Eugene Sledge

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Eugene Sledge
Eugene sledge.jpg
Sledge in 1946
Birth nameEugene Bondurant Sledge
Born(1923-11-04)November 4, 1923
Mobile, Alabama, U.S.
DiedMarch 3, 2001(2001-03-03) (aged 77)
Montevallo, Alabama, U.S.
Place of burial
Pine Crest Cemetery, Mobile, Alabama
AllegianceUnited States
Service/branchUnited States Marine Corps
Years of service1942–1946
UnitK Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division
Battles/warsWorld War II

Chinese Civil War

Jeanne Arceneaux
(m. 1952)
Children2 sons
Other workProfessor 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 chronicled his combat experiences during World War II and was used as source material for the Ken Burns PBS documentary The War (2007), as well as the HBO miniseries The Pacific (2010), in which he is portrayed by Joseph Mazzello.[1]


Early life[edit]

Eugene Bondurant Sledge was born on November 4, 1923, in Mobile, Alabama, to Edward Simmons Sledge, a physician, and Mary Frank Sturdivant Sledge, dean of women students at Huntingdon College. He graduated from Murphy High School in Mobile in the spring of 1942. His older brother, Edward Simmons Sledge II, was born on September 10, 1920, and enlisted in the United States Army. He went on to serve in the Western European theater, left the Army with the rank of Major and died on September 23, 1985.

Eugene was a sickly child and lost two years of schooling due to rheumatic fever and this condition left him with a heart murmur. However once the condition subsided, his family encouraged him to enroll in college rather than join the military. His close childhood friend Sidney Phillips also wrote to Sledge from Guadalcanal and urged him to not join anything.[2]

Military career[edit]

In the fall of 1942, Sledge enrolled in the Marion Military Institute, in Marion, Alabama, but then he chose to volunteer for the U.S. Marine Corps in December 1942. He was placed in the V-12 officer training program and was sent to the Georgia Institute of Technology, where he and half of his detachment "flunked out" so they would be allowed to serve their time as enlistees and not "miss the war".[3]

Once he was out of school, he was assigned duty as an enlisted man in K Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division (K/3/5), where he served with Corporal R.V. Burgin and Private First Class Merriell "Snafu" Shelton.[4] He rose to the rank of corporal in the Pacific Theater and saw combat as a 60 mm mortarman[5] at Peleliu and Okinawa. When fighting grew too close for effective use of the mortar, he served in other duties such as stretcher bearer[5] and as a rifleman.[6]

During his service, Sledge kept notes of what happened in his pocket-sized New Testament. When the war ended, he compiled these notes which would, many years later, become the memoir With the Old Breed. After being posted to Beijing after the war,[7] he was discharged from the Marine Corps in February 1946 with the rank of corporal.[8]


After the war ended, Sledge attended Auburn University (then known as Alabama Polytechnic Institute),[9] where he was a member of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity.[10] He received a Bachelor of Science degree in business administration in the summer of 1949.[11]

Sledge had a hard time readjusting to civilian life:

As I strolled the streets of Mobile, civilian life seemed so strange. 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.[12]

Once an avid hunter, Sledge gave up his hobby. He found that he could not endure the thought of wounding a bird and said that killing a deer felt like shooting a cow in a pasture. His father found him weeping after a dove hunt in which Sledge had to kill a wounded dove, and in the ensuing conversations he told his father he could no longer tolerate seeing any suffering. A key turning point in his life and career followed when his father advised him that he could substitute bird watching as a hobby. Sledge started to assist the conservation department in its banding study efforts,[13] the origin of his well-known passion for the science of ornithology.[citation needed]

When he enrolled at Auburn University, the clerk at the Registrar's office asked him if the Marine Corps had taught him anything useful. Sledge replied:

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.[14]

Sledge married Jeanne Arceneaux in 1952 and the couple had two sons, John (born 1957) and Henry (born 1965). 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.[15]

Doctorate and later work[edit]

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.[16] He received his doctorate in biology from the University of Florida in 1960.[17] He was employed by the Division of Plant Industry for the Florida State Department of Agriculture from 1959 to 1962.[18]

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, and organized field trips and collections around town. In 1989, he received an honorary degree and rank of colonel from Marion Military Institute.[19]


Sledge died after a long battle with stomach cancer on March 3, 2001.[20]


