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by Robert Leckie
iBooks  2010 (reprint)
324 pages

ISBN: 0553593315
Cover Price: $16.00
Language: English

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Helmet For My Pillow
From Parris Island to the Pacific

This World War II classic is the story of the author, Robert Leckie. This account is intimate and detailed. Only the names of officers and friends are omitted, replacing with nicknames like "Lieutenant Ivy-League".

The book begins with Leckie's volunteering for the Marine Corps on January 5, 1942 from his home in New Jersey. Training begins at Parris Island: drill sergeants, the rifle range and discipline and indoctrination. Next, the recruits were sent to New River for more training and finally the order to ship out via San Francisco to the Pacific.

Aboard the transport USS George S. Elliott, the Marines land at an Guadalcanal on August 7, 1942 at Red Beach. The landing is anti-climatic, as there are no Japanese defending the landing beach and the only drama is becoming lost and discovering a cache of Japanese beer.

Leckie's role in combat is an 30 caliber machine gun assistant for the Second Battalion, First Regiment of the First Marine Division. Told to dig in along the Ilu River, Leckie and his comrades experience their first combat during the Battle of the Teneru (Ilu River, Aligator Creek) when Japanese advance from the eastern side of the river against their prepared machine gun and barbed wire positions and were defeated.

After the battle, Leckie describes one marine, "souvenirs" who sets about removing the gold teeth from fallen Japanese soldiers. Lechie himself swims across the river, to steal a pair of binoculars from a dead body. Back ashore, he and his friends use the same binoculars to witness a large crocodile devouring a corpse he had passed only moments before.

Leckie and the other Marines of the 1st Marine Division were relieved by the US Army from Guadalcanal on December 14, 1942, the last Marines to leave Guadalcanal.

The book follows Leckie on leave in Melbourne, Australia and return to combat on December 26, 1943 at Cape Glouchester, New Britain. Afterward, the 1st Marines have a period of rest and recovery on Pavuvu Island. Returning to combat, Lechie participates in the invasion of Peleliu, but is quickly wounded by a nearby blast and evacuated from the battle, ending his frontline service.

Helmet for My Pillow is a classic, required reading for any student of the Pacific War, because the author participated in every major 1st Marine Division campaign, except Okinawa.

Review by  Justin Taylan

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Last Updated
May 23, 2017

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