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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A solid WW2 read
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...
Published on 26 April 2011 by Ben Kane

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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyed it but...........
Enjoyed the book but it was spoilt for me by the way it was written. It was too literary, it seemed written as fiction which it clearly wasn't. I suppose it was because Robert Leckie was a skilled writer so it didn't have the rawness. By contrast, The Old Breed by Eugene Sledge was totally different. A great read, from the heart. Same battle experiences but seemed more...
Published on 27 Sept. 2011 by Will


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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A solid WW2 read, 26 April 2011
By 
Ben Kane (Nr Bristol, UK) - See all my reviews
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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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81 of 85 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Leckie conveys the experience of war with authenticity, 5 Sept. 2009
By 
MarkK (Phoenix, AZ, USA) - See all my reviews
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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. It is here, though, that his account flags a little, and his return to combat in New Britain as part of Operation Cartwheel was perhaps the least interesting part of the book. The book improves with his subsequent experiences in the hospital in Banika and his final, abbreviated deployment to Peleliu, which ended with his injury and return to the States for the duration of the war.

Reading this book, it is easy to see why it stands out as an account of the Second World War. Leckie's prose brings alive both the mundane routines of service and the violence of combat. It is when he is between the two that the book suffers, as his efforts at evocative prose about his surroundings in the jungle suffer from being a little overwrought, particularly in comparison to Sledge's plainer, more straightforward descriptions. Yet both need to be read for a fascinating portrait of what the war was like for the "new boots" who gave up their lives as civilians to fight in the humid jungles and barren islands of the Pacific.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good companion to HBO's Pacific., 3 Feb. 2013
By 
Sebastian Palmer "sebuteo" (Cambridge, England) - See all my reviews
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If you liked HBO's Pacific mini-series, built for the most part around the memoirs of marine corps privates Eugene Sledge and Robert Leckie, you'll almost certainly enjoy this book. Sledge's book is almost dry in its clarity, and his language spare. Leckie, a professional writer both before and after his WWII service, is more self-consciously 'literary'. Both are, a slightly strange thing, to my mind, assiduously polite: so much horror and suffering but, please, no cuss-words!

Despite his training, Leckie is a wilful and even sometimes rebellious character, and where Sledge always uses full rank and proper name, Leckie favours nicknames. Such small details and differences give the two memoirs very different flavours. There are moments where Leckie's self-consciously prosey style seems overdone, but sometimes it really works, as when he evokes the paranoid flesh-crawling fears of sitting in a jungle foxhole in the dark of night, his floridly evocative description contrasting with a simpler conclusion: 'I know now why men light fires.'

Where Sledge's detached coolness might be said to foreshadow his later vocation of biology professor, Leckie's wilful nature and flighty language might be also said to have the zest and poetry properly becoming a sports writer turned author. It's certainly interesting to see the differing nature of their responses. In the end these differences make the two books excellent complimentary companions: they cover much the same ground but feel different. Leckie took part in Guadalcanal, Cape Gloucester and Pelelieu, whereas Sledge saw action at Pelelieu and Okinawa, so their stories overlap, together building a fuller picture of the Pacific theatre.

Whilst I think it should be noted that the visceral impact of the audio-visual experience is very different from reading about the conflict, nevertheless, as with the HBO series, one marvels at the sheer unrelenting horror of it all. It seems to me good that we have such writings from the 'common soldier'. Both Leckie and Sledge profess horror at the waste of war, and shock at the nature of their Japanese foe. Quarter is never asked or given, the Japanese cult of Emperor worship combining with what was, at that time, an insular and deeply ingrained patriotism, along with a cult of 'death before dishonour' that makes Europe's medieval knights look positively lily-livered.

Leckie says some interesting things about irrationality and courage: 'How much less forbidding might have been that avenue of death that I was about to cross had there been some wholly irrational shout - like 'Vive l'Empereur,' or 'The Marine Corps Forever!'' And several times throughout the book he laments a lack of contemporary American songs or music that would generate courage and 'esprit d' corps', all of which makes for an interesting reflection on the workings of the human mind in extremis.

Definitely a good companion to the Pacific series, and nothing if not interesting!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the Best, 10 July 2010
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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.