With the Old Breed[edit]

At the urging of his wife, Sledge began to compile a memoir of his war experiences as a way to better help him cope. In 1981, he 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.[21] 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.[22]

China Marine[edit]

A second memoir, China Marine: An Infantryman's Life after World War II, was published posthumously. Its initial hardbound edition, with a foreword by Stephen E. Ambrose, was published without a subtitle on May 10, 2002, by the University of Alabama Press.[7] In 2003, Oxford University Press republished it as a paperback edition with the subtitle China Marine. The book discussed his postwar service in Peking (now known as Beijing), his return to Mobile, and his recovery from the psychological trauma of warfare.[23]

Awards and decorations[edit]

Sledge was entitled to campaign participation credit ("battle stars") for Capture and Occupation of the Southern Palau Islands (Peleliu), and Assault and Occupation of Okinawa Gunto.[citation needed]

His decorations and medals include:

Bronze star
Bronze star
Bronze star
1st row Combat Action Ribbon Navy Presidential Unit Citation
2nd row Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal China Service Medal American Campaign Medal
3rd row Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with two battle stars World War II Victory Medal Navy Occupation Service Medal

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The Pacific". IMDB. Retrieved 18 April 2019.
  2. ^ Zobenica, Jon (May 2010). "Getting Their Guns Off The books that shaped HBO's The Pacific give the lie to the notion of generational exceptionalism". The Atlantic. Retrieved 25 February 2021.
  3. ^ Sledge, Eugene (1981). With the Old Breed. Presidio. pp. 5, 6. OCLC 12197607.
  4. ^ Buchanan, Kyle (May 10, 2010). "The Verge: Rami Malek". Movie Line. Archived from the original on January 29, 2013. Retrieved January 6, 2011.
  5. ^ a b Joseph H. Alexander (1996). The Final Campaign: Marines in the Victory on Okinawa. DIANE Publishing. ISBN 978-0-7881-3528-6.
  6. ^ Sledge, Eugene (1981). With the Old Breed. Presidio. pp. 116–117. OCLC 12197607.
  7. ^ a b Sledge, Eugene (May 2002). China Marine. University of Alabama Press. pp. 1, 17, 19, 20, 23, 27, 32, 35, 42, 44, 49, 51, 72. ISBN 0-8173-1161-0.
  8. ^ USMC discharge certificate
  9. ^ "Eugene B. Sledge, Auburn University Student". Auburn University Digital Library. Retrieved 2010-04-13.
  10. ^ "Upcoming Miniseries on HBO Tracks Real-Life WWII Story of Auburn Phi".
  11. ^ "Eugene B. Sledge". Encyclopedia of Alabama. Retrieved 2019-11-16.
  12. ^ "The War—Face of Battle". PBS. Retrieved 2010-04-04.
  13. ^ Sledge, Eugene (May 2002). China Marine. University of Alabama Press. pp. 153–157. ISBN 0-8173-1161-0.
  14. ^ Sledge, E. B. (2003). China Marine: An Infantryman's Life after World War II, by E.B. Sledge, page 135. ISBN 0195167767.
  15. ^ Trehub, Aaron. "Eugene B. Sledge". Auburn University. Retrieved 25 February 2021.
  16. ^ "Eugene B. Sledge". Encyclopedia of Alabama. Retrieved 2009-11-16.
  17. ^ "Eugene B. Sledge receiving his Ph.D. at the University of Florida". Auburn University Digital Library. Retrieved 2010-04-13.
  18. ^ "War is Hell: Eugene B. Sledge (1923-2001)". Retrieved 2019-11-16.
  19. ^ Eugene B. Sledge Collection. "Marion Military Institute honorary rank for Eugene B. Sledge". Auburn University. Retrieved 2017-09-16.
  20. ^ Trehub, Aaron (30 September 2008). "Eugene B. Sledge". Encyclopedia of Alabama. Alabama Humanities Foundation.
  21. ^ "Eugene Sledge in Peleliu 1944: Horror in the Pacific".
  22. ^ "Production Begins on 'The Pacific'". HBO. 2007-08-16. Retrieved 2008-02-06.
  23. ^ "China Marine listing and review in the Oxford University Press catalogue". Oxford University Press, USA. Archived from the original on 2011-06-04. Retrieved 2010-04-04.

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