With the Old Breed

by

E.B. Sledge

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With the Old Breed: Part 2, Chapter 15 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The successful battle of Kunishi marks the end of organized Japanese resistance on Okinawa. Sledge’s company is soon relieved by Marine replacements, who seem unprepared for battle on Okinawa, as many of them were sent to the war directly after having barely a few weeks of training.
The fact that so many unprepared recruits die in battle seems to confirm Sledge’s argument that rigorous training has played a crucial role in his and his companions’ ability to stay alive for so long.
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During the days before the final securing of the island, the Marines fight scattered groups of Japanese soldiers and capture others, as the enemy knows that they are no longer going to be able to win. On June 21st, Marines learn that the island is officially secured. However, after celebrating this event by eating two fresh oranges and looking out at a beautiful sunset on the sea, Sledge and his companions receive the instructions to move north, where they will need to kill any remaining enemies and bury all the enemy dead.
Sledge’s inability to fully savor the joy of having won the battle proves once again that violence during the war seems utterly endless, incapable of giving the men rest. The Japanese’s ferocious attitude shows their desperation, as they know not only that they have lost this battle, but that the Americans are now free to move onto the Japanese mainland after invading the island of Okinawa.
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Sledge and his companions cannot comprehend such orders, which they find unacceptable after all the fighting they have been through. For the first time, Sledge even sees some of his veteran comrades stand up to officers, defying their orders. In the end, however, the Marines are forced to throw dirt over the enemy dead, while cursing their superiors.
Sledge’s comrades are here disobedient, despite their usual excellent discipline and rigor—these men truly have endured too much. Although they are willing to fight for their country, they want their dignity to be respected, and not to be sent on trivial and needlessly dangerous tasks.
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After a few days, Sledge and a friend are finally able to rest in a beautiful, wooded area overlooking a field. They find the scene magnificent and unreal. There, they finally begin to relax. However, an NCO suddenly appears, telling them to move out, because this area is off limits to enlisted men. Sledge and his friend cannot believe that they are being forced to leave this area when they are not even close to the other officers. They find it hypocritical to note how friendly the officers were barely a few days ago, when the enlisted men were still fighting with them.
Once again, the officers’ orders seem to diminish the infantrymen’s worth, as they treat them as tools they can use to complete any task, however ignoble. Sledge is outraged not to be treated as a human being deserving of praise and dignity after all the hardships his company has suffered. This episode suggests that, despite the positive atmosphere among men in the same company, officers can sometimes abuse their rank to promote their own comfort, at the expense of equally deserving soldiers.
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Suddenly, though, they all hear a rifle shot and see a Marine fall dead, shot by his own buddy. The buddy explains that his friend dared him to shoot, believing that his rifle was unloaded. The buddy’s shock and horror at having killed his best friend is evident on his face. Sledge explains that this man later went through a general court-martial, but that his greatest punishment is undoubtedly to have caused the death of his best friend, simply for playing with a loaded weapon.
This episode proves highly ironic. Despite having survived the war, a Marine ultimately dies as a result of failing to respect the most basic rules they all learned in boot camp: never to assume a gun is unloaded and never to point a gun at something that is not a target. This tragic episode again shows that even silly mistakes can lead to death when they involve dangerous weapons.
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Finally, Sledge is sent in a small group to guard some of the company’s gear and, as he moves farther from the battlefield, finds himself back in civilization, as the Americans have built modern roads and tent camps where the Marines once fought. As friends return from the hospital, fully recovered or bearing the effect of severe wounds, Sledge realizes how many of his companions are gone. Of the men Sledge knows, only twenty-six veterans from Peleliu have survived. Sledge notes that, overall, Marine casualties amount to around one-third of the Japanese’s.
Sledge’s mention of the high number of Japanese casualties highlights the Marines’ strategic efficacy. At the same time, Sledge knows that every man who died was a unique human being, and that every loss is saddening. This is apparent in his grief at seeing Company K as such a small group, indicative of the many friends and companions he has lost over the course of the war.
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On August 8, as the Marines are relaxing, they learn that the first atomic bomb was dropped on Japan. The war finally ends on August 15, 1945. Although the Marines feel deeply relieved, they are also amazed at the fact that the Japanese finally surrendered and remain in shock, as they remember their dead friends. Shocked and quiet instead of ecstatic, most Marines attempt to grasp what the future might look like, in a world without war.
Sledge does not discuss political-military decisions such as the American dropping of atomic bombs in Japan on August 6 and 9. Although he is usually sensitive to the plight of civilians, he does not reflect on the injustice that an atomic bomb would mean to them. Instead, he is so overwhelmed by his personal experience of the war that he immediately struggles to understand what new role he could play in ordinary society.
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Sledge later spends four months on occupation duty in Beijing and finally returns home. Although he is overjoyed to go home, he also finds the separation from his companions painful. K/3/5 has become his home in the most extreme circumstances, allowing him to form a lifelong, family bond with his companions.
Sledge’s sadness at leaving his companions mirrors many former Marines’ complaints about being isolated in civilian life, without the support of their war-time friends. Although Sledge does not mention this explicitly, it is likely that he, too, will struggle to become comfortable in society again.
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Sledge notes that it is ironic that, in such an elite company, so few members received decorations for bravery. He concludes that the men demonstrated courage so often that no one noticed. In reflecting that almost everyone in his company received the Purple Heart, Sledge is grateful to have been one of the few men who survived.
Sledge once again suggests that official descriptions of war or recognitions of bravery are at odds with the reality on the battlefield, in which so many men take part in courageous actions on a daily basis. Therefore, his pride at being part of such a group of people is not limited by outside recognition.
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Sledge concludes his narrative by insisting on how savage and wasteful war is. He explains that the only aspects that made life bearable were his companions’ solidarity and courage, which has taught him loyalty and love. He argues that, until the world is free from inter-country domination, it will always be necessary for men like his companions in Company K to sacrifice themselves for their country. He recounts a frequent trope among troops: “If the country is good enough to live in, it’s good enough to fight for,” agreeing that privilege necessarily entails a sense of responsibility.
Sledge’s conclusion does not attempt to diminish the horrors of war. Rather, he argues that moral behavior involves fighting violence in any way possible—and, if necessary, through war and violence. Therefore, instead of debating the ethical or unethical nature of such means to fight injustice, he concentrates on the objective of the fight itself: to defend one’s beloved home and bring peace and stability to civilians.
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