With the Old Breed

by

E.B. Sledge

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With the Old Breed: Part 2, Chapter 7 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
As the Marines move toward Pavuvu, Sledge realizes that most of his friends in rifle companies have been wounded or killed. When a friend asks him what the purpose of taking Peleliu was, Sledge cannot find a good answer, even though he is unable to accept that their losses were useless to the war. Sledge prefers to conclude that they have all learned crucial lessons—such as the fact that they were able to survive such an ordeal, both physically and emotionally, and that they are now ready for the worst.
Sledge’s inability to explain the purpose of the battle of Peleliu derives from a fact that will become clearer in the years to come: the battle did not bring any clear strategic gains. Instead of focusing on such injustice, absurdity, and loss, Sledge prefers to remain optimistic, emphasizing the personal skills and knowledge he has acquired instead of focusing on the greater geo-military context.
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Related Quotes
When Sledge steps off the ship, a new lieutenant who has visibly not been in combat yet refers to Sledge as “sonny” and Sledge stares back at him in amazement, unable to understand that anyone would call him that after what he has experienced in Peleliu. Noticing Sledge’s reaction, the lieutenant looks away, embarrassed, and Sledge concludes that his vacant stare, the result of many days in battle, must have disturbed the lieutenant.
Naturally and unconsciously, Sledge has become like one of the veteran Marines he first saw on Peleliu: emotionally detached and intimidating. Sledge has acquired crucial experience that has destroyed his innocence, making him less naïve and enthusiastic than he once was—and than his age might suggest.
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As the Marines move through Pavuvu, they notice that the infrastructure has largely improved since they were last there. After arriving, a stern 1st sergeant gives Company K a speech in which he praises their behavior, saying that they have proven they are “good Marines.” Sledge is impressed by such compliments from such a severe, experienced officer.
Sledge’s pride at being recognized as a good fighter confirms his own high opinions of the excellent discipline and spirit of the 1st Marines division. It suggests that surviving such a terrible ordeal as Peleliu is an impressive feat, signaling an individual’s skill and courage.
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After being on Pavuvu for a week, Sledge has a deeply rewarding experience. One night, when everyone is in bed, a Gloucester veteran tells Sledge that he did not know how Sledge would fare in battle, since Sledge belongs to an intellectual background, but that he was impressed by Sledge’s behavior on Pavuvu. The man concludes that “by God you did OK; you did OK.” Although Sledge never received an official decoration, his friend’s simple comment makes him feel immensely proud, and he still finds it heartwarming many years after the war.
Sledge’s friend’s simple words are sufficient to make him feel immensely proud of his military performance on Peleliu. It gives value to the suffering he has undergone—if not on a large military scale, at least on the level of his companions’ respect and admiration. This highlights the importance that camaraderie has in Sledge’s life, as he considers it his duty not only to be a good fighter, but to have a positive role in his comrades’ life.
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On Christmas Eve, the Marines attend a special church service, sing carols, and eat roast turkey. Although Sledge finds these activities deeply enjoyable, they also make him homesick. On New Year’s, a can of gasoline catches fire near the kitchen. After the fire is put out, one of Sledge’s friends, Howard Nease, tells everyone from Company K to come to his tent. As the men soon discover, Howard was responsible for starting the fire, thus creating a distraction that would allow him to steal a few roast turkeys. Everyone laughs at this story and relaxes together, enjoying some good food.
These lighthearted moments contrast intensely with the brutal world the men have just left. Howard’s behavior serves as a reminder that these are young men—ordinary people who enjoy having fun and laughing together, like any young people on the planet. In this way, the scene signals how inhuman war is, as it forces people hardly out of adolescence to take on a horrifically brutal role, in which they are often kept from expressing their humanity.
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Sledge finds Howard’s attitude admirable, as Howard demonstrates a capacity to remain cheerful in the face of adversity, and highlights the importance of sharing warm moments with friends. Sledge mentions that Howard was later killed during the early days on Okinawa. Nevertheless, he notes that one of his favorite memories remains that of Howard handing him a piece of turkey and wishing him a Happy New Year in 1944.
The comfort Sledge finds in Howard’s attitude derives from the fact that it brings humanity to this war environment, reminding the Marines that they can still behave like ordinary, loving people. It also highlights the tight-knit nature of Company K, as the men are able to appreciate each other’s company in combat as well as in a peaceful context.
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On Pavuvu, the men take part in light drills, enthusiastically receive two beers per week, and join parades in which some Marines receive decorations for their actions in battle. One day, Sledge is called to the company headquarters, where he is offered the position of officer. Instead of convincing his interviewer that he wants the job, Sledge tells him that he would be unable to send another man to his death and that he would only want to be an officer if this meant returning home. When Sledge’s companions ask him why he gave such absurd answers, Sledge explains that he does not actually want to leave Company K, where he feels at home, and that he does not want the extra burden of responsibility that officers are forced to bear.
Sledge’s discomfort with taking on the role of officer shows his humility, sensitivity, and sense of friendship. His unwillingness to send other people to their death reveals not lack of confidence but, rather, a deep respect for human lives and an understanding of war as inhuman violence. His desire to remain in Company K also underlines the importance friendship plays in his life, as he gives greater weight to remaining with his companions than taking on a more prestigious role that could bring him greater material comforts.
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Training intensifies over the weeks and Company K discovers that their new mortar section leader, Mac, is a New Englander who has just graduated from an Ivy League college. Sledge notes that Mac is meticulous but has the irritating habit of bragging about all the vengeful ways he would attack the Japanese. All the veterans consider him condescendingly, as they know that Mac’s attitude will change radically as soon as he is exposed to the harsh reality of combat. Company K is then told that they will move to Guadalcanal before invading the Japanese island of Okinawa.
Mac’s arrogance contrasts with his subordinates’ actual combat experience, which will later prove more valuable than the theoretical training Mac has received. Mac’s aggressive nature toward the Japanese thus highlights his innocence and naïveté, but also signals his inherently cruel, vengeful attitude toward the enemy, as he will later prove to be a sadistic officer, taking part in heinous acts against Japanese corpses.
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