Eugene Sledge

Eugene Bondurant Sledge, Auburn ’48, was a United States Marine, university professor, and author. His 1981 memoir With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa chronicled his combat experiences during World War II and was subsequently used as source material for the Ken Burns PBS documentary The War (2007), as well as the HBO miniseries The Pacific (2010). 

He returned to college and pursued the study of science, namely ornithology and helminthology, with several advanced degrees, followed by work with the Division of Plant Industry for the Florida State Department of Agriculture from 1959 to 1962. 

Sledge was appointed Assistant Professor of Biology at Alabama College (now the University of Montevallo) retiring as a full professor in 1990, very popular with his students. He taught zoology, ornithology, and comparative vertebrate anatomy.  

Military career 

Sledge was enrolled in the Marion Military Institute, but instead chose to volunteer for the U.S. Marine Corps in December 1942. He was placed in the V-12 officer training program and was sent to Georgia Tech, where he and half of his detachment flunked out so they would be allowed to serve their time as enlistees and not miss the war. 

Once he was out of school, he was assigned duty as an enlisted man and was eventually assigned to K Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division (K/3/5), where he served with Corporal R.V. Burgin and PFC Merriell “Snafu” Shelton. He achieved the rank of Corporal in the Pacific Theater and saw combat as a 60 mm mortarman at Peleliu and Okinawa. When fighting grew too close for effective use of the mortar, he served in other duties such as stretcher bearer and as a rifleman. 

After being posted to Beijing after the war, he was discharged from the Marine Corps in February 1946. 

Post-war 

After the war ended, Sledge attended Auburn University (then known as Alabama Polytechnic Institute), where he was a member of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity, receiving a Bachelor of Science degree in business administration in the summer of 1949. 

Sledge, like many other war veterans, had a hard time readjusting to civilian life: 

“As I strolled the streets of Mobile, civilian life seemed so strange. People rushed around in a hurry about seemingly insignificant things. Few seemed to realize how blessed they were to be free and untouched by the horrors of war. To them, a veteran was a veteran – all were the same, whether one man had survived the deadliest combat or another had pounded a typewriter while in uniform.” 

Once an avid hunter, Sledge gave up his hobby. He found that he could not endure the thought of wounding a bird and said that killing a deer felt like shooting a cow in a pasture. His father found him weeping after a dove hunt where Sledge had to kill a wounded dove, and in the ensuing conversations he told his father he could no longer tolerate seeing any suffering. 

Upon life changing advice from his father that he could substitute bird watching as a hobby, Sledge started to assist the conservation department in its banding study efforts, the beginning of a successful career in the science of ornithology. 

When he enrolled at Auburn University, the clerk at the Registrar’s office asked him if the Marine Corps had taught him anything useful. Sledge replied: 

“Lady, there was a killing war. The Marine Corps taught me how to kill Japs and try to survive. Now, if that don’t fit into any academic course, I’m sorry. But some of us had to do the killing — and most of my buddies got killed or wounded.” 

He found his salvation in science, as it kept the flashbacks of Peleliu and Okinawa at bay. Close, constant study of nature prevented him from going mad; however, the war stayed with him, and he eventually began to put his thoughts on paper, at last allowing him to put his horrors behind him. 

He returned to Auburn in 1953, where he worked as a research assistant until 1955. That same year he graduated from API with a master of science in botany. 

Doctorate and later work 

From 1956 to 1960, Sledge attended the University of Florida and worked as a research assistant. He published numerous papers on helminthology and joined the Helminthological Society of Washington. He received his doctorate in biology from the University of Florida in 1960. He was employed by the Division of Plant Industry for the Florida State Department of Agriculture from 1959 to 1962. 

In the summer of 1962, Sledge was appointed Assistant Professor of Biology at Alabama College (now the University of Montevallo). In 1970, he became a professor, a position he held until his retirement in 1990. He taught zoology, ornithology, comparative vertebrate anatomy, and other courses during his long tenure there. Sledge was popular with his students, and organized field trips and collections around town. In 1989, he received an honorary degree and rank of colonel from Marion Military Institute. 

