China Marine: An Infantryman's Life after World War II

China Marine: An Infantryman's Life after World War II

by E. B. Sledge, Stephen E. Ambrose, Stephen Ambrose

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Hailed as "one of the finest memoirs to emerge from any war" by acclaimed author Paul Fussell, With the Old Breed remains the most powerful and moving account of the U.S. Marines in World War II. Now, with his long-awaited sequel, China Marine, E. B. Sledge continues his story where With the Old Breed left off and recounts the compelling conclusion of his Marine


Hailed as "one of the finest memoirs to emerge from any war" by acclaimed author Paul Fussell, With the Old Breed remains the most powerful and moving account of the U.S. Marines in World War II. Now, with his long-awaited sequel, China Marine, E. B. Sledge continues his story where With the Old Breed left off and recounts the compelling conclusion of his Marine career.

After Japan's surrender in 1945, Sledge and his company were sent to China to maintain order and to calm the seething cauldron of political and ideological unrest created by opposing factions. His regiment was the first Marine unit to return to the ancient city of Peiping (now Beijing) where they witnessed the last of old China and the rise of the Communist state. Sledge also recounts the difficulty of returning to his hometown of Mobile, Alabama, and resuming civilian life while haunted by shadows of close combat. Through the discipline of writing and the study of biology, Sledge shows how he came to terms with the terrifying memories that had plagued him for years. Poignant and compelling, China Marine provides a frank depiction of the real costs of war, emotional and psychological as well as physical, and reveals the enduring bond that develops between men who face the horrors of war.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"[This] is an outstanding work that will have a wide appeal to scholars and to general readers. . . . No one captures the scene, the setting, or the emotions better than E. B. Sledge does. No one. . . . China Marine will have legs to it. The book will last. Like With the Old Breed, it will be read, appreciated, and taught, now and for decades to come."—From the Foreword by Stephen E. Ambrose, author of Band of Brothers and The Wild Blue

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Oxford University Press, USA
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New Edition
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5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.50(d)

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China Marine

By E.B. Sledge

The University of Alabama Press

Copyright © 2002 Jeanne Sledge
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8173-1161-2



In the fall of 1945, there existed in China a power vacuum that many opposing factions stood ready to fill. Into this seething cauldron of political and ideological unrest we arrived—the survivors of the battle for Okinawa—more like schoolboys on holiday than mighty conquerors. As veterans of the First Marine Division, we had already satisfied our quest for adventure. We wanted only peace and quiet and a chance to experience life without bloodshed—life where there was a reasonable hope of a future. In North China in 1945–46, however, we found peace and quiet to be elusive qualities. We also discovered in ancient Peiping an exotic, urbane society living out its last days in the face of dangerous and overwhelming changes.


Our eighty-two-day battle was over, but the endless war continued. We scrubbed the accumulated filth off our bodies, cleaned our weapons and other combat gear, and began the long process of preparing for the next invasion, God forbid. None of us survivors expected our luck to continue.

Large fleets of aircraft, mostly B-29 bombers and their fighter escorts, passed high over our camp every day on their way to bomb Japan. The number of planes in these raids was incredible. We would hear a low rumbling drone of motors, and everyone would run out of their tents and start craning their necks as we all looked up at the sky. The flights of planes sometimes stretched as far as we could see, and the air reverberated with the sound of their throbbing engines.

The news circulated in August that President Truman had announced that an atomic bomb had been dropped on Japan. "What kinda bum is dat for Chroist's sake?" someone asked. No one knew what an atomic bomb was. We watched our bulletin board anxiously and read the news release posted there each day. The second atomic bomb was dropped and rumors spread that the Japanese might surrender. I did not know a single veteran who believed it, though. "The Nips won't surrender. We'll have to go back into the islands and wipe 'em all out just like Peleliu. Even if they do surrender in Tokyo, we'll have to fight 'em for years until every last one is knocked off," said a tent mate of mine as we sat around speculating about our future. "Yeah, they might throw in the towel to keep their cities from being bombed flat, but those bypassed Nip troops on Truk, Rabaul, and other places are not going to surrender," added another. I agreed.

