John Sledge is an architectural historian and the author of three books on Mobile history and architecture. His father, E.B. Sledge, was a World War II veteran and the author of two memoirs, With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa, and China Marine: An Infantryman’s Live After World War II. On Sunday, HBO will premiere a ten-part miniseries based on the lives of three U.S. Marines who fought in the Pacific rim in World War II called The Pacific. Part of the series is based on Sledge’s experiences. In honor of the premiere John Sledge kindly reflected on China Marine and his father. Check back tomorrow for an excerpt from the book.
China Marine provides the much needed emotional closure to my father’s famous memoir, With the Old Breed and that is the reason HBO also bought the rights to it for their epic ten part miniseries, The Pacific. While With the Old Breed is the better known book – both for its searing honesty and the humanity of its narrator – it ends rather abruptly. But as everyone knows, after having won the war, the veterans had to muster out and come home to a very different set of challenges.
China Marine details the underappreciated story of the First Marine Division’s north China occupation duty at war’s end. My father’s descriptions of what was essentially a medieval culture undergoing terrific strains on a new international stage are fascinating. But more importantly, that book’s final section, an essay entitled “I am not the man I would have been” is, to my mind, and certainly I am biased, one of the most elegiac meditations on WWII homecoming and healing in print. In particular, the scene where my father goes hunting with his father, and finds that he can no longer bring himself to kill living things, is heart wrenching, and has been effectively used in episode 10 of The Pacific.
Everyone who watches the HBO miniseries, and who reads and is captivated by With the Old Breed, will want to read China Marine as well. For in its beautifully crafted pages lie the lessons and reflections of one remarkable American veteran. It is to our great benefit that he was able to overcome his demons, and tell his story with such feeling.