Books

With the Old Breed

In 1981, Sledge published With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa, a memoir of his World War II service with the United States Marine Corps. In 1992, Sledge was featured in the documentary film Peleliu 1944: Horror in the Pacific. In April 2007, it was announced that With the Old Breed, along with Robert Leckie’s Helmet for My Pillow, would form the basis for the HBO series The Pacific

China Marine (memoir) 

A second memoir, China Marine: An Infantryman’s Life after World War II, was published posthumously, which discussed his postwar service in Peiping (now known as Beijing), his return home to Mobile, and his recovery from the psychological trauma of warfare. 

Awards and decorations 

  • Combat Action Ribbon (1 bronze award star) 
  • Navy Presidential Unit Citation with award star 
  • Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal 
  • China Service Medal 
  • American Campaign Medal  
  • Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal (two bronze campaign stars) 
  • World War II Victory Medal 
  • Army of Occupation Medal with ‘Japan’ clasp 

James Sehorn

General James Sehorn is a Forest Grove, Oregon native and Oregon State University Forestry graduate who has fulfilled an incredibly courageous military career. He is an American legend who served during the Vietnam war. On December 14, 1967 Brother Sehorn was forced to eject over North Vietnam and was immediately captured and taken as a Prisoner of War. After spending 1,917 days of captivity in terrible conditions, he was released during Operation Homecoming on March 14, 1973.

Sehorn then trained as a transport pilot and later left active duty in 1976 and went into the Air Force Reserve. He retired from the USAF in 1994 as Director of Operations for the USAF Reserve. Sehorn later served as the first Inspector General of the State of Georgia.

Brother Sehorn was decorated for his gallantry and intrepidity in action in connection with military operations against the opposing armed force while a Prisoner of War in North Vietnam. Ignoring international agreements on treatment of prisoners of war, the enemy resorted to mental and physical cruelties to obtain information, confessions and propaganda materials. Brother Sehorn resisted their demands by calling upon his deepest inner strengths in a manner which reflected his devotion to duty and great credit upon himself and the USAF.

Rear Admiral William Retz

Rear Adm. Retz was born in Blauvelt, N.Y., and attended the University of New Mexico at Albuquerque as an NROTC Scholarship student.  President of the Phi Delta Theta Fraternity and Commander of the Brigade of Midshipmen, he graduated with a degree in Mechanical Engineering and was commissioned in June 1963.  He later earned a Master of Science degree from George Washington University.

Retz served in numerous at-sea assignments including: Main Propulsion Officer, USS Taylor (DD 468); Operations Officer, USS Borie (DD704); assignment with the River Patrol Forces (Task Force 116 ) in Vietnam; Flag Secretary and Aide to Commander Amphibious Group TWO; Executive Officer, USS Ainsworth (FF1090); Commanding Officer, USS Stump (DD978); and Commander Destroyer Squadron Twenty-Two.  Retz’ service in the Atlantic, Pacific and Mediterranean Theaters encompassed key international events, such as the 1973 Middle-East crisis; Operation Game Warden in Vietnam; and the hostage crisis off Beirut.  As a Destroyer Squadron commander he was closely involved in antisubmarine warfare and in early tests of the Tomahawk cruise missile system, which later proved so successful in the Persian Gulf War.

Retz’ shore duty included tours as student, Cruiser-Destroyer Force Engineering School and Naval Destroyer School (graduating both with distinction); Naval War College, Newport Rhode Island and Placement Officer, Bureau of Naval Personnel, Washington, DC.

Retz  served several staff tours, including duty as Company Officer and Performance Officer, U.S. Naval Academy; Deputy Director, Surface Warfare Division, Office of the Chief of Naval Operations (Surface Warfare); Head, Officer Community Management Section and Deputy Director, Military Personnel Policy Division, Office of the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations (Manpower, Personnel and Training); and Executive Assistant to the Chief of Naval Personnel.

