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Paperback Helmet for My Pillow: From Parris Island to the Pacific Book

ISBN: 0553593315

ISBN13: 9780553593310

Helmet for My Pillow: From Parris Island to the Pacific

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Book Overview

"A grand and epic prose poem . . . The purely human experience of war in the Pacific, written in the graceful imagery of a human being who--somehow--survived."--Tom Hanks

See Robert Leckie's story in the HBO miniseries The Pacific

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...

Customer Reviews

6 ratings

A good introduction to the war in the Pacific

A bit more simplistic in it's style than some of the others I've read on the subject, but still interesting. Leckie manages to make the whole thing seem fairly low key in his recollections, he talks more about the individual men than about what they did, but provides plenty of humorous stories to be sure.

Absolutely spellbinding. Couldn't put it down.

One of the best personal memoirs of war I have ever read. Leckie is brutally honest about anything and everything to do with his experiences in the 1st Marine Division during WWII. Incredibly impressed by his sensitive candor and philosophical reflections on the impact of war on human beings. Having been an officer myself, I was truly shocked to read his descriptions of Marine officers blatantly stealing from enlisted men. I guess in wartime, they were willing to let anyone become an officer. Leckie pulls no punches but shows remarkable understanding, forgiveness, and mercy towards all his comrades and even the enemy. This book is a classic and a must-read for anyone interested in what combat in the Pacific theater was really like and about young men's reaction to war. Rest in peace, Robert Leckie. For those who fell, there is no hell. I thank God knowing you have been reunited with your comrades. Thank you for writing this book. It was a privilege to have read it. A great gift to those who have never known the horrors and sacrifice of war.

Profound and unique insight into the WWII Pacific experience

First, I must admit a particular regard for this book as the granddaughter of Bill Smith (whom Leckie refers to as 'Hoosier'), who served with Leckie in How Company. Leckie offers nuanced insight into the ways in which he and his friends understood national military service, the `enemy', and the war more generally, and how these perspectives or ideas evolved among the men from North Carolina to Guadalcanal, Australia, and New Britain. Leckie steers clear from prototypes or cliches; there is no enblematic enlisted man or officer. Rather, these men are treated as real people coping (or not) with the profound uncertainty of their situation. Perhaps this appreciation says more about my own lack of experience with combat/warfare. Thinking of Guadalcanal from a macro or military history perspective, it is easy to take for granted that marines' objectives - and the most efficacious means to pursue them - were always apparent to those involved. In this context, Leckie's account of warfare as a learning process was fascinating. For example, he describes: 1) the marines' first reactions to air battle and subsequent adjustment to air battle as a simple process of attrition; and 2) the uncertainty confronted by officers at various stages, against the backdrop of the US' limited military experience in the Pacific or in jungles more generally. In this way, Leckie also makes apparent the need - and efficacy - of severe hierarchy. For this reason, I think that reviewers' arguments positing a lack of regard for officers deserve qualification. ***UPDATE/REFLECTIONS*** Hoosier was wounded and evacuated early in the Battle of Peleliu; I believe that Chuckler and Runner were wounded later and evacuated with Leckie. Leckie and his friends stayed in touch - in the summer of 1985, my grandfather and his wife, as well as Runner (Juergens) and his wife, went to visit Leckie in New Jersey. There Leckie decidated a park in their honor, in honor of all marines who fought in the Pacific Theater (I uploaded a photo of the dedication plaque in the 'customer image gallery'). Although Hoosier never liked to share his experiences from the war, my father considers the book to be true to his character. And, while the HBO miniseries diverges considerably from the book, Hoosier's sense of humor appears true to form (the book provides far greater nuance and depth, different dialogue, and events unfolded differently). This edition of the book also includes a few photographs of Leckie, Runner, Hoosier, and others - some taken in their dress blues, and others on Guadalcanal.

