After a few weeks of practicing maneuvers on Guadalcanal, during which Sledge and some friends sneak into the chow line of the naval construction battalion, the Marines are sent to Ulithi Atoll, an island where they join the gathering invasion fleet. Sledge is awed by the number of ships prepared for the invasion—it’s the largest invasion fleet ever prepared in the Pacific. During the week in which they are anchored at Ulithi, the men take part in a joyful baseball game, which breaks the monotony of their routine and makes them feel like children.
Sledge’s sneaking into a chow line and participation in a baseball game once again highlights that even the most hardened veterans are capable of moments of carefree enjoyment, which allow them to escape the stress of the war. Sledge’s awe at seeing the American ships emphasizes the strategic importance of the battle he is going to take part in, which is capable of determining the outcome of World War II.
When the Marines are briefed for Okinawa, they are told that this is not going to be a short battle, and that they can expect over 80 casualties on the beach where they will land. Officers still expect a large banzai counterattack, without realizing that the Japanese have abandoned such suicide charge tactics.
Ironically, if officers’ optimistic vision proved wrong on Peleliu, their pessimistic assessment of Okinawa will also prove wrong, as the beach landing goes smoothly, without any casualties. This is a reminder of the relative unpredictability of military actions.
On D Day, April 1, the Marines are served the usual pre-combat meal of steak and eggs. Waiting to land, they watch as American warships bomb the beach. They are then ordered to wait in a safe room below deck, but the room is not ventilated and, angry that their safety is compromised in this way, the Marines disobey a navy officer’s orders to stay below, explaining that they would rather be killed by enemy fire than asphyxiate in a closed room.
The Marines’ willingness to disobey orders reveal that they are no longer naïve young Marines, but seasoned veterans who understand the risks they are taking and do not want to jeopardize their lives uselessly. The lack of official reaction to such disobedience suggests that the Marines were probably right in resisting, and that their officers were focused on more important tasks.
Although Sledge feels nervous about landing, he realizes that he does not experience the same panic as on Peleliu, because being a combat veteran has taught him what to expect from the Japanese. The size of the American fleet also serves to make him feel more reassured.
Sledge’s new sense of self-confidence derives from his greater skills as well as the process of becoming accustomed to fear, death, and brutality—a greater emotional detachment that his body and mind have acquired over time.