Finally, the news came that Japanese peace envoys flying in on one of their bombers were to be escorted into Ie Shima, an island just offshore of northern Okinawa, by a group of U.S. P-38 fighter planes with special green stripes identifying them. Many of us kept our eyes peeled toward Ie Shima and saw this historic event take place—but we still didn't believe the enemy would surrender.

After several days of unbearable suspense, on 14 August 1945 it was announced that the Japanese would surrender unconditionally—the war was over!

It is difficult to express how I felt upon hearing this news. I had a feeling it wasn't true—the war wasn't really over. Most of the veterans felt the same way. We simply sat around and talked quietly, trying to get used to the idea of peace at last. I think we were actually afraid to believe it was true. The First Marine Division had been through too much for too long not to be skeptical. A few new men whooped and shouted, and we heard firearms discharged by celebrating service troops somewhere to the south. But in our camp the men just sat around quietly; most of us felt it was too solemn an occasion to celebrate. The memory of so many dead friends was still fresh in our minds. We heard later that wild celebrations had taken place on V-J Day back in the States and on such big bases as the Philippines. The civilians and the rear echelon might have gone wild, but the prevailing attitude among my comrades was a mixture of quiet relief and disbelief.

We were kept busy during these eventful days on working parties to shape up our camp area. One of the most memorable working parties I was on during camp construction had the job of clearing a dense growth of yucca plants from an area that had been designated for officer's country. This was a narrow strip of uncultivated ground about twenty feet wide, shaded by huge pines. One warm clear day about ten of us began chopping down and clearing the yucca plants with picks and axes so some officers' tents could be pitched in the shade of the pines. No sooner had we chopped out the yucca plants bordering the impenetrable thicket, bristling with leaves tipped with needle-sharp spines, than we discovered that the area was the dumping ground for rocks and other debris when the area farmers cleared their agricultural fields. This made it very hard going to cut and dig out the yucca plants. We also soon discovered the rocky ground was a haven for snakes. There were two species of snakes on Okinawa, one poisonous and the other nonpoisonous. We were ordered to kill all snakes, cut off the head about three inches behind the neck, and turn them over to a corpsman who had a chart to identify the two species.

By midafternoon, when our working party secured their tools for the day, we had cleared an area about thirty-eight feet long and killed over twenty snakes. It was backbreaking work chopping the yucca, and every time someone spotted a snake, we all had to stop and help kill the reptile. Fortunately, no one was bitten. The men voiced many profane, and profound, comments regarding our having to clear a place for officers' tents that was so snake-infested. We later heard that about half the snakes we killed were the poisonous species.

However, enlisted men, particularly veterans, had subtle ways of getting their revenge without revealing any apparent breach of discipline. Our tent camp was built on the edge of a high cliff overlooking the sea. Not long after we had settled into our tents, the first big storm hit us. We had all tightened and adjusted our tent ropes and "battened down the hatches" as the saying went, and we sat on our cots to ride it out. The wind roared in unobstructed straight off the sea and gusted with a force of at least forty to fifty mph. We peered out from under our swaying tents at the sheets of rain driven before the gale and could barely see the tents across the company street. Our ropes held, and our drainage ditches carried off the little rivers made by the torrent. I was just musing about the luxury of a dry tent and a cot to sack out in instead of a flooded foxhole when someone shouted above the gale: "OK you guys. Outside! You are on a working party to report to the company office—on the double." "Oh no!" groaned someone. "Dammit to hell—what kinda screwed up detail is this?" growled someone else. Discipline being what it was, one obeyed orders immediately or was made to wish he had. We tumbled out into the storm clad only in khaki shorts, boondockers, and fatigue caps or helmet liners. Cpl. R. V. Burgin had recovered from his wound and returned from the hospital and was in charge of the working party. Cursing and grumbling, we trudged behind him through the deluge up to the company office tent. We stood around in the company street with rain pouring down on us while a senior NCO in the tent told Burgin to have us adjust the ropes on the tent directly across from the company office.

