Auburn University’s Veterans Resource Center (VRC) unveiled a display featuring a World War II dress uniform worn by late Auburn alumnus and United States Marine Corps veteran Eugene B. Sledge at a special ceremony on campus Friday.
Sledge, a Mobile native, was a Marine whose 1981 memoir “With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa” chronicled his World War II combat experiences in the Pacific theater and was used as source material for the 2010 HBO miniseries “The Pacific.” After the war, Sledge attended Auburn — then known as Alabama Polytechnic Institute — where he was a member of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity.
The display includes one of Sledge’s full dress uniforms, several medals, a canteen, shovel, copy of his book and his mortar sight carrying case, among other items. The Sledge family began donating relics from his days in the service to Auburn more than 20 years ago, items that were kept in the Special Collections and Archives at the Ralph Brown Draughon Library. The Eugene B. Sledge Papers are held in the Special Collections and Archives and contain material from all aspects of his life, service, career and family.
Members of the Sledge family attended the unveiling and were grateful to see the display become a reality.
“I’m just honored to see my father’s legacy perpetuated like this, and this is a wonderful tribute,” said Henry Sledge, Eugene’s son and an Auburn alumnus. “I’m deeply honored that Clay Buchanan, Curtis Pippin and the rest of the team at the Veterans Resource Center did what they did. I’m totally impressed by their sense of urgency, attention to detail, their execution and the dedication they showed to make this happen.
“Things like this don’t just happen overnight, and I’m hugely grateful to everyone who worked to make this possible. It’s beautiful, and I’m also grateful to Greg Schmidt, Tommy Brown and the rest of the team at the archives for being such good stewards of my father’s papers, letters and everything.”
Henry Sledge spoke of his father’s affinity for his alma mater and is pleased the university will continue to honor his service and connections to the land-grant institution.
“He loved Auburn University,” Sledge said. “I went here, and so did my brother and mother. People here at Auburn made this happen, and that shows the legitimacy of my father’s legacy and his reputation.”
Known as “Sledgehammer,” Eugene Sledge earned a Bachelor of Science in business administration from API in the summer of 1949. He returned to the Plains in 1953, working as a research assistant until 1955, when he graduated from API with a Master of Science in botany.
Sledge, a mortarman who rose to the rank of corporal, earned a doctorate in biology from the University of Florida in 1960 and taught the subject at the University of Montevallo from 1962-90. He died in 2001 at the age of 77 and would have celebrated his 100th birthday on Nov. 4.
In addition to Sledge’s family, Auburn University First Lady Tracy Roberts — an Air Force veteran — VRC leadership, members of the Auburn Student Veterans Association (ASVA) and other university leaders, staff and faculty were on-hand for the unveiling. The unveiling took place on the 248th anniversary of the creation of the U.S. Marine Corps and the eve of Veterans Day.
The project was the brainchild of Marine Corps veteran and Auburn student Clay Buchanan, who worked with individuals from Special Collections & Archives, the VRC, ASVA, Auburn University Student Affairs, Auburn University Facilities, the Alabama Marines Foundation, the Marine Corps League and the City of Auburn to bring the display to life.
“When I realized the collection included a dress blue uniform, I felt it deserved to be in a displayed area because it represents what we are doing here at the Veterans Resource Center and the Auburn Student Veterans Association,” said Buchanan, a business and professional flight double major. “I couldn’t think of a better way to show that, and I’d like to thank everybody who helped me make this happen.”
The display will reside in the VRC conference room in Foy Hall, in the heart of the university’s sprawling campus.
“The Eugene Sledge display at the Auburn Veterans Resource Center showcases the journey from military service to academic success, offering a relatable and motivating example for our student veterans,” said Curtis Pippin, program coordinator for the Auburn VRC. “As both an Auburn alumnus and a military hero, Sledge’s story connects deeply with our community, highlighting the diverse experiences and strengths that veterans bring to our campus.
“This display celebrates his legacy and underscores Auburn’s dedication to supporting the unique paths of its veteran students as they transition into university life.”