Thursday, July 12, 2018

Audio of Old: "My Helmet For A Pillow" by Robert Leckie

Audio of Old: A Helmet For My Pillow, 1957, from Wisconsin Digital Library

One of the most famous World War Two memoirs. This book and others were used to create the story for the HBO mini-series The Pacific (first aired in 2010). After watching that show a couple years ago figured to try the book out.

Leckie enlisted in the Marine Corps right after Pearl Harbor. He left New Jersey that winter for Parris Island for an abbreviated 6 week basic training. After that he did some advanced training, became a machine gunner, went to the Pacific, a brief stop in New Zealand, and landed on Guadalcanal.

Marines landed on Guadalcanal on August 7, 1942. It took only 9 months for the military to ramp up enough people and equipment and ships to start an invasion. Leckie crammed in plenty of training and drinking during that time.

Like the rest of the Pacific Campaign the Marines were also fighting the weather, plants, animals and insects, poor resupply, dirty water, mud, rain, jungle diseases, dysentery, heat, humidity, and whatever jerk was in charge.

After a few months of fighting and waiting on Guadalcanal Leckie's unit went to Melbourne, Australia. Leckie drank more, chased women, and got in a lot of trouble with a couple terms in the brig. They then loaded up the ships and invaded Peleliu. On Peleliu Leckie fought, was sent out for medical treatment, came back, and was wounded in a artillery blast.

This is the standard military memoir.  A brief-ish story about home life, enlisting, training, new friends, the excitement of a first battle, terror and drudgery of a combat zone, friends and colleagues dying, eventual withdrawal from combat.

Leckie acknowledges his own faults (like his poor temper). He was proud of the Marines, his work, and fellow Marines but he did not much enjoy being in the service. He railed against of the liberties given to officers over enlisted men and how some jerkwad officer would ignore the rules for himself and punish the men under them. He went to jail at least twice - I recall the two times - and escaped the military police and/or punishment a few other times.

The story is well told and a good listen. This is fitting seeing as how Leckie had his first paid writing job when he was 16-years old. I just don't have any particularly interesting comments. I do recommend the book for anyone who has not read any books like this and wants to try one out.

Comments:
1. Jap, Jap, Jap. Everything is "Jap". That is now derogatory but still okay when I grew up hearing it in World War Two movies, novels, and memoirs.
2. Not too long after I watched The Pacific I read Islands of the Damned by R.V. Burgin. Burgin was an important secondary character in the series and wrote this book with a co-author. I enjoyed Islands better than Helmet. Rick Atkinson said in an interview that when he wrote his three-volume history of the war that he relied on original docs. That memory's accuracy fades as time goes on. After 50 years one battle or friend can easily be mistaken for another. Well, I agree with the historical accuracy of that but Burgin's view on things after 60 years more insightful and human than the 15 years of Leckie. Leckie, to me, still seemed angry. Leckie seemed eager to man a machine gun position once more. Leckie died in 2001 but I imagine he would have written a different book in 1995.

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