I first heard of this book, and its sister volume, With the Old Breed
, by fellow U.S. Marine Eugene Sledge, after watching the outstanding HBO miniseries The Pacific
. It's a very different read to Sledge's book, which details in unremitting detail the unbelievable horrors of combat in the Pacific theatre in WW2. Robert Leckie was a journalist before the war, and this must have instructed his writing style, which is far more lyrical than Sledge's simple but well-written approach. Sometimes his style felt like overwriting, to be honest; dressing up something (his experiences in the war) that couldn't or didn't need to be dressed up in florid sentences.
Leckie spends far more time detailing the friendship and camaraderie between him and his fellow Marines than Sledge did. Often describing periods between combat, these were very interesting; so too was the long section about the wild times the exhausted soldiers had when they arrived in Melbourne for some R & R after the terrors of Guadalcanal. It's amazing and heart-warming to read about how for months discipline went out the window. I suppose that the Marine commanders must have decided just to let their men have a good time rather than worrying about spit and polish and parades.
The last section of the book concerns Leckie's return to the war - it speeds through the campaigns at Cape Gloucester, New Britain and Pelelieu. The book comes to a snappy conclusion, and I was a little sorry that it didn't give more details of his return home.
Overall, this is a book that is well worth reading, but it doesn't quite match up to Sledge's memoir.
Ben Kane, author of The Forgotten Legion.