Retz assumed duties as Deputy Director for Operations, United States Central Command in September 1987.  His responsibilities encompassed Persian Gulf escort and strike operations Earnest Will, Praying Mantis and Nimble Archer.  In the spring of 1989, Retz attended the National Defense University Capstone course enroute to his flag assignment as Director, Total Force Programming/Manpower Division (OP12).  Subsequently he was assigned as Assistant Chief of Naval Personnel for Military Personnel Policy and Career Progression (Pers 2) Retz commanded Naval Surface Group Middle Pacific and Naval Base Pear Harbor from July 1992 to September 1994.  While at Pearl Harbor Retz was responsible for several highly successful base transition initiatives including some detailed by the Base Realignment and Closure Commission.  Retz assumed command of Naval Base Philadelphia in October 1994, closed that complex on 30 September 1995 and transitioned to a civilian career.

Retz’ awards include the Distinguished Service Medal, Defense Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit (3 gold stars), Bronze Star with combat “V”, Purple Heart, Meritorious service Medal with gold star, Navy Commendation Medal, Combat Action Ribbon, Presidential Unit Citation, Meritorious Unit Citation and various campaign and service awards.

General Thomas Moorman, Jr.

General Thomas S. Moorman Jr. was vice chief of staff, Headquarters U.S. Air Force, Washington, D.C.

General Moorman was born in Washington, D.C. He was commissioned through the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps program as a distinguished military graduate in 1962. The general has served in a variety of intelligence and reconnaissance related positions within the United States and worldwide. While stationed at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., in 1982, he became deeply involved in the planning and organizing for the establishment of Air Force Space Command. During his Pentagon tour in 1987, he also provided program management direction for development and procurement of Air Force surveillance, communications, navigation and weather satellites, space launch vehicles, anti-satellite weapons and ground-based and airborne strategic radars, communications and command centers. He additionally represented the Air Force in the Strategic Defense Initiative program and was authorized to accept SDI program execution responsibilities on behalf of the Air Force. As commander and vice commander of Air Force Space Command, General Moorman was responsible for operating military space systems, ground-based radars and missile warning satellites, the nation’s space launch centers at Patrick Air Force Base, Fla., and Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., the worldwide network of space surveillance radars, as well as maintaining the Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) force.

Rear Admiral Thomas Eccles

Rear Admiral Eccles was born on Johnson Air Force base in Japan and raised in Wallingford, Ct. He graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1981.

Eccles served at sea aboard USS Richard B. Russell (SSN 687) and USS Gurnard (SSN 662). As an engineering duty officer, he held positions at Mare Island Naval Shipyard, in the Navy’s Deep Submergence Systems Program, and he had two tours in the Virginia Class Submarine Program, directing design and construction. He was executive assistant to the Commander, Naval Sea Systems Command.

Eccles was Seawolf program manager through the delivery of USS Jimmy Carter (SSN 23), where his team was awarded the Meritorious Unit Commendation, then program manager for Advanced Undersea Systems, responsible for research and development submarines, submarine escape and rescue systems, and atmospheric diving systems. As a commander he was program manager for the design and construction of the unmanned autonomous submarine Cutthroat (LSV 2).

Eccles’ previous flag officer assignments included deputy commander for Undersea Warfare and Undersea Technology in NAVSEA, and commander of the Naval Undersea Warfare Center, before becoming NAVSEA’s Chief Engineer in September 2008.

In 2010 Eccles led the US technical team supporting the Republic of Korea joint international investigation into the loss of the warship CHEONAN. Also in 2010, he was appointed to the National Academy of Engineering committee examining the DEEPWATER HORIZON explosion and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. He was awarded the 2012 Gold Medal of the American Society of Naval Engineers and elected a Fellow of the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers.

