During the next battle, the Marines take twenty Japanese soldiers prisoner. A scuttle ensues when one of the prisoners places himself in the middle of the path on which the Marines are advancing. Sledge assumes that the soldier’s action can be explained by the shame he must feel at surrendering, since surrender is utterly shameful for the Japanese. However, this attempt to disturb the Marines’ advance only breeds greater rage and resentment toward the Japanese enemy.
The Japanese soldier’s shame at being made prisoner underlines the cruel pressure he must feel in his own army, where he would be encouraged to die rather than surrender. This pressure to give in to self-sacrifice partly explains the Japanese soldiers’ ferocity. This man’s actions, however, only seems to confirm to Sledge and his companions that the Japanese are incapable of following rules of good behavior.
One day, during a period of sporadic opposition, Sledge walks up to an old Okinawan woman sitting in front of her house. Although Sledge is initially suspicious of her behavior, she tells him that there are no hidden Japanese soldiers there and shows him a wound on her abdomen, which is causing her much pain. Sledge realizes that she must have been wounded for a long time, for her wound is severely infected. The woman begs Sledge to kill her on the spot, to put her out of her misery. However, Sledge quickly goes to look for a corpsman, who agrees to try to help the woman.
This scene highlights the injustice of war on civilian populations, who find themselves at the mercy of a war they have not chosen. It also shows that, despite his emotional exhaustion, Sledge is still capable of reasoning ethically and feeling compassion for people who need his help. His attitude reveals that, in an ideal scenario, if he has the option of killing or saving someone, he would rather save them.
As Sledge and the corpsman walk back, they hear a shot and notice a Marine emerge from the hut. The man, a young, innocent-looking Marine, tells them he just killed the Japanese woman because she asked him to. Sledge then loses his temper and tells him that they should only shoot at people who shoot back—that they are here “to kill Nips, not old women.” An NCO arrives and, as soon as he learns what happened, insults the young Marine, who is visibly embarrassed. Sledge does not know if the man was ever disciplined for shooting the old woman in cold blood.
Sledge takes his moral responsibilities seriously, holding to the belief that he should only kill people who are intent on killing him back. However, the young Marine, too, probably thought he was acting morally by relieving an old, innocent woman from her suffering. The blurring of the line between morality and cruelty, in this situation, thus depends on the set of ethical rules and assumptions that one chooses to follow.
In early June, the seemingly endless rain finally stops, and Sledge is able to wash his feet, which are almost bleeding all over. He finds instant relief from putting on dry socks, though it takes months for his feet to heal. Sent to a position in reserve, the Marines are able to enjoy relative rest, with new rations and a quieter routine.
In the same way that physical discomfort can prove as unbearable to soldiers as the fear of death, moments of peace and quiet and the mere relief from physical hardship can bring joy proportional to the intensity of the discomfort itself.
One day, Sledge and a fellow mortarman are sent on a routine mission to give someone information about the unit’s supply. Although the landscape is peaceful, the two men are suddenly attacked by a hidden machine-gunner on their way back. They begin to despair and soon realize that their only solution is to stay hidden behind an old ticket booth until darkness, when they will be able to slip out. However, after a few hours, another group of Marines, worried about not seeing their companions return, arrive and kill the Japanese soldier, allowing Sledge and his companion to return safely.
This episode underlines the unpredictable emergence of violence in war, which can arise anytime and anywhere, as well as the network of solidarity that defines Marine Corps units, in which men do not hesitate to put their lives in danger in order to save their comrades. Once again, Sledge is confirmed in his understanding that his companions are reliable combat buddies, to whom he can entrust his very life.
During the next few days, Sledge takes part in a seven-day battle on Kunishi Ridge whose viciousness reminds him of Peleliu. There, he sees an officer crying uncontrollably, unable to go on, and also witnesses a Marine saving a soldier who went insane and almost exposed himself to Japanese fire, condemning him to certain death. By the end of this battle, Sledge learns that only about twenty percent of the original Company K remains.
Sledge’s descriptions of other people’s mental breakdowns and moments of insanity show how strong—and lucky—he must be to maintain his lucidity in such circumstances, which so many others can no longer bear. The fact that so few original members of Company K are still alive also emphasizes the grief that he will be left with after the war.