Enduring Grief

EB Sledge 001“Johnny Marmet came striding down the incline of the valley to meet us as we started up. Even before I could see his face clearly, I knew from the way he was walking that something was dreadfully amiss. He lurched up to us nervously clutching the web strap of the submachine gun slung over his shoulder. I have never seen Johnny nervous before, even under the thickest fire, which he seemed to regard as a nuisance that interfered with his carrying out his job.”

“His tired face was contorted with emotion, his brow was knitted tightly, and his bloodshot eyes appeared moist. It was obvious that he had something fearful to tell us. We shuffled to a halt.”

“My first thought was that the Japanese had slipped in thousands of troops from the northern Palaus and that we would never get off the island. No, maybe the enemy had bombed some American city or chased off the navy as they had done at Guadalcanal. My imagination went wild, but none of us was prepared for what we were about to hear.”

“’Howdy Johnny,’ someone said as he came up to us.”

“’All right, you guys, let’s get squared away here,’ he said looking in every direction but us. (This was strange, because Johnny wasn’t the least reluctant to make eye contact with death, destiny, or the general himself.) ‘Okay you guys—Okay you guys,’ he repeated, obviously flustered. A couple of the men exchanged quizzical glances.”

“’The skipper is dead. Ack Ack has been killed,’ Johnny finally blurted out, and then looked quickly away from us.”

“I was stunned and sickened. Throwing my ammo bag down, I turned away from the others, sat on my helmet, and sobbed quietly.”

“’Those goddamn slant-eyed sonsabitches,’ someone behind me groaned.”

“Never in my wildest imagination had I contemplated Captain Haldane’s death. We had a steady stream of killed and wounded leaving us, but somehow I assumed Ack Ack was immortal. Our company commander represented stability and direction in a world of violence, death, and destruction. Now his life had been snuffed out. We felt forlorn and lost. It was the worst grief I endured during the entire war. The intervening years have not lessened it any.”

E. B. Sledge
From With the Old Breed at Pelélieu and Okinawa

Eugene B. Sledge passed away in 2001.  The above picture was taken of him during the war in the Pacific.