With Veterans Day coming this week, it is a good time to do some relevant reading. If you saw the HBO miniseries “The Pacific” or “The War” the documentary on World War II by Ken Burns, the name Eugene “Sledgehammer” Sledge — will be instantly recognizable. Sledge’s book, With the Old Breed recounts the bloody battles fought by island-hopping Marines in WWII.
Sledge was born in 1923 and grew up in Mobile, Alabama. He joined the Marine Corps just after the United States Pacific Fleet was bombed at Pearl Harbor; he had just turned 19 years old a month before. He served in K Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division (K/3/5).
Sledge took part in the bloody fighting in Peleliu and Okinawa as a mortarman and rifleman, one of only 10 men from his regiment that took part in both of those campaigns and weren’t wounded. But while Sledge wasn’t awarded a Purple Heart, he was as deeply wounded as many other Marines by what he saw, did, and experienced.
After the Japanese surrendered, Sledge was posted to China before being returned to the United States in 1946. He had a rough time transitioning to civilian life in Mobile after what he did during some of the most savage fighting in the war.