It Was His Dog

Moving post from Greg Sykes. An excerpt:

I’m reminded of one of the greatest scenes of such frustrated captivity in modern literature. In Eugene Sledge’s phenomenal memoir of WWII, With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa, Sledge has spent over two months in brutal, subhuman combat on the filthy, stench-ridden island of Okinawa. He has seen atrocities that would destroy the most hardened soldier — and it did in many cases.

He had watched the Japanese strap dynamite to civilian babies and children, sending them into close proximity to the Marines so they could be exploded by gunfire. He had fallen into a hole with a decaying corpse and had the grubs and rotting flesh slide within his own shirt and dungarees. He had killed innumerable enemy soldiers in their suicidal Banzai charges, and he had watched many of his closest friends die.

But he endured the misery and soldiered on . . . until he received a letter from home (Mobile, Alabama). As he read the letter, he finally crossed his breaking point — tears racked him and he lost control. The days and months of being forced to do things that no man should be forced to endure finally caught up to him and the captivity of his role as a Marine in the Pacific overwhelmed him.

And what was in the letter, you ask? Sledge’s mother had written him to tell him that his dog had died.

Reasonable or not, that information shook Sledge to his core. Yes, he had seen atrocities — on a daily basis — that made the death of his dog seem insignificant. But, as he kept telling his companions, that was his dog. He had raised it from a pup. And he should have been there to see it die. It was his dog, he kept saying, as if that explained it.

Read the whole thing for Sykes’s reflections on what we can learn from this.



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