises, the putrid odors, the physical maladies running from annoying to disabling. All encircled by the overarching twist of fear which never quite left their guts while they were on their missions. (I won't even try and relay so much of what he saw and experienced because without it being in the context of the rest of his thoughts, it would come off as a) gratuitous and b) unbelievable. Trust me ... if you read it, you'll never again take for granted things like: eating out of the rain, regular-sized house flies, running water, a bed, a change of clothes, dry socks and shoes, warm food, letters from loved ones, clean water, fresh air).

Eugene Sledge takes you with him every step of the way. From basic training, to the pre-launch nervous intestinal visits to the head, to landing in the fray of battle and wondering which bullet was going to kill you.

Along the way, he interposes his deeper thoughts. His wonderings at how men can be so cruel and can become animalistic so quickly within the confines of a battlefield.
But he laments more for those whose core runs toward tenderness and sensitivity.

As I crawled out of the abyss of combat and over the rail of the Sea Runner, I realized that compassion for the suffering of others is a burden to those who have it. As Wilfred Owen's poem "Insensibility" puts it so well, those who feel most for others suffer most in war.

As horrific as his experiences were, as often as he had to watch his friends and comrades die, he summed up his thoughts thusly:

War is brutish, inglorious, and a terrible waste. Combat leaves an endelible mark on those who are forced to endure it. The only redeeming factors were my comrades' incredible bravery and their devotion to each other.

Until the millenium arrives and countries cease trying to enslave others, it will be necessary to accept one's responsibilities and to be willing to make sacrifices for one's country-- as my comrades did. As the troops used to say, "If the country is good enough to live in, it's good enough to fight for." With privilege goes responsibility.


To Eugene Sledge, and to the many others who have fought (and many who have died) to preserve for us so many things we take for granted ...

thank you seems so not enough.
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Reading Progress

April 3, 2012 – Shelved
June 14, 2012 – Started Reading
June 20, 2012 –
page 148
45.4% "I had long since become used to the sight of blood, but the idea of sitting in that bloodstained gun pit was bit too much for me. It seemed almost like leaving our dead unburied to sit on the blood of a fellow Marine ...eloquent phrases of politicians about how "gallant" it is for a man to "shed his blood for his country" and so on ... The words seemed ridiculous. Only the flies benefited."
June 22, 2012 –
page 205
62.88% "Taking my time getting through this one-- not one on which to rush. Not exactly a beach read ... Okinawa not withstanding."
June 23, 2012 –
page 260
79.75%
June 24, 2012 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-11 of 11 (11 new)

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message 1: by [deleted user] (new)

Great use of quotes and the perfect image to set the tone for your great review. You did right by Cpl. Sledge, the USMC, and the Greatest Generation.


Gloria Thank you, Steve. That was one of the toughest things I've ever had to write. It's so much easier to "critique" fiction. How can you critique something like this ... a man's life experiences?
(I'm glad I didn't really have to as his writing was so wonderful).


message 3: by Mark (new)

Mark A really powerful review. I love Sassoon's poetry as well so that would have drawn me in anyway but your sincerity shone out in this


Gloria Thank you, Mark.

And might I say I was going to say something re: your comment (in FRENCH!) the other day, but was so intimidated by the fact that you even speak it I just decided to keep quiet and sit in humble awe.


message 5: by Mark (new)

Mark Lol. ah that is sweet but it was really schoolboy french so I am hoping it at least made sense


Melissa reading this now and the quote about "only the flies benefiting" is one of the most standout passages for me in any book. I don't think ill ever forget it.


Gloria Melissa wrote: "reading this now and the quote about "only the flies benefiting" is one of the most standout passages for me in any book. I don't think ill ever forget it."

There are so many unforgettable portions of this book. I hope you're "enjoying" your read through of it (as much as one can enjoy such things). He's an amazing writer.


Mark Mortensen Your review is great Gloria. “With The Old Breed” of one of my favorite books too. My paternal grandfather also served with the 5th Marines only with an even “Older Breed”, those united in combat in the First World War.


Gloria Mark wrote: "Your review is great Gloria. “With The Old Breed” of one of my favorite books too. My paternal grandfather also served with the 5th Marines only with an even “Older Breed”, those united in combat i..."

Mark,
It is an incredible book, thanks for sharing your love of it. And how wonderful it must be to have a forebear you can look back to as having lived through the brave days of The Great War.


message 10: by Mark (last edited Jul 14, 2014 05:17PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mark Mortensen Gloria wrote: "Mark,It is an incredible book, thanks for sharing your love of it. And how wonderful it must be to have a forebear you can look back to as having lived through the brave days of The Great War. ..."

Yes, I spent many memorable days with him as well as my grandmother. He was the quietest person I ever met and I'm certain he was outgoing prior to WWI. They retired to Cape Cod in 1950 spending another 30 years together. Their home was just two small towns away from "The Outermost House" another common favorite book.


Gloria Okay ... retiring to Cape Cod (not that he wasn't deserved after living such a life) ... but right near Beston's domain?
I've officially moved into straight out envy... :)


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