Monday, March 8, 2010

With The Old Breed: Dr. Eugene B. Sledge, MMI 1943

This month, beginning March 14th, HBO will air the 10-part miniseries, The Pacific, about the U. S. Marines fighting in the Pacific Theater during World War II. Based in part on the book With The Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa (1981), a memoir written by Dr. Eugene B. Sledge, MMI 1943, the series will present a first-hand account of the hell that was the Pacific Theater during World War II. Sledge’s book was highlighted earlier in Ken Burn’s PBS documentary on World War II. My own father, now 90 years-old, served in the Army in the Pacific during World War II, fighting in New Guinea and in the Philippines. His experiences in that horrific fighting and destruction have shaped his life as no other event.

Dr. Eugene B. Sledge of the University of Montevallo, Montevallo, Alabama. (Credit:

Eugene Bondurant Sledge was born in Mobile, Alabama, in 1923. After graduating from Murphy High School in Mobile in May, 1942, he entered Marion Military Institute in Marion, Alabama, preparing to become an officer. Fearing that the war might end before he got the chance to experience it, Sledge enlisted in the U. S. Marine Corps in December, 1942, but he remained at MMI to complete the academic year. He was eventually assigned to Company K, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division. Private First Class Eugene Sledge served as a mortarman in the Pacific Theater at Peleliu and Okinawa, where his unit sustained nearly 100% casualties. Incredibly, Sledge did not receive a scratch. When the dropping of the two atomic bombs on Japan ended the war in 1945, Sledge was posted to Peiping (Beijing), China. He was later discharged from the Marines in February, 1946, with the rank of Corporal. His book, China Marine: An Infantryman’s Life After World War II, was published posthumously in 2002. It records his China experience, his return home to Mobile, Alabama, and his eventual recovery from the psychological trauma of warfare.

E. B. Sledge of Alabama is listed on the roster of the 1942-1943 MMI Corps of Cadets. (Credit: 1942-1943 MMI Catalogue, MMI Archives)

Private First Class Sledge following 82 days of fighting in Okinawa. (Credit:

Corporal Sledge about the time of his discharge from the Marines in 1946. (Credit:

Returning home to Alabama, Eugene Sledge graduated from the Alabama Polytechnic Institute (now Auburn University) with the B. S. degree in 1949. He later returned to Auburn as a research assistant from 1953-1955, completing his M.S. degree in botany in 1955. From 1955 to 1960, he attended the University of Florida, Gainesville, where he again served as a research assistant, and where he received his Ph.D. degree in biology in 1960. Dr. Sledge was employed by the Division of Plant Industries for the Florida State Department of Agriculture from 1959 to 1962.

Dr. Sledge was appointed an assistant professor of biology at Alabama College (now the University of Montevallo) in 1962. Becoming a full professor in 1970, Sledge taught at Montevallo until his retirement in 1990. He taught zoology, ornithology, and comparative vertebrate anatomy, among other courses, completing nearly 30 years in the classroom at Montevallo. Dr. Eugene B. Sledge died in Montevallo, Alabama, on March 3, 2001, at the age of 77.

Dr. Sledge’s best-selling book, With The Old Breed (1981). (Credit: Tower Books,

Dr. Eugene B. Sledge (1923-2001). (Credit: