Gunnery Sergeant John Basilone
An Italian American NCO who becomes a living legend during the Battle of Guadalcanal (see below for details). From then on, his war experience includes not only combat, but also selling war bonds, training troops and sleeping with beautiful actresses.
He's the only enlisted Marine in WWII to have received both the Medal of Honor and the Navy Cross. He is also the only one of the three men listed here to not survive the war; rather than personal memoirs, Basilone's story is based off the recollections of others, particularly his wife and the official Marine records.
- A Father to His Men: After he returns to duty and is a tough drill instructor at Camp Pendleton, the recruits think highly of him knowing he is hard on them because he wants them to survive. When he sees the chaos happening on the beaches of Iwo Jima, he rushes in to get his unit in fighting order. And when he is killed, his men are visibly distraught.
- BFG: The machine gun he uses as a melee weapon at Guadalcanal.
- Composite Character: Only slightly, but Episode two combines a very-abbreviated version of Basilone's actions at Bloody Ridge with those of Sergeant Mitchell Paige, another machine gunner who also received the Medal of Honor for heroism there, but never appears in the series.
- Drill Sergeant Nasty: When training recruits at Camp Pendleton. Even so, everybody there admired and respected him.
- Dying Moment of Awesome: In episode 8, at Iwo Jima.
- Happily Married: For a very short time.
- The Hero Dies: Basilone is a genuinely heroic and inspiring figure. But just like in real life, it doesnt save him, and he is killed-in-action along with thousands of others at Iwo Jima.
- Ladykiller in Love: Has slept with famous and beautiful celebrities like Virginia Grey during his war bonds tour. But when he sees Lena, he is smitten instantly.
- Massive Numbered Siblings: He has 9 brothers and sisters.
- One-Man Army: In episode 2, he holds off 3,000 Japanese troops after his 15-men unit dwindles to just 2 other men. And note that the real man's actions are severely underplayed, as it would be impossible to tell them in just an hour (he really held his position for three days, on no food or sleep).
- Sergeant Rock: He is this to his men, especially at Camp Pendleton. Yet he only does it because he wants his men to survive.
- War Hero: He is awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his bravery in the Battle of Guadalcanal. He becomes something of a Propaganda Hero as well, given his importance in selling U.S. war bonds. Much of his subsequent character arc is him trying to deal with the perception that people have developed of him. He ultimately returns to the front, and is killed in the Battle of Iwo Jima.
Private First Class Robert "Lucky" Leckie
A Philadelphia native who puts his career as a sports writer on hold in order to to enlist in the Marines. He's The Everyman of the series - just your average American guy who likes beer and girls, fits in well with similarly fun-loving comrades, and tries to survive the war without losing his sanity. He does ultimately survive, and the first half or so of the series is based on the memoir he wrote.
- Back for the Finale: He's absent for 3 episodes after being wounded at Peleliu, and reappears only in episode 10.
- Cultured Warrior: He may not look the part (or act it, for that matter), but he's very well-read and intelligent, especially when compared to most other Marines.
- Drinking on Duty: One of the reasons he gets sent to the brig.
- Earn Your Happy Ending: He survives the war, comes home and marries the girl next door that he has crushed on for a long time.
- Fight Magnet: He has a bit of this going on for him; not only is he Hot-Blooded, but also somewhat subversive to authority. It's more noticeable in his memoir than in the series, however.
- Heroic BSoD: This, coupled with nighttime enuresis, gets him taken to a hospital in episode 4.
- Lovable Rogue: He's intelligent and charming (not to mention competent in combat), but repeatedly gets demoted for fighting, drinking, going AWOL, etc - and is proud of the fact.
- Based on Leckie's writings, he seemed to be of the opinion that the Marine Corps had lots of professional and likable officers—it was just his bad luck never to serve under any of them. He also made it clear in his writings that, like every other combat Marine of his time, he worshipped the very ground Chesty Puller walked on.
- Shell-Shocked Veteran: To a lesser extent than Sledge, but it's there (he had nightmares for the rest of his life and, according to his wife and children, would often wake up screaming).
