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Honoring Sledge’s legacy

Published 10:06pm Monday, April 19, 2010

He was a man dedicated to his country, a man of humor and a man who loved his family, said friends and family members of the late Eugene Sledge.

More than 100 Montevallo residents, visitors and University of Montevallo students and faculty gathered at Parnell Memorial Library April 19 to celebrate Sledge’s book “With the Old Breed,” which served as the basis for the HBO series “The Pacific.”

Sledge, a Mobile native who died in Montevallo in 2001, served with the U.S. Marine Corps in the Pacific Theater of World War II.

He saw combat in the Battle of Peleliu and the Battle of Okinawa before attending Auburn University and teaching biology at UM.

During the event, Sledge’s son, Henry, described his father as a calm, humorous and loving man who did not let his war experiences interfere with his relationship with his family.

“There was not a dark side to him. He was a solid family man,” Henry said after showing the audience pictures of his visit to Peleliu in 1999. “I think he was a paragon of self control.”

Although Sledge saw frontline combat in two of the most hotly contested islands in the Pacific Theater, he maintained a sense of humor and a calm demeanor throughout the rest of his life after the war, Henry said.

“When I started planning to go to Peleliu in 1999, I asked my father if he wanted to go with me, and I told him all his expenses would be paid since he was a veteran,” Henry said.

“When I mentioned it to him, he said ‘hell no, I’ve already gotten an all-expense paid trip to that place,’” Henry added as the audience laughed.

During the event, a panel of UM history professors and a UM graduate student praised Sledge’s book, saying it gave a sense of realism to the war.

“He was certainly not a historian. He writes with a terseness and an elegance that I think makes it more believable,” said UM history professor Ruth Truss. “He is speaking for the Marines who don’t have an opportunity to say it themselves.

“We can appreciate what he went through because he writes so personally,” Truss added. “It’s his story, but it is also the story for many other men.”

Because Sledge wrote the book in a personal, matter-of-fact manner, it can sometimes be difficult to grasp the book’s subtlety, said UM graduate student Kouri Allen.

“I actually had a hard time reading it,” Allen said. “I had to go back several times and re-read things to grasp the magnitude of what he said.

“I think what he did was a huge task to ask of people that young,” Allen added.

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