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Helmet for my Pillow: The World War Two Pacific Classic [Paperback]

Robert Leckie
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (70 customer reviews)
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Book Description

3 Feb 2011

The inspiration behind the HBO series THE PACIFIC

Here is one of the most riveting first-person accounts to ever come out of World War 2. Robert Leckie was 21 when he enlisted in the US Marine Corps in January 1942. In Helmet for My Pillow we follow his journey, from boot camp on Parris Island, South Carolina, all the way to the raging battles in the Pacific, where some of the war's fiercest fighting took place. Recounting his service with the 1st Marine Division and the brutal action on Guadalcanal, New Britain and Peleliu, Leckie spares no detail of the horrors and sacrifice of war, painting an unsentimental portrait of how real warriors are made, fight, and all too often die in the defence of their country.

From the live-for-today rowdiness of Marines on leave to the terrors of jungle warfare against an enemy determined to fight to the last man, Leckie describes what it's really like when victory can only be measured inch by bloody inch. Unparalleled in its immediacy and accuracy, Helmet for My Pillow tells the gripping true story of an ordinary soldier fighting in extraordinary conditions. This is a book that brings you as close to the mud, the blood, and the experience of war as it is safe to come.

'Helmet for My Pillow is a grand and epic prose poem. Robert Leckie's theme is the purely human experience of war in the Pacific, written in the graceful imagery of a human being who - somehow - survived' Tom Hanks

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Helmet for my Pillow: The World War Two Pacific Classic + With the Old Breed: The World War Two Pacific Classic + Beyond Band of Brothers: The War Memoirs of Major Dick Winters
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Product details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Ebury Press (3 Feb 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0091937515
  • ISBN-13: 978-0091937515
  • Product Dimensions: 2.3 x 12.5 x 19.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (70 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 5,577 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"Helmet for My Pillow is a grand and epic prose poem. Robert Leckie's theme is the purely human experience of war in the Pacific, written in the graceful imagery of a human being who - somehow - survived" (Tom Hanks)

"A powerful book that pulls no punches" (The New York Review of Books)

"One hell of a book! The real stuff that proves the U.S. Marines are the greatest fighting men on earth!" (Leon Uris, author of Battle Cry)

Book Description

Robert Leckie's gripping memoir of fighting as a US Marine in World War 2, which inspired the epic Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg HBO series, The Pacific.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
77 of 79 people found the following review helpful
Format:Mass Market Paperback
I first learned of this book when I read that it was being used as one of the sources for a new miniseries about the Pacific theater in the Second World War. Having enjoyed the other source material being used, E. B. Sledge's superb memoir, With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa, I decided to track down a copy of Leckie's account and read it for myself. Because of this, I found myself comparing the two works as I read it, which influenced my overall opinion of the book.

In many ways, the experiences of the two men were similar. Both were civilians prior to the Second World War; Leckie enlisted in the Marines a month after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. His account of basic training feels incredibly authentic, in part because of his attention to details. Leckie captures much of the mundane minutiae of learning how to be a Marine, from the bureaucratic experience of inoculation to the quest for a good time on leave. This sense of authenticity continues as he describes his deployment to Guadalcanal with the First Marine Division and his engagement with the war there. These experiences form the best part of the book, as his initial encounter with life as a Marine in both training and war reflect his interest in the novelty of it all.

From Guadalcanal, Leckie's unit was returned to Australia for rest and refitting. This transformation into what he calls a "lotus-eater" also bears a real sense of verisimilitude, as unlike many memoirs of war he does not gloss over the search for release that often characterized breaks from the battles.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A solid WW2 read 26 April 2011
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
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.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the Best 10 July 2010
One of the best WWII biography's I have read, bringing to life the personal and political issues of everyday people. I don't think the commitment of the Marines and all the allied troops should be lost or forgotten. Hopefully the recent HBO series and others like it will inspire people to read more and help retain the memory of those who gave everything.

