They Work Among Us
|May 23, 2012||Posted by Chris under Uncategorized|
In 2010 “The Pacific”, a ten part mini-series aired on HBO about the Marines in World War II fighting Japanese troops in the Pacific theater of war. This is not your average WWII movie. It was based on the lives of actual soldiers who endured the atrocities of inhuman behavior from of both sides. Produced by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, “The Pacific” was the most expensive television production to date.
One of the Marines in the movie was Eugene Sledge, a private from Mobile, Alabama. Eugene was the son of a doctor who like many other boys his age thought the war might end before he had a chance to take part. He dropped out of Marine Officer Training School in order to get to the front faster as an enlisted soldier.
It was in the Pacific islands that he witnessed some of the most horrific conditions ever experienced in the history of mankind.
Sledge secretly kept notes in the margins of the pages of the New Testament Bible he carried. Due to strict orders that nothing be written that enemy combatants could use against the troops, Eugene had to keep his notes secret from fellow Marines. After the war ended, he used these notes to write a memoir of his time in the Pacific as a therapeutic method of coping with his experience. In 1981, Presidio Press published his first book, “With the Old Breed: At Pelelieu and Okinawa.” Critics have claimed it one of the most accurate accounts of battle. It was the basis for much of “The Pacific”.
The book is brutal in its honesty. It emphasizes the horror and waste of war exposing the readers to atrocities suffered by both sides during the fights for tiny coral Pacific islands.
Sledge emerged from the war without a visible scratch; an almost impossible feat given the casualty rate of the First Marine Division in what many consider was the most intensive fighting in the history of warfare. Perhaps that’s what haunted him most over the next fifty-five years. Commonly called “Survivor’s Guilt”, it is often very hard on those who return to ponder why they were spared when so many lost their lives in battle around them.
Sledge eventually enrolled at Auburn University, where he received his Masters in Botany, then to the University of Florida where he graduated with a PhD in Biology. In 1960, Dr. Sledge went to work for the Florida Department of Agriculture (at that point the State Plant Board) in Winter Haven as a research nematologist – a zoologist whose work involves the study of devastating microscopic roundworms in soils, before taking a position as a professor at the University of Montevallo in Alabama in 1962. Once an avid hunter, Dr. Sledge came back from war with no desire to shoot anymore living creatures, turning his attention to the study of nature and birds.
My father worked for Dr. Sledge in Winter Haven, where he would hear these stories from the war. He was instrumental in urging Dad to return to the University of Florida to complete his degree in Agricultural Education. Eventually that would foster enough interest in me to earn degrees in agriculture as well.
As we observe Memorial Day this coming weekend please take a moment to remember those who have died in service for our country as the holiday is intended, and pray for those veterans who served. Thankfully, they are among us.