One of the most critically acclaimed World War II books ever written is “With the Old Breed” by Alabama native Eugene B. Sledge. You’ll find it on numerous “best of” lists and it’s almost always in the conversation about the best books ever written about the war. I’d heard about this book for years, but for whatever reason had never read it, which is why I put it on my “bucket list” several years ago.
Sledge was born in Mobile, Ala. on Nov. 4, 1923 and went on to serve as a Marine during World War II. After the war, he became a respected author, ornithologist, and University of Montevallo biology professor. Sledge became renowned outside of Alabama for his books chronicling his experiences in the Pacific Theater during World War II, including “With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa” and “China Marine: An Infantryman's Life after World War II.” “With the Old Breed” was originally published in 1981 by Presidio Press.
My interest in “With the Old Breed” really ramped up when I saw it ranked on a “best of” list called “43 Books About War Every Man Should Read,” which was compiled by one of my favorite Web sites, “The Art of Manliness.” “With the Old Breed” was ranked No. 24 on that list between No. 23 “The Liberator” by Alex Kershaw and No. 25 “Helmet for My Pillow: From Parris Island to the Pacific” by Robert Leckie. “With the Old Breed” is also recommended reading for Marine Corps non-commissioned officers and you’ll find it listed on the U.S. Marine Corps Professional Reading List.
I also wanted to read “With the Old Breed” because it details Sledge’s experiences as a young Marine mortarman in the Pacific theatre of operations. Bob Bozeman of Evergreen, the former editor of The Evergreen Courant newspaper where I work, was also a Marine mortarman at Peleliu and Okinawa, and I wanted to read the book to get a better understanding of what he went through. Bozeman, who passed away in the 1990s, received a Purple Heart after being severely wounded at Okinawa.
I also wanted to read “With the Old Breed” because filmmaker Ken Burns drew heavily on Sledge's book for his 2007 PBS documentary on World War II, “The War.” “With the Old Breed,” together with Robert Leckie's “Helmet for My Pillow,” formed the basis for the Home Box Office (HBO) miniseries “The Pacific.” I have to admit that I haven’t seen “The Pacific,” but I fully intend to watch it at some point.
I’ve actually had a copy of “With the Old Breed” for a couple of years. My old co-worker Kristie Garner gave me her old copy when she was cleaning out her house in preparation for a move. The book sat unread on a shelf for a long time, but I finally picked it up the other day and read it from start to finish.
In the end, how many of you have read “With the Old Breed” by E.B. Sledge? What did you think about it? What other World War II books would you recommend reading? Let us know in the comments section below.