"OK boys, let's go," said Burgin, who was as disgusted as we were. We sullenly shuffled across to the tent, which was swaying violently in the high wind. Unless the ropes were adjusted, it was obvious that it would soon be blown over. The five or six of us turned to and began to adjust the ropes. Someone peeped inside and then passed the word to the rest of us that the tent was occupied by four brand-new replacement second lieutenants fresh from the States. They had just come into 3/5 and hadn't even been assigned to tents in officer's country yet because of the storm.

This was hard to take—working in the pouring rain to adjust a tent for four shavetails who had just come overseas. When I thought of all the rain we had endured during the recent campaign, it made me boil. We all felt the same way. I looked at Burgin and saw him carefully signaling to us. George and I were on the windward side of the tent tugging on the ropes to hold the tent steady. Burgin's signals were unmistakable. But I could scarcely believe he intended for us to do it! However, when he gave the signal, we released the ropes. The tent, of course, blew over immediately. There sat four astonished new lieutenants dressed in starched khakis sitting on their sacks. The deluge drenched them in an instant. "Teehut!" yelled Burgin as he saluted the officers—their new gold bars shining on their now soaked shirt collars. We all popped to rigid attention and saluted smartly. The soaked lieutenants arose awkwardly from their previously dry cots and returned our salutes. They were embarrassed and totally unprepared for this development. It was pitiful, yet comical, to see them trying to maintain their official decorum as the wind howled around the flapping tent and the downpour swept across them and all their cots, uniforms, and gear. "Terribly sorry, Suh!" shouted Burgin as he saluted the nearest officer. "That's all right—carry on," said the befuddled lieutenant as he returned the salute. Then with faked ferocity and fury, Burgin yelled at us, "OK you guys, let's get this heah tent squared away. Don't just stand theah, move, move!" Barely able to suppress our laughter, we bustled around giving the impression of working diligently to get the tent back up against the wind and rain. When we finally got everything squared away and battened down, we reported this to the new officers who were inside examining the extent of their soaking. Dismissed, we walked back through the storm to our tent. We had a spring in our stride and laughed all the way. "Boy, did you see the looks on them officers' faces when that rain hit 'em?" laughed one man. "Yeah, it sure wet all their gear all right—they didn't know whether to get mad or laugh." "It'd be our ass if they knew we done that on purpose," a mortarman said as we dried off and hung our soaked shorts up to dry in our tent. "You said that right, and they'd bust you and have your stripes too," I said, turning to Burgin. He just grinned, totally unconcerned. It was actually a mean trick we had played, but, after all, it would help make the new officers salty, someone mused.

We had plenty of leisure time and were allowed a lot of time to rest. A small tent with open flaps was placed at the cliff's edge, overlooking the sea. There were several tables and benches and a big wooden box of books there. This was our library. I spent a lot of time reading there, with the fresh, cool sea breeze and the pounding of the surf below the cliff making it one of the most appreciated libraries I have ever known. I remember completely losing myself in Wuthering Heights and several fine historical novels about Colonial America.

When the sea was calm, we went down to the beach at the foot of the cliff and swam in the beautiful pools in the coral reef. There were myriads of forms of aquatic creatures inhabiting the shallows. We saw many exotically colored species of small fishes that were to become popular in the States years later when salt water aquaria were perfected for the home hobbyist.

We enjoyed nightly movies in the regimental theater. There were no coconut logs to sit on "à la Pavuvu," but the screen was placed so we sat on the grassy slope of a steep hill and had a perfect view. Before the picture show would commence, a buddy and I would lie on our backs and watch the numerous shooting stars and marvel at their beauty. We agreed that the stars and moon—in fact, everything—seemed more beautiful than ever before because the war was really over. When the movie ended and the men got up and started back to their respective tents, I always had a feeling of disbelief that the world was at peace and that the mental escape provided by the movie was not just temporary as it had been on Pavuvu. We could really continue to dream of home and not be depressed by that uncertainty of the "next blitz" always in the back of our minds.