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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lucky to be born in my generation! 22 Nov 2010
After reading this book I can almost certainly say how lucky I was to be born outside that period of our history. The book is very well written and by far one of the best historical books that I have read. It strikes a perfect balance between war details and friendship amongst men. It left me feeling very humble.
Not many books have that effect, it should be compulsory reading for children at school--forget catcher in the rye!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A superb read 30 Jun 2011
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I have just finished reading this book and it is one that is hard to put down. I watched the box set of the Pacific and had to get the two books on which the series was based. The TV series is good but you have to read Eugene Sledge's account to even begin to understand what these brave marines had to endure. It is by far the most compelling account of warfare and the effect it has on ordinary men like Sledge that I have ever read.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hard to put down. 3 July 2010
Have read many war memoirs but this was different - it was just written in a very moving and special way. It doesn't glory, it doesn't brag. It just quietly puts you in the picture of what must have been a hellish experience. An amazing read and I just wish I had heard of his work earlier. In my opinion one of the best war memoirs around.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A view from the beach 11 May 2010
By Stewart M TOP 500 REVIEWER
This account of the Pacific campaign of the 1st Marine Division during WWII will probably become much more widely read as a result of it being used as a major source text for the HBO series The Pacific, than would have been the case without the TV exposure.

This is a heartfelt account of a volunteer's life in the USMC. Much of the material and structure of the book is actually rather familiar, not because so much has been written about the Pacific campaign, but because it seems little changed in the `corps` from WWII to Vietnam. If you have watched "Full Metal Jacket", the training stages will be familiar, as will the crazy brave, fatalistic attitude of many of the marines. This is a book that reinforces the idea that the experience of war for the "boots on the ground" solider is not that different between wars, even if the public perception of the war may vary.

The book itself consists of four major sections, training, first combat, R and R in Melbourne and a return to the front. Each section is important, but the section based in Melbourne did seem to occupy more pages than I would have thought necessary.

In this section there are descriptions of locations around Melbourne that are disjointed, and the geography described is imprecise. If this occurs during sections recalled from the relaxed position of R and R, you have to wonder about some of the detail in the combat sections.

If, like me, you came to the book via the TV series you will recognize many scenes, although it is interesting what seems to have been omitted or reordered, and to wonder why this has happened.

It is clear that the author had huge respect for the people he fought alongside, and grudging respect for the tenacity of his foe.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
The world war II classic !
Published 16 days ago by Lars Jönlid
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Brilliant book
Published 23 days ago by mr john f vanderheide
4.0 out of 5 stars great stuff
Prompt delivery, great stuff thanks
Published 25 days ago by V Albani
4.0 out of 5 stars First hand WW2 - horrors of war in the Pacific
Every war there's been should have been the last one. Yet mankind's still a bellicose species despite the fact that life and resources of every sort are lost forever, and our... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Kilrymont
4.0 out of 5 stars Bit of a wide boy.
Links to the 'Pacific' series on TV. No doubt about the horrors of the conflict but Leckie was a bit of a rebel.... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Eric the Red
5.0 out of 5 stars World War Two
An excellently written reflection on the horrors of these times. Arrived safely packaged and on time. It made a good gift.
Published 3 months ago by M J Hall
3.0 out of 5 stars Comment on 'Helmet For My Pillow'.

I was disappointed with the book because there's too much emphasis on the 'non-combat' aspect of the Marine Corps & not enough emphasis, in my humble opinion,... Read more
Published 4 months ago by John Dunn
4.0 out of 5 stars Recommened
Very clear well written account of the war in the Pacific, the hardships, terrors and comradeship experienced by the Marine Corp fighting the Japanese.
Published 5 months ago by David Quinn
5.0 out of 5 stars War as it really is!
Brutal, savage, heart rending, informative, Totally realistic! This book pulls no punches it describes the US Marine Corps pacific Island Hopping campaign in minute detail, it must... Read more
Published 5 months ago by William Kevin Hughes
4.0 out of 5 stars The personal war-diary.
Nice to read a personal war diary for once. Not the words from a historian, a ploitician or a general, but from the regular grunt who volunteered as a patriot. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Nicolai Kressner
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