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Helmet for My Pillow: From Parris Island to the Pacific (1957)

by Robert Leckie

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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9792518,381 (3.84)35
Here is one of the most riveting first-person accounts ever to come out of World War II. Robert Leckie enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in January 1942, shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. In Helmet for My Pillow, we follow his odyssey, from basic training on Parris Island, South Carolina, all the way to the raging battles in the Pacific, where some of the war's fiercest fighting took place. Recounting his service with the 1st Marine Division and the brutal action on Guadalcanal, New Britain, and Peleliu, Leckie spares no detail of the horrors and sacrifices of war, painting an unvarnished portrait of how real warriors are made, fight, and often die in the defense of their country. From the live-for-today rowdiness of marines on leave to the terrors of jungle warfare against an enemy determined to fight to the last man, Leckie describes what war is really like when victory can only be measured inch by bloody inch. Woven throughout are Leckie's hard-won, eloquent, and thoroughly unsentimental meditations on the meaning of war and why we fight. Unparalleled in its immediacy and accuracy, Helmet for My Pillow will leave no one untouched. This is a book that brings you as close to the mud, the blood, and the experience of war as it is safe to come. Now producers Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg, and Gary Goetzman, the men behind Band of Brothers, have adapted material from Helmet for My Pillow for HBO's epic miniseries The Pacific, which will thrill and edify a whole new generation.… (more)
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» See also 35 mentions

English (23)  Swedish (1)  All languages (24)
Showing 1-5 of 23 (next | show all)
Solid enlisted Marine's memoir of his war. Leckie became a career journalist, and this reads like it was reported from a local park. ( )
  kcshankd | Apr 24, 2022 |
Parris Island, Guadalcanal, Pavuvu, and Peleliu covered Leckie's career in the Marine Corps. For many in the First Marines, the two battles spanned their lives as well as their careers. For those that see glory in battle and war; this book should be required reading. Before the US got its logistics in place, marines were eating Japanese rice and drinking gasoline-fouled water from metal containers. Guadalcanal was necessary but Peleliu should have been, like Rabaul, isolated and ignored. Macarthur insisted, Nimitz, acquiesced and thousands of marines died.
  jamespurcell | Sep 26, 2021 |
I first learned of this book when I read that it was being used as one of the sources for a new miniseries about the Pacific theater in the Second World War. Having enjoyed the other source material being used, E. B. Sledge’s superb memoir, [b:With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa|771332|With the Old Breed At Peleliu and Okinawa|Eugene B. Sledge|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1297640051s/771332.jpg|757389], I decided to track down a copy of Leckie’s account and read it for myself. Because of this, I found myself comparing the two works as I read it, which influenced my overall opinion of the book.

In many ways, the experiences of the two men were similar. Both were civilians prior to the Second World War; Leckie enlisted in the Marines a month after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. His account of basic training feels incredibly authentic, in part because of his attention to details. Leckie captures much of the mundane minutiae of learning how to be a Marine, from the bureaucratic experience of inoculation to the quest for a good time on leave. This sense of authenticity continues as he describes his deployment to Guadalcanal with the First Marine Division and his engagement with the war there. These experiences form the best part of the book, as his initial encounter with life as a Marine in both training and war reflect his interest in the novelty of it all.

From Guadalcanal, Leckie’s unit was returned to Australia for rest and refitting. This transformation into what he calls a “lotus-eater” also bears a real sense of verisimilitude, as unlike many memoirs of war he does not gloss over the search for release that often characterized breaks from the battles. It is here, though, that his account flags a little, and his return to combat in New Britain as part of Operation Cartwheel was perhaps the least interesting part of the book. The book improves with his subsequent experiences in the hospital in Banika and his final, abbreviated deployment to Peleliu, which ended with his injury and return to the States for the duration of the war.

Reading this book, it is easy to see why it stands out as an account of the Second World War. Leckie’s prose brings alive both the mundane routines of service and the violence of combat. It is when he is between the two that the book suffers, as his efforts at evocative prose about his surroundings in the jungle suffer from being a little overwrought, particularly in comparison to Sledge’s plainer, more straightforward descriptions. Yet both need to be read for a fascinating portrait of what the war was like for the “new boots” who gave up their lives as civilians to fight in the humid jungles and barren islands of the Pacific. ( )
  MacDad | Mar 27, 2020 |
Newspaper reporter’s narrative of his life in the Marines during WWII, which is a lot more boredom and hunger than terror, though there is a fair amount of horror and death. Also a lot of racism; “Japs” is the only word ever used for the Japanese, and the various indigenous people of the Pacific appear as mostly silent and/or ridiculous, plus there’s the Southern racist whose charming quirk is how much he hates black people, but you had to like him anyway because “you” was a bunch of white guys. Takeaway: it’s possible to be a sharp observer of certain white/military foibles without being reflective in other ways. ( )
  rivkat | Dec 19, 2019 |
How do you review a classic? You can't, so I will just say this: War as poetry. Every bit of it, especially for those who know. From a different time, for all time. ( )
  PCHcruzr | Oct 7, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 23 (next | show all)
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Robert Leckieprimary authorall editionscalculated
Lau, TomCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To Those Who Fell
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A cutting wind slanted up Church Street in the cheerless dawn of January 5, 1942.
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Here is one of the most riveting first-person accounts ever to come out of World War II. Robert Leckie enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in January 1942, shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. In Helmet for My Pillow, we follow his odyssey, from basic training on Parris Island, South Carolina, all the way to the raging battles in the Pacific, where some of the war's fiercest fighting took place. Recounting his service with the 1st Marine Division and the brutal action on Guadalcanal, New Britain, and Peleliu, Leckie spares no detail of the horrors and sacrifices of war, painting an unvarnished portrait of how real warriors are made, fight, and often die in the defense of their country. From the live-for-today rowdiness of marines on leave to the terrors of jungle warfare against an enemy determined to fight to the last man, Leckie describes what war is really like when victory can only be measured inch by bloody inch. Woven throughout are Leckie's hard-won, eloquent, and thoroughly unsentimental meditations on the meaning of war and why we fight. Unparalleled in its immediacy and accuracy, Helmet for My Pillow will leave no one untouched. This is a book that brings you as close to the mud, the blood, and the experience of war as it is safe to come. Now producers Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg, and Gary Goetzman, the men behind Band of Brothers, have adapted material from Helmet for My Pillow for HBO's epic miniseries The Pacific, which will thrill and edify a whole new generation.

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Tantor Media

2 editions of this book were published by Tantor Media.

Editions: 1400110505, 1400120330

 

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