am 4. Januar 2000
This account by E.B. Sledge, a Marine PFC who landed on Peleliu and Okinawa, details the violence and brutality of these two battles so realistically that it is a disturbing and haunting book. Peleliu was supposed to last 3 to 4 days, but went on for 2 months and cost the Marines 1,262 dead and 5,274 wounded. The statistics from Okinawa contain a action, and 26,221 neuropsychiatric "non-battle casualties." At Peleliu, Sledge "had tasted the bitterest essence of war, the sight of helpless comrades being slaughtered, and it filled me with disgust." Peleliu was a jagged coral island which caused cuts and tears on contact with human flesh, and there was a lot of such contact. "It was almost impossible to dig a protective foxhole in the rock." Once inland one's senses were overwhelmed by the sight and smell of corpses filled with maggots, human excrement on top of coral everywhere, dysentery, rotting American and Japanese rations, huge flies, knee deep mud, rainstorms, tropical oven heat, snapping bullets, and exploding shells. More than once Sledge saw a Marine slide down a ridge into rotting Japanese corpses to find himself covered with maggots and vomiting from the smell. Peleliu was an "assault into hell;" the landscape "hell's own cesspool." After the landing, with Marines suffering from heat prostration, even the water came from hell --it came in old oil drums, and the oil residue caused the troops to retch in the broiling sun. When Sledge sees his comrades cutting gold teeth from the Japanese--some while they are still alive--he is disgusted and sickened. But war, Sledge notes, made savages of them all, and one day Sledge finds himself bending over a Japanese corpse with a knife to cut out gold teeth. A corpsman tries to dissuade him, first with one argument and then another, finally succeeding by pointing out the threat from germs involved. Relentlessly, Sledge and his comrades move steadily forward, forward into the "meat grinder," losing more and more men to injury and death, the grim "inevitable harvest." The sight of dead Marines who had been tortured and mutilated by the Japanese hardens Sledge and his comrades against the enemy. Sledge tells of the terror of walking across an open field facing Japanese machine gun fire while at the same time receiving friendly fire from the rear from a Marine tank. But there was something "Artillery is hell," and of all the terrors, "the terror and desperation endured under heavy shelling are by far the most unbearable." Sledge learned to steer clear of any and all second lieutenants, who invariably did not know what they were doing and were highly dangerous to the troops. Sledge made two amphibious landings on Peleliu and one on Okinawa. The rule recognized among the troops was that if you made more than two landings you had used up your luck. Even so, Sledge was one of less than 10 in his company of 235 men to escape alive and unwounded--thereby beating the "mathematics of death." ("Statistically," Sledge tells us, "the infantry units had suffered l50 per cent casualties in the two campaigns.") Dr. "War is brutish, inglorious and a terrible waste. Combat leaves an indelible mark on those who are forced to endure it. The only redeeming factors were my comrades' incredible bravery and their devotion to each other." From Sledge's viewpoint, Peleliu and Okinawa were very close battles. His experience showed him that the success of the Marines was grounded on their discipline, esprit de corps, tough training, the ability to depend on one's comrades, and boot camp, which developed an expectation to excel, even under stress. Of all the books on combat, this ranks in the very highest tier. Reading it is an experience--a new and terrible experience--of what Marine infantrymen went through during and after an amphibious landing in the Pacific in World War II. Without Marines like Dr. Sledge, who put their arms and legs and lives on the line in these savage battles, history would have taken a far different course. I, for one, am profoundly grateful for what he and his comrades did, and want to thank him for what he endured. We owe him and his comrades more than we realize.