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After battling across Okinawa for over a month, Sledge and the rest of the 1st Marine Division are ordered to relieve an Army division that has been in combat against the most strongly defended Japanese position on the island. The conditions and the moral dilemma posed by civilians put great strain on the physical and psychological endurance of Sledge and the other Marines.
The Marines, including the newly christened Sledgehammer, continue the battle of Peleliu against an enemy determined to fight to the last man. Devastated by the loss of a revered leader, and witnessing unimaginable barbarity on both sides, Sledge veers to the edge of moral collapse. Their objective finally secured, the Marines return to Pavuvu fundamentally changed.
Despite the terrible heat and a lack of water, Sledge, Leckie and the other Marines confront the highly-fortified enemy as they attempt to capture the Peleliu airfield. After seeing his comrades badly injured, Leckie himself is wounded and evacuated from the island. Sledge witnesses the shocking truth about what is sometimes required to survive and fight another day.
Basilone's celebrity grows as he travels across the country on the war bonds tour. On Pavuvu, Sledge, assigned to the 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division, is briefly reunited with Phillips, and Leckie rejoins his company. Sledge then gets his first taste of combat as he, Leckie, and the rest of the Division meet fierce Japanese resistance while landing on the island of Peleliu.