Eccles’ education includes four degrees from MIT including a bachelor’s in Electrical Engineering, a master’s in Mechanical Engineering, the professional degree of Naval Engineer, and a master’s in Management of Technology from MIT’s Sloan School. He serves on the Visiting Committee in MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering. He is a graduate of the Naval War College, the Defense Systems Management College, and the foreign policy program Seminar XXI, and was elected to the Society of Sigma Xi. He is qualified in submarines, and as a deep sea diver and salvage officer. His decorations include the Legion of Merit (3), National Intelligence Exceptional Achievement Medal, Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Meritorious Service Medal (4), and other individual and unit awards.

Ross Rowell

Rowell was a highly decorated United States Marine Corps aviator who achieved the rank of lieutenant general by the end of his 40 years of service. He served as Director of Marine Corps Aviation from May 30, 1935 until March 10, 1939 and was one of the three senior officers of Marine Corps aviation during World War II

Alexander Skinker

Captain Alexander Rives Skinker was a Medal of Honor recipient during World War I. He graduated from Washington University in St. Louis in 1905. He served in the Missouri National Guard from 1903 to 1908, and entered the Army as a commissioned officer in 1916. He was awarded the medal for leading an attack on German pillboxes in the Hindenburg Line during the Battle of the Argonne. Skinker was killed in the attack.

DeWitt Smith

Lieutenant General DeWitt C. Smith Jr., was the longest-serving commandant of the U.S. Army War College at Carlisle Barracks. Smith served as war college commandant from 1974-77 and again from 1978-1980. He was also a student there in the 1960s. Major General David H. Huntoon Jr., current commandant of the war college, calls Smith an “outstanding military leader, educator, family man and patriot,” who served his country as a “courageous combat leader.”

Leroy Stutz

Colonel Leroy W. Stutz was a U.S. Air Force officer, pilot and prisoner of war for 2,284 days (6.25 years) during the Vietnam War.

Stutz’s 85th combat mission came on December 2, 1966. Stutz and his co-pilot, Captain Robert R. Gregory, were assigned a 55-minute photo reconnaissance mission over Hanoi, North Vietnam. During a pass over their target, their aircraft was hit by 57mm AAA ground fire and the two ejected as their aircraft crashed near Yên Bái 25 miles outside of Hanoi. After landing, the two established voice contact with each other, and both were captured.

On March 4, 1973, Stutz, promoted during his time as a prisoner to captain, was released from Hanoi. Almost 600 Americans were freed during Operation Homecoming.

Promoted to major in 1974, Stutz was an Air Officer Commanding at the Air Force Academy and then the Commandant’s Executive for Honor and Ethics. He next attended the Command and Staff College at Maxwell Air Force Base in 1977-1978. Promoted to lieutenant colonel in 1978, he attended Maintenance Officers School at Chanute Air Force Base. He was then assigned to MacDill Air Force Base as officer in charge of the 61st Aircraft Maintenance Unit, maintenance supervisor, and later commander of the 56th Aircraft Generation Squadron and assistant deputy commander for maintenance.

Promoted to colonel in 1984, Stutz then attended the Air War College at Maxwell Air Force Base in 1984-1985. He returned to MacDill as Deputy Commander for Maintenance for the 56th Tactical Training Wing. He was next Deputy for Maintenance of the 552nd Airborne Warning and Control Wing at Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma.

In July 1990, he reported to Chanute Air Force Base, Illinois, where he became the vice wing commander and the chief of the operation division of the 3330th Technical Training Wing. He was put in command of the 3360th in February 1992, and appointed commander of the Training Wing in November 1992.

Colonel Stutz retired from the Air Force in June 1994, having completed 30 years on active duty.

Robert Taplett

Robert Donald Taplett was a highly decorated United States Marine who was most notable for commanding 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines during the Battle of Chosin Reservoir during the Korean War for which he was awarded the Navy Cross – the second highest medal for valor in the United States Armed Forces.

Taplett served with distinction in the Marine Corps for 20 years. He served aboard ship in the Pacific Theater during World War II. During the Korean War, he served as commander of 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines. After retiring from the Marine Corps, he authored a book that chronicled his experiences during the Korean War.