- The Unfavorite: As the youngest of 8 children, he claims he is this. It doesn't help that when he first enlist, and is heading on the bus to Parris Island, his father seemingly doesn't know how to address him leaving and shows somewhat more concern over his faulty car than his youngest child heading off to war. Once the war is over and he returns home, his parents already turned his old room into a storage room.
- Warrior Poet: He worked as a journalist before and after the war. In a more literal vein, he's seen penning a poem during some R&R at the beach in between battles. His war memoir, Helmet For My Pillow, provided much of the source material for the first half of the series. He also wrote Strong Men, Armed, generally considered to be the definitive history of the Marines in the Pacific, and also a remarkably entertaining read.
Corporal Eugene "Sledgehammer" Sledge
A sensitive and idealistic young man from a wealthy Alabama family who enlists despite the pleas of his father, who was a surgeon in the Army during WWI. His character best exemplifies the horrific effects of wars on the human psyche, and despite being Out of Focus for the first few episodes, he is arguably the show's "true" main character. Which makes sense, given that his With The Old Breed is the other memoir the series' narrative is based on, and is the one which makes up virtually the entirety of the show's second half.
Has the largest episode count of all the characters.
- Badass Bookworm: Highly educated, and according to Leckie, Sledge is one of the few Marines who visits his "library" to read books.
- Blood Knight: During Okinawa, he evolves into one. He becomes so engrossed with killing that sometimes he borders on Sociopathic Soldier. Read his image quote.
- Break the Cutie: The war definitely takes its mental and emotional toll on him.
- Death Glare: He's the absolute master.
- Distinguished Gentleman's Pipe: When he picks up smoking, he opts for a pipe rather than cigarettes.
- Heterosexual Life-Partners: With Sid Phillips.
- He Who Fights Monsters: What he gradually becomes. He recovers bits and pieces of his previous idealism at Okinawa, however.
- Morality Pet: For Snafu.
- Red Oni, Blue Oni: The blue to Snafu's red (but the red to Burgin's blue).
- Sanity Slippage: The longer he fights in the war, the more he goes off the deep end. Before Pelileu, he's a pleasant, idealistic young man. By Okinawa, he's a hardened killer that doesn't bat an eye at the carnage around him and can mercilessly kill any Japanese he meets, and sports a powerful death glare while doing so. He eventually recovers once the war ends.Hamm: Jesus, can't [the Japanese] fucking surrender?Sledge: I don't. I hope we kill every last one of them.
- Shell-Shocked Veteran: What he ends up as.
- Southern-Fried Private: A native of Mobile, Alabama.
- These Hands Have Killed: After killing his first Japanese soldier, who was no more than three feet away from him, Sledge stares into the dying man's eyes; even when his wounded friend is calling Sledge's name right beside him. And shortly after when the whole squad is killing the remnant of the Japanese, Sledge is the only one looking despondently into the carnage. And after the battle, he's still looking at the corpse of the soldier he killed.
- The Unfettered: Becomes one in Okinawa.
Lieutenant Colonel Lewis "Chesty" Puller
An officer in the US Marine Corps and the most decorated US Marine in history. Commanded the 1st Battalion of the 7th Marines (Basilone's unit) on Guadalcanal and the 1st Marine Regiment (Leckie's unit) on Peleliu.
- Colonel Badass: In real life too.
- Deadpan Snarker: Has his moments.
- Demoted to Extra: Following Episode Three, he makes a sole appearance when the 1st Marines is relieved by the 5th after the disastrous attack at Bloody Nose Ridge.
- Famed in Story Part of USMC lore. Just about every Marine outside of his regiment recognizes him.
- Rousing Speech: Gives one to his Non-Commissioned Officers following Pearl Harbor.
Captain Andrew "Ack Ack" Haldane
King Company's CO during Peleliu. Cares deeply for his men and commands their total respect and love in return.
- A Father to His Men: In real life as well.
- Captain Smooth and Sergeant Rough: The Captain Smooth to Gunny Haney's Sergeant Rough.
- The Men First: Scouts a position on Bloody Nose Ridge instead of ordering one of his riflemen to do it.
- Killed Offscreen: We see his corpse, but we don't get to see the moment where Ack Ack got hit by the sniper that killed him.