That was victory

`Helmet for My Pillow" is a reissue from 1957. My one and only complaint is my usual one with reissues...please put in an updated introduction...tell us what has happened with the author or life, don't just reissue it and do nothing else. This will be made into a mini series which is probably the reason for the reissue. No matter what the reason it's definitely worth reading. Robert Leckie's descriptions create a picture; from his drill sergeant..." but above all he had a voice" to the exultation of leave in Australian after the battle of Guadalcanal. There are black and white pictures throughout the pages of the men he served with and of Leckie which definitely helps with the mind's pictures. But most of all this book is remarkable. I have heard men describe their experiences with jungle warfare, both from WWII and Vietnam, but never with the awful clarity that is done in these pages. I grew up in the army and have been with the military all of my life and can agree with so much of what is said here, and said with far more ability than almost any other book I have read. Leakie pulls no punches, not in the way many of the enlisted were treated by their officers or in his own `mistakes' that landed in him the brig. Historically there is much in here that I have never read before, and I have read and listened to much. There are stories of the hunger the fighting men felt during battle and how Japanese forces would try to sneak into their camps at night for food. Then there are the descriptions of the `widow makers', trees that were weakened by artillery fire that killed 25 men as they broke and fell on them. This is truly an incredible account, eye opening and worthy of your time and effort to read.

Profound and unique insight into the WWII Pacific experience

First, I must admit a particular regard for this book as the granddaughter of Bill Smith (whom Leckie refers to as 'Hoosier'), who served with Leckie in How Company, 2nd Battalion of the 1st Marine Division. Leckie offers nuanced insight into the ways in which he and his friends understood national military service, the `enemy', and the war more generally, and how these perspectives or ideas evolved among the men from North Carolina to Guadalcanal, Australia, and New Britain. Leckie steers clear from prototypes or cliches; there is no enblematic enlisted man or officer. Rather, these men are treated as real people coping (or not) with the profound uncertainty of their situation. Perhaps this appreciation says more about my own lack of experience with combat/warfare. Yet thinking of Guadalcanal from a macro or military history perspective, it is easy to take for granted that marines' objectives - and the most efficacious means to pursue them - were always apparent to those involved, at multiple levels. In this context, I found his account of warfare as a process of organizational learning riveting. For example, he describes: 1) the marines' first reactions to air battle and subsequent adjustment to air battle as a simple process of attrition; and 2) the uncertainty confronted by officers at various stages, against the backdrop of the US' limited military experience in the Pacific or in jungles more generally. In this way, Leckie also makes apparent the need - and efficacy - of severe hierarchy. For this reason, I think that reviewers' arguments positing a lack of regard for officers deserve serious qualification.

An Eloquent Account of Wartime Experience

Robert Leckie gives a gripping first person narrative in which he seemingly pulls no punches about life in the mud and among the flawed but heroic men of the First Marine Division. He recounts hardship, cameraderie, and combat in an engaging, almost lyrical, fashion. I came away from "Helmet" with a renewed respect for the sacrifice of the Greatest Generation. Uncommon valor was truly a common virtue. Leckie's story will make any 18 year old want to march down to the recruiting station and sign up.Leckie's story dovetails quite nicely with another memoir, "With the Old Breed at Peliliu and Okinawa," the account of another First Division rifleman, E.B. Sledge. The First Marine Division's WWII career began in the jungles of Guadalcanal, went through New Britain and on to Peliliu and ended at Okinawa. Leckie was in at the beginning, but his combat career ended when he was wounded in the Hell of Peliliu. Sledge's combat career began at Peliliu and ended on Okinawa. Together the two give you an enlisted man's eye view of all the First Division's campaigns.Sledge doesn't turn a phrase as well as Leckie, but his description of combat will make your blood run cold in a way that "Helmet" does not. Any 18 year old reading "Old Breed" will want to tear up his enlistment papers. It seems odd that Leckie, obviously the more accomplished wordsmith, does not paint as horrific a picture of combat as Sledge. Could it be that Leckie has shied away from revealing the full extent of the hardship of combat? Or could it be that Peliliu and Okinawa served up privation and hardship on a much grander scale than Guadalcanal and New Britain? Read both books and decide for yourself. For all its stark description, "Old Breed" will engender the same kind of respect for the men of the First Division that the reader takes away from "Helmet."
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