Dachokie's Reviews > Helmet for My Pillow

Helmet for My Pillow by Robert Leckie
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Aug 01, 11

bookshelves: world-war-ii

Riveting and Unique, June 8, 2010

Having seen this title as one of the Bantam's World War II series when I was much younger ... I remember always passing over it for a book that focused on the European Theatre. Watching HBO's "The Pacific" compelled me to read this book and looking back, I must say that I am glad I waited. I was mesmerized by the Leckie's recollection of his wartime experience ... in a way that I probably wouldn't have appreciated had I read it when I first saw it as a child. Leckie has a writing style that easily allows the reader to shadow him through his experiences and his dedication to detail seems to invigorate the senses as well. This book about one Marine's experience from boot camp to Peleliu has contributed greatly to my craving to learn more about Pacific Theatre of World War II.

First of all, the book was easy and enjoyable read. The vividly detailed writing-style puts the reader on point throughout the book and Leckie allows us to view his world through a colorful panoramic lens. In fact, I never felt myself in need of additional information or details; all questions are answered and all voids are filled. Many books have a tendency to tease readers when describing events, leaving us to use our imagination to fill the gaps. I find this particularly annoying when reading about an eyewitness viewpoint of history as I don't like to guess about what is actually being seen by the author.

Another tactic that I found particularly effective was Leckie's preference to refer to all fellow Marines exclusively by their nicknames (enlisted men and officers alike); it made his storytelling even more personal. We are introduced to men like Eloquent, Chuckler, Hoosier, The White-man, Souvenirs, The Kid, Big-Picture and Commando ... along with an explanation of how those names were appropriately earned.

The contents of Leckie's journey starts immediately following the attack on Pearl Harbor and the author decides to enlist. We follow him throughout the process of him becoming a Marine and meet the men in his unit that form the core of his wartime experience. Leckie colorfully illustrates the antics, pranks and miseries of boot camp, his transformation from neighborhood kid to a fighting man, as well as his sardonic attitude toward authority and the rigid set of rules he must obey. It is at this point where we meet his three most-revered buddies that would share all aspects of the journey with him (The Runner, The Hoosier and The Chuckler). Aside from the fact these men were trained to be fodder for the fight against a relentless, unforgiving foe, no opportunity was left not to exploit. Whether it be foraging for goodies in an Army depot to being AWOL in order to meet women ... even time in the brig didn't deter Leckie and his buddies from making the most out of what they were facing, wherever they were. Leckie doesn't ever dwell on thoughts of dying ... much of his book is about living and taking advantage of certain moments ... living on the edge.

When Leckie describes his combat experiences on Guadalcanal, Cape Gloucester and Peleliu, he spares no detail in describing events before, during and after the battle. Whether it be stumbling upon a Japanese patrol in the humid foliage of Guadalcanal or running for his life and diving in a shell crater on the sun-scorched airfield of Peleliu ... he takes you with him, sweating, thirsty, scared and out-of-breath. The after-battle recollections give the reader a sense of surveying the battlefield and makes you realize how much simple luck had to do with survival (like crowding in a shell-hole located in the middle of the airfield while being targeted by a Japanese heavy gun that was simply too big to fire accurately at close range, but it kept trying anyway). Eventually, after being caught in the middle of a Japanese artillery barrage at Peleliu, Leckie's wartime experience ends on a hospital ship and he learns that the battle for Peleliu claims the lives of most of the men he introduced us to throughout the book.

Overall, "Helmet for My Pillow" was a brilliant/engrossing read and a hard book to put down. What separates Leckie's book from most other books of its genre is that Leckie delves into more than just the Marine Corps and World War II battles ... we are treated to the life-defining experience that World War II was to so many young men ... a grand adventure defined by extremes: the Heaven of Melbourne to the Hell(s) of various land-dots in the vast Pacific Ocean, the comforts of a dry hospital bed to sleeping in muddy water for days on end, witnessing the thrill of seeing a buddy survive to the seeing the ignominious defiling of the dead. Leckie's storytelling is superb and I'm glad I finally gave myself the chance to read this book after so many years.
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