There was a great deal of scuttlebutt going around concerning the division's future. Wounded were returning from hospitals every few days, and old men were rotating back to the States. The most oft-repeated rumor, and probably the most outlandish, was that the entire First Marine Division was to be flown in a huge fleet of B-29s back to the States, each man issued dress blues, and then we would have a victory parade down Fifth Avenue in New York City. The more we talked about it, the more logical it seemed to us in our mental state of wishful thinking. After all, our division had spearheaded the long Pacific counteroffensive, beginning at Guadalcanal, and had gone on to make an outstanding combat record at Cape Gloucester and Peleliu, culminating with Okinawa. Finally, though, reason crept in and chased happy fantasy away. We all made wry jokes about parading down Fifth Avenue "in dress blues and tennis shoes." We knew we would "never get outta the boondocks," as one buddy expressed it.

The next rumor had our division parading down the streets of Tokyo as conquering heroes. Regardless of the fact that some officers, and enlisted men as well, may have thought this very appropriate, many of us just wanted to go home. Personally, I had seen enough of what came out of Japan, so I had absolutely no desire to go there, even though the war was over. One factor that convinced us we would go to Japan was our knowledge of the plans to invade the Japanese home islands. We had been told that in the fall of 1945 three Marine divisions would spearhead the invasion of Kyushu, the southernmost island, followed by several army divisions. The First Marine Division was scheduled to invade Honshu, the largest island. We were to assault the beaches at Yokosuka Naval Base at the mouth of Tokyo Bay and fight on into the Japanese capital. This, we reckoned, would be the hottest spot in the whole invasion of Japan. That the whole business would have been a massive bloodletting was obvious to all of us.

Needless to say, our relief was immense when all of these plans were abandoned with the Japanese surrender. Nevertheless, we were sure we would still be sent to Japan, but as part of the occupation forces. When the word was passed that North China was our destination, most of us were delighted—if we couldn't go home, China was preferable to Japan. "Hey, you guys, we'll be China Marines, yeehaw!" shouted a tent mate when the word was official. The Marine Corps had strong traditional ties with China Duty in Peking, Shanghai, and other areas. In our division we had a sprinkling of officers and old regulars who had served there in prewar years, so China Duty became the constant topic of conversation.

During September, each man received a series of inoculations against cholera and other diseases we might encounter in China. Everyone hated "the needle." So several of us devised a plan to put on an act for the "benefit" of the newest replacements. We began to spread the word that the shots they had received Stateside were nothing compared to the excruciating pain of inoculations given to us overseas. We described in gory detail how even the toughest men, some who had been wounded twice in combat, emerged from the sickbay tent with bloody arms and passed out after their inoculations. We really did a thorough job of "smokestacking" (fooling) the new men. When the day came around for K Company to fall out for shots, most of the new men looked so apprehensive about it that they looked like they were expecting to "hit the beach." We entered the sickbay tent on one side in single file, walked through after getting our shots, and left through the other side. A couple of corpsmen were cooperating with us in our scheme. After administering the shots, they sprinkled streaks of tincture of methiolate down both our arms. Each of us then emerged from the tent, took a few tottering steps, groaned loudly, and collapsed onto the deck. The effect was stunning on the new men. After seeing five or six combat veterans come reeling out on the deck, the poor replacements were wide-eyed. Big, muscular "Tex" Barrow, who had recently returned from the hospital after recovering from the gunshot would in the side he received at Kunishi Ridge, put on a particularly convincing performance. "Jeez, did ya see what them shots did to Tex?" I overheard an amazed replacement gasp. One of my fellow conspirators, no longer able to contain his amusement as he lay prostrate by the sickbay entrance, burst out guffawing and laughing. We all got to our feet and joined the chorus of laughter. The "beneficiaries" of our act began to protest loudly that they knew all the time what we had been up to—nonetheless, they appeared greatly relieved upon discovering it was all a joke. Then they stalked jauntily into sickbay and took their shots without flinching.


Excerpted from China Marine by E.B. Sledge. Copyright © 2002 Jeanne Sledge. Excerpted by permission of The University of Alabama Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Eugene Bondurant Sledge was a US marine, professor of biology at the University of Montevallo, and author of With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa. His life and work were used as source material for Ken Burns's PBS documentary, “The War.”

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