Duncan
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A superb read, 30 Jun. 2011
By 
JRA (Stafford, UK) - See all my reviews
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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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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lucky to be born in my generation!, 22 Nov. 2010
By 
M. N. Stewart (Barcelona,Spain) - See all my reviews
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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Hell in the Pacific, 18 July 2012
By 
Crookedmouth ":-/" (As seen on iPlayer) - See all my reviews
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HBO's epic series "The Pacific" took it's inspiration from the lives of three men, John Basilone, Eugene Sledge and Bob Leckie. Basilone died in action on Iwo Jima but Sledge and Leckie both survived the war to record their experiences on paper and it's interesting to compare Sledge's "With the Old Breed" with this, Leckie's memoir. The former is very rough round the edges, naive and quite intimate but is considered by some to be the better of the two. By contrast, Helmet has clearly been written by a more accomplished writer (Leckie was an experienced journalist before he ever took up arms). It is a literary account, written in strong prose, which makes it easier on the eye, even if it is rather pretentious and even pompous in places.

While the two biographies differ quite considerably in style, there are very important similarities. They address the same period of the same campaign and many of the same battles. The structure is similar, moving from conscription to training to war, and the authors shared many of the same features; they both served as private soldiers in the Marine Corps, saw little of the war beyond the confines of their foxholes, were not particularly heavily decorated (Sledge avoided even a Purple Heart) and even came from similar, well educated middle class backgrounds. This blend of similarities and differences means that it is instructive and interesting (indeed positively advisable) to read both accounts - an observation that cannot have escaped the producers of the TV series.

I've noted before that the Pacific war was one like no other, an admixture of the worst aspects of so many campaigns of the modern age. The profligate and unthinking waste of human life of Gallipoli, the appalling conditions of the Somme, the tropical hell of the VietNam war, the cultural dislocation of the recent wars in Afghanistan and the sheer dehumanising hatred for the enemy from Stalingrad. It is a testament that any man managed to survive Guadalcanal, Pelelieu, Iwo Jima and Okinawa and still be capable of stringing together enough sentences to make a halfway decent book. Yet Leckie achieved just that (as did Sledge) and he conveys the horrors of a foul war fought with no regard for the humanity of the enemy (by either side) well.

For my money, Leckie's bio is the better of the two, if only by a short nose. His description of barracks life in the months leading up to his active service deployment provide a good balance and would have been appreciated by Kipling. However, his descriptions of life and death in a combat zone, while comprehensive, clear and fairly honest suffer somewhat from his pretentious style. Indeed, his account of the privations of jungle war do not convey the filth and fury, the horror and heroism anywhere near as well as Sledge did and, overall, this aspect of his story is curiously sterile. Perhaps it suffers from the strictures of the age - it was published in the late 1950's and is may have undergone more editorial censorship than Sledge's memoir which was written in 1981.

The pretentiosity tones down a little in the latter half of the book but it is replaced by a weary cynicism with his unit's leaders, most of whom seem to have been martinets, fools or little Hitlers. Again, one wonders how much of this is true and how much is artifice; Leckie does appear to have been rather unfortunate in his choice of squad, platoon and company commanders. Nevertheless, he is honest about his own behaviour and he recounts the several instances in which he bucked authority and ended up in "the brig" for his sins.

Helmet remains an eloquent and profoundly important story, a memorial to the privations suffered by all the men who served in the Pacific Theatre.
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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
By 
P. J. Reeves "Reevesy view" (B'ham England) - See all my reviews
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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 (Victoria, Australia) - See all my reviews
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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.

If nothing else, this book really does show that the more things change, the more they stay the same and that the brutality of war does not end on the battle field. From this experience, Leckie was able to write a book that is brutal, honest and at times a little poetic.

Recommended.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyed it but..........., 27 Sept. 2011
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Enjoyed the book but it was spoilt for me by the way it was written. It was too literary, it seemed written as fiction which it clearly wasn't. I suppose it was because Robert Leckie was a skilled writer so it didn't have the rawness. By contrast, The Old Breed by Eugene Sledge was totally different. A great read, from the heart. Same battle experiences but seemed more real.
Proud of what he did though. Always grateful.
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