I am not what you would call a war buff by any stretch of the imagination, but WWII always fascinated me as a kid and I certainly loved playing with my GI Joe's- I still have a couple of those and also a GI Joe Army Jeep as well from the 60s. A few years ago before going on vacation, I was looking for a few good trip reads and ran across a book by Eugene Sledge, "With the Old Breed." It detailed an operation in the Pacific: the battle for the island of Peleliu. That conflict had received little recognition or publicity, but is believed to be one of the bloodiest and hardest fought battles of the Pacific. Several years after the book was published, the producer's of the HBO miniseries "The Pacific" used Sledge's harrowing personal account for one of the main 3 story lines of the program.
His memoir takes you from the beginning of his basic training, straight into the beach landing at Peleliu, and through all the horrors that followed. One of the things that really struck me was the idea that although he went through basic training, there was no "easing" into combat patrols, no orientation over a period of time into a dangerous area or combat zone. They only did a couple of trial landings on a deserted island, and then a few days later, loaded into the amtracs, and hit the beach for real... and of course, all hell broke loose!
Here is an excerpt as they prepare for the landing:
"The first light of dawn was just appearing as I left my gear on my bunk, all squared away and ready to put on, and went out onto the main deck. All the men were talking quietly, smoking and looking toward the island. I found Snafu and stayed close by him: he was the gunner on our mortar, so we stuck together. He was also a Glouchester veteran, and I felt more secure around veterans. They knew what to expect. He pulled out a pack of cigarettes and drawled, "Have a smoke, Sledgehammer." "No thanks, Snafu. I've told you a million times I don't smoke." "I'll bet you two bits, Sledgehammer, that before this day is over you'll be smokin' the hell outa every cigarette you can get your hands on." I just gave him a sickly grin, and we looked toward the island. The sun was just coming up, and there wasn't a cloud in the sky. The sea was calm. A gentle breeze blew.
A ship's bell rang, and over the squawk box came,
"Get your gear on and stand by." Snafu and I hurried to our bunks, nodding and speaking to other grim-faced buddies who were rushing to get their gear. In the crowded compartment we helped each other with packs, straightened shoulder straps, and buckled on cartridge belts. Generals and admirals might worry about maps and tons of supplies, but my main concern at the moment was how my pack straps felt and whether my boondockers were comfortable."
Here is the beach landing scene with Sledge and his fellow Marines from the HBO miniseries, "The Pacific"
Sledge ended up getting his PhD years later and became a professor. However, like many men who experience combat, rarely talked to his family or friends about what he went through. He took a ton of notes along the way, so when he was ready to write his story decades later, what started out as a family history, quickly became much larger and the book was born.
(and the "Pacific" mini-series as well)
So if you have any interest at all, please get this book- you will not be able to put it down. It really provides a unique and personal perspective of how much these people sacrificed and endured for freedom- and how we are still enjoying the benefits decades later.
3 other books that include accounts of this battle I can recommend are:
Islands of the Damned, by RV Burgin
ISLANDS OF THE DAMNED
Battle Ground Pacific, by Sterling Mace
BATTLE GROUND PACIFIC
You'll be SOR-REE, by Sid Phillips
YOU'LL BE SOR-REE
Happy and safe memorial day and thank you to all veterans and those who are currently serving!