- Officer and a Gentleman: He is remember fondly in Sledge's memoirs as an officer who was not only stern but compassionate, never raising his voice if he had to. In the series, he takes time to comfort the men who were beginning to crack from the stress and when Gunny Haney viciously chews out an officer for reckless mishandling his pistol, Haldane politely says, "Don't look at me, the Gunny's right."
- Pretty Little Headshots: He's in pretty good condition for someone who got sniped.
- R. V. Burgin's book subverts this, stating that those who saw him said there was nearly nothing left of his head after the shot that killed him.
- Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!: Risks court martial to get his companies orders changed. Why? Because the orders were for a Suicide Mission against a heavily-fortified ridge.
- Those Two Guys: With Hillbilly.
First Lieutenant Edward "Hillbilly" Jones
A platoon leader in King Company, and a former enlisted man who became an officer on Ack-Ack's recommendation. Never seen without his CO.
- Field Promotion: On Guadalcanal, thanks to Ack-Ack.
- Number Two: to Ack-Ack.
- Only Known by Their Nickname: Only known as Hillbilly throughout the series, until his death, where a saddened Ack-Ack mourns over his body and calls him, "Eddie".
- Satellite Character: He's always shown at Ack-Ack's side and they even die within days of each other.
- The Men First: Holds an Amtrac driver at gunpoint so the wounded can get evacuated.
- Those Two Guys: With Ack-Ack.
Sergeant Manuel "Manny" Rodriguez
An NCO within Dog Company and Basilone's best friend (along with JP Morgan).
- Sacrificial Lion: he's the first major character to bite the bullet.
Sergeant Elmo "Gunny" Haney
An NCO within K Company, noticeably older than the other Marines. Fought in the First World War.
- Badass Teacher: Was one between the two world wars.
- Bald of Awesome: The only bald Marine in the series, and definitely shows his ferocity in war, more so than the younger Marines.
- Cloud Cuckoo Lander: He has some odd mannerisms that often leave the younger Marines scratching their heads. One night he makes disparaging remarks about the company dogs used to help warn of sneak attacks by the Japanese, claiming they won't smell them before he does. When he runs off after uttering "Woof," Sledge and Snafu can only stare at each other in disbelief and laugh.
- Heroic BSoD: After Hillbilly's death.
- Large Ham: His introduction on Peleliu. In real life too. Sledge notes he had a habit of washing himself with a brush designed to clean an M1 rifle.
- Old Soldier: He is well into his 50s and is a veteran of World War One.
- Sergeant Rock: Berates an officer for improper gun safety and hammers in the lessons of war for his men.
Sergeant James "JP" Morgan
- Hot-Blooded: Is always ready for a fight. When a Marine rebukes him for being commanded to turn off a radio, JP is reading to charge at the man if not for Basilone.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: He's not seen after Basilone departs on his bond-selling tour.
Sgt Lena Mae Riggi Basilone
A tough, no-nonsense NCO serving as field cook at Camp Pendleton, where she catches the fancy of Veteran Instructor John Basilone.
- Birds of a Feather: Basilone and Lena are both no-nonsense Italian American Marines who love their chosen field of work.
- Christmas Cake: A 30 years old single woman is quite old by 1940s standards.
- Happily Married: If only for a short while.
- Jade-Colored Glasses: At the age of 30, she feels cynical of the advances of yet another man in the uniform - especially a celebrity like John Basilone.
- Prim and Proper Bun: Appropriate for a Marine.
- The Smurfette Principle: She's the only female Marine of note in the series.
- Tastes Like Friendship: She brews Basilone some coffee as a sign she's warmed up to him.
Sgt Romus "RV" Burgin
A Texan mortarman in K Company and one of Sledge's friends.
- A Father to His Men: The Non-Com type. Specifically invoked by Snafu and Sledge during the farewell.
- Boy Meets Girl: He meets his future wife while on a leave in Melbourne.
- The Men First: Discussed. When his squad start complaining about being sent on patrol in Okinawa, he points out that he plans on going with them. Throughout the series, he's always with his comrades during battle.
- Sergeant Rock: An aversion; while competent, he's no tougher, smarter or braver than the lower-ranked Marines in his squad, and he doesn't exercise that much authority during the course of the series.
