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Eugene Sledge
November 4, 1923(1923-11-04) – March 3, 2001 (aged 77)
Eugene Sledge in his Marine dress blues (1946)
Nickname Sledgehammer
Place of birth Mobile, Alabama
Place of death Montevallo, Alabama
Place of burial Pine Crest Cemetery
Allegiance  United States
Service/branch United States Marine Corps
Years of service 1942 - 1946
Rank USMC-E4.svgCorporal
Unit 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines
Battles/wars World War II
*Battle of Peleliu
*Battle of Okinawa
Other work Professor of Biology, Author

Eugene Bondurant Sledge (November 4, 1923 – March 3, 2001) was a United States Marine, university professor, and author. His 1981 memoir With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa was, in part, the basis for Ken Burn's PBS documentary on World War II and for the HBO series on the Marine Corps in the Pacific Theater during World War II.


Early life

Eugene B. Sledge was born on November 4, 1923 and grew up at Georgia Cottage in Mobile, Alabama. The grandson of Confederate Officers, Sledge was bookish and frail as a child, however his physician father brought him up to be accustomed to the outdoors. Having learned to fish and hunt from his father, he was fond of venturing outdoors into the woods with his best friend Sidney Phillips.[1] After Pearl Harbor was bombed on December 7, 1941, Sledge wished to join the war with his friend Phillips. However a heart murmur prevented him from joining the war, and Phillips went off to the recruitment post alone.[2] He graduated from Murphy High School in Mobile in May 1942, and entered Marion Military Institute in Marion, Alabama, that fall.[3]

Military career

Sledge enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in December 1942 to train as an officer, but in order not to "miss the war" he joined as an enlisted man and was eventually assigned to Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division (K/3/5). He served as a Private First Class in the Pacific Theater and saw combat as a mortarman at Peleliu and Okinawa. During his service, Sledge kept notes of what happened in his pocket sized New Testament. When the war ended, he took these notes and compiled them into the novel that was to be known as the Old Breed. After being posted to Peiping (Beijing), China after the war, he was discharged from the Marine Corps in February 1946 with the rank of Corporal.[4]


After the war, Sledge attended Alabama Polytechnic Institute (now Auburn University) where he received a Bachelor of Science degree in the summer of 1949. Sledge, like many other war veterans, had a hard time readjusting to civilian life. “As I strolled the streets of Mobile, civilian life seemed so strange,” Sledge wrote. “People rushed around in a hurry about seemingly insignificant things. Few seemed to realize how blessed they were to be free and untouched by the horrors of war. To them, a veteran was a veteran – all were the same, whether one man had survived the deadliest combat or another had pounded a typewriter while in uniform.”[5] Once an avid hunter, he felt that he could not longer shoot another animal, having felt the same terror his targets had felt during combat. When he came to enroll at Auburn University, the female at the register office asked him if the Marine Corps taught him anything useful. Sledge replied saying "Lady, there was a killing war. The Marine Corps taught me how to kill Japs and try to survive. Now, if that don't fit into any academic course, I'm sorry. But some of us had to do the killing -- and most of my buddies got killed or wounded."[6] Finding his salvation in science, it kept the flashbacks of Peleliu and Okinawa at bay. Close, constant study of nature prevented him from going mad. However, the war stayed with him, and finally at the urging of his wife, he began to put his thoughts on paper, at last allowing him to put his horrors behind him. He returned to Auburn in 1953 where he worked as a research assistant until 1955. That same year he graduated from API with a Master of Science degree in botany. From 1956 to 1960 Sledge attended the University of Florida and worked as a research assistant. He published numerous papers on helminthology and in 1956 joined the Helminthological Society of Washington.[3] He received his doctorate in biology from the University of Florida in 1960. He was employed by the Division of Plant Industries for the Florida State Department of Agriculture from 1959 to 1962.

In the summer of 1962, Sledge was appointed Assistant Professor of Biology at Alabama College (now the University of Montevallo). In 1970 he became a professor, a position he held until his retirement in 1990. He taught zoology, ornithology, comparative vertebrate anatomy and other courses during his long tenure there. Sledge was popular with his students, organizing field trips and collections around town. Eugene Sledge died after a long battle with stomach cancer in 2001.[7]


With the Old Breed

In 1981, Sledge published With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa, a memoir of his World War II service with the United States Marine Corps. With the Old Breed was reprinted in 1990 (with an introduction by Paul Fussell) and again in 2007 (with an introduction by Victor Davis Hanson). In 1992, Sledge was featured in the documentary film Peleliu 1944: Horror in the Pacific.[8] In April 2007, it was announced that With the Old Breed, along with Robert Leckie's Helmet for My Pillow, would form the basis for the HBO series The Pacific,[9] from the same producers as Band of Brothers.

China Marine

A second memoir, China Marine: An Infantryman's Life after World War II, was published posthumously. Its initial hard bound edition, with foreword by Stephen E. Ambrose was published May 10, 2002 by University of Alabama Press[10] and did not have the subtitle listed. It was republished in 2003 by Oxford University Press under the full title and paperback editions have followed. China Marine discussed his postwar service in Peiping (now known as Beijing), his return home to Mobile and his recovery from the psychological trauma of warfare.[11]

Awards and decorations

His decorations and medals include:

Gold star
Gold star
Bronze star
Bronze star
Navy Presidential Unit Citation w/ 2 service stars Good Conduct Medal
China Service Medal Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal w/ 2 service stars World War II Victory Medal Navy Occupation Service Medal

See also


External links

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