“Time had no meaning; life was meaningless,” wrote Eugene B. Sledge in his 1981 magnum opus, with the old racedescribing some of the brutal and dehumanizing combat he and others faced in the Pacific at Peleliu in late 1944 and on Okinawa in the spring of 1945. “We existed in an environment totally incomprehensible to the men behind the lines.”
His book was an effort decades after the war to make the incomprehensible understandable, first to his family and then, at the urging of his wife, Jeanne, who typed the manuscript, to the general public, leading to its publication. The resulting work was quickly recognized as a classic. British military historian John Keegan described himself as “haunted” by the book, which he called “one of the most striking documents in war literature”. Historian and World War II veteran Paul Fussell called it “one of the best memoirs to come out of any war.” Documentary filmmaker Ken Burns was based on him for his 2007 film, Warand was an inspiration for the 2010 HBO miniseries The Pacificwith actor Joseph Mazzello playing Sledge.
Yet for most of his life, Sledge, who died in 2001, was known not as a combat Marine, but as a quiet and considerate family man, a lover of nature and music who taught biology. at Montevallo University in Alabama. “My experiences in the Pacific War have haunted me, and it has been a burden to preserve this history,” Sledge explained in the book’s preface. “But time heals, and the nightmares no longer wake me up in a cold sweat, with a racing heart and racing pulse. Now I can write this story, even if it is painful to do so. On the following pages is a glimpse into a rarely seen collection: Sledge’s personal artifacts from what he called the “chasm of war.”