- Southern-Fried Private: A subversion, since he's intelligent and well-spoken.
Corporal Merriell "Snafu" Shelton
A member of K Company's mortar squad along with Sledge. He's a seasoned veteran by the time the latter gets into combat and is thus able to show Sledge the ropes.
On a side note, he's Cajun, and it shows.
- Beneath the Mask: The nightmare that is Okinawa shows that he is Not So Stoic after all.
- Cloud Cuckoolander: He's a little bit off. When he's not being utterly terrifying.
- Creepy Monotone: His default manner of speaking.
- Dissonant Serenity: He's casual and nonchalant whether he's fighting, vomiting from seasickness, or hunting for war trophies.
- Dysfunction Junction: It's implied that his family (if he even has any left) is not particularly loving.
- Everyone Has Standards: He's the most twisted member of Sledge's mortar squad, but even he seems severely shaken up by the Japanese using a mother and her infant as a suicide bomb.
- For context, this is the same guy who had no qualms about dropping stones into the blown open head of a Japanese soldier to see the "splash".
- The Fellowship Has Ended: After getting discharged,he departs the train to Mobile without saying goodbye to Eugene and doesn't contact any veterans for some forty years.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: He looks out for Sledge the best he can, which saves him from being Nightmare Fuel incarnate.
- Knife Nut: Very handy with his KA-BAR.
- Manipulative Bastard: At one point, his scheming indirectly causes the deaths of two fellow Marines.
- No Sense of Personal Space: Especially when it comes to Sledge.
- Only Known by Their Nickname: His real name comes up in the series a whopping two times.
- Pet the Dog: His protective attitude towards Eugene.
- Red Oni, Blue Oni: The red to Sledge's blue.
- Smoking Is Cool: He smokes like a chimney and is almost never seen without a cigarette.
- Slasher Smile: He gets one sometimes immediately after a fight or if he has killed. In contrast to Sledge, who never enjoys particularly enjoys soldiering, Snafu likes killing a little too much.
- Southern-Fried Private: He's from New Orleans and he has a very pronounced Cajun accent.
Corporal Sidney "Sid" Phillips
Sledge's childhood friend who enlists way earlier than Eugene and finds himself a mortarman with the H Company.
- Happily Married: By the end of the series.
- Heterosexual Life-Partners: With Sledge.
- Hospital Hottie: He becomes a doctor after the war.
- Southern-Fried Private: Like his best friend Sledge, he is a native of Mobile, Alabama.
PFCs Lew "Chuckler" Juergens, Wilbur ("Bud") "Runner" Conley and Bill "Hoosier" Smith
Members of H Company who comprise Leckie's group of friends.
- Deadpan Snarker:
- Runner, in a good-humored way.
- Hoosier has his moments as well.
- Four-Philosophy Ensemble: With Runner as the Apathetic, Chuckler as the Optimist, Hoosier as the Cynic and Leckie as the Realist.
- Hot-Blooded: Hoosier is the most irritable of the four friends.
- Meaningful Name: Runner gets the runs in Guadalcanal. (He got the nickname for having been a track star in high school though).
- Only Known by Their Nickname: All three of them.
- Team Mom: Chuckler, who is the unofficial leader of the group and watches over his friends the best he can.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: Hoosier is last seen passing out from a nasty leg wound. He gets better.
- Likewise, Chuckler is last seen by Lucky and Runner alive on Peleliu, but last seen by the viewers being carried from the island on a stretcher when Sledge's unit arrives. He survives too.
PFC Jay De L'Eau
- Bring My Brown Pants: In a memorable scene, he goes into a cave to take a crap...only to find two Japanese soldiers hiding there.
- Manly Tears: Averted; he cries uncontrollably after confessing how tired and scared he is of war to Sledge.
StellaAn Australian girl of Greek descent who is Leckie's love interest while the First Marines are stationed in Melbourne.
- Canon Immigrant: Her entire story was fabricated by the writers; real-life Leckie dated a number of women while in Melbourne.
- It's Not You, It's My Enemies: An inversion, since it's Stella using this excuse for a break-up.
- One Name Only: What is her last name? The viewers shall never know.