Brickmania Reading List: Helmet for my Pillow by Robert Leckie

HelmetForMyPillowLRecommended as a “must-read” World War II book, Helmet for My Pillow has been an unchecked box on reading list for quite some time. Subtitled “From Parris Island to the Pacific“, it follows the wartime experiences of Robert Leckie,who signed up for the US Marines the day after the Pearl Harbor attack.  This is the “other” book from which the story of HBO’s miniseries The Pacific was based on (along with E.B. Sledge’s With the Old Breed).

Robert Leckie’s (“Lucky”) story begins with the creation and training of the First Marine Corps Division on Parris Island, SC in early 1942, and ends in a ferocious barrage of Japanese mortar shells on the island of Peleliu in September 1944— where the author received grave injuries bad enough to be sent home.  The initial baptism of fire for the First Marine Division occurred during the early desperate fighting on Guadalcanal—America’s first offensive campaign of the Pacific war.  After the deprivations suffered in Guadalcanal (desperate enemy attacks, starvation and jungle diseases), the division is sent to Melbourne, Australia, for rest and recuperation. After a respite from combat, they are thrust into the cauldron once again at Cape Gloucester, New Britain. After another period of R and R, the survivors and replacements of the First Marine Division was sent to take the tiny Island of Peleliu—a battle that was supposed to be a walkover, but turned out to be one of the bloodiest battles of the war, ultimately ending in American victory, but at a terrible cost to the First Marines.

One of the most interesting aspects of this book is that it details such immense historical events strictly from the unprivileged point of view of the lowest foot soldiers. A common theme throughout the book is stark inequality between the enlisted men and the officers: the injustices endured by the expendable at the bidding of the sheltered elite.  Another interesting aspect of this book is the great depth in which the author explores the philosophical significance behind the story. It’s not just a recanting of a series of events, but the author shares a piece of his psyche during the narrative, adding a very personal intensity to the narrative. The last few pages about Peleliu are very intense, with the list of characters dead and wounded falling like hammer blows. If found this book to be worthy of the vast lists of accolades it has won and easily among the best first-hand World War II narratives.

Up next:

Hell’s Guest by Col. Glenn D. Frazier

Recent Additions to Brickmania’s Reference Library:

This entry was posted by Dan.

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