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As a newspaper reporter before and after WW2 and later a multiply-published author, Robert Leckie’s memoirs narrating his time in the US Marine Corps between 1942 and 1944 display a confident and often florid writing style, in contrast to Eugene Sledge’s simpler and more visceral recollections in ‘With the Old Breed’. Both books supplied the source material for Spielberg’s epic TV miniseries ‘The Pacific’ and cover similar ground.

In stark contrast to Sledge, Leckie comes across as a rebellious character and admits to having a violent temper. During his Corps service he spent time in the brig for going AWOL, was fined a month’s pay and stripped of his NCO stripes. All this is told with honesty and detachment, as are his recollections of wild escapades during a spell of R&R in Melbourne where he and his buddies were frequently drunk, had sexual encounters with Australian women and Keystone-Kops-style chases trying to evade MPs attempting to arrest them by sprinting through restaurant kitchens and jumping out of upstairs windows into dark alleyways filled with stray dogs!

Leckie describes dozens of fellow marines, both buddies and junior officers, referring to them by nicknames to mask their identities: ‘Chuckler’ and ‘Runner’, ‘Lt. Ivy-League’, ‘Commando’, ‘Liberal’ and ‘Big-Picture’ (the author himself was nicknamed ‘Lucky’ as a pun on his name rather than because he was perceived as particularly fortunate). By this mechanism he feels free to criticise the incompetence and greed of some junior officers without restraint. His writing style is often witty, sometimes poignant and reflective, but the narrative is occasionally ‘overwritten’.

Leckie fought on Guadalcanal and later in the fetid jungles of New Britain where he suffered from malaria, nocturnal enuresis and an unidentified jungle-bug which made his face and eyelids swell up. He was involved in face-to-face combat with the Japanese who at this stage in the war had not yet adopted the tactics of digging a maze of reinforced tunnels to ambush and kill as many Americans as possible as they later did on Peleliu, Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Japanese soldiers walked the jungles of Cape Gloucester in groups and could be ambushed and fought in the open. On Peleliu however, Leckie’s unit was exposed to dogged Japanese resistance and sustained heavy shellfire from concealed positions, and it was in the early stages of this campaign that Leckie suffered the wounds which led to his evacuation on a hospital ship home to the US. Thus HfmP ends rather abruptly, and the narrative does not extend to describing his return home.

Overall HfmP has a polished narrative style and makes a good companion book to Sledge’s WtoB. Taken together, the two books vividly describe from contrasting perspectives and styles the same privations and dangers endured by the marines in the Pacific campaign.
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VINE VOICETOP 1000 REVIEWERon 3 February 2013
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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on 23 October 2017
This is yet another book that should be read by those who watched the TV Series about the War in the Pacific, as like the book 'With the Old Breed', this adds to the horrors of war witnessed by those who were in the frontline, and not by those senior ranks who were usually involved in the planning and tactics that were often found to be entirely useless in the type of fighting actually taking place. where the enemy forces had a totally different outlook on the value of life, and were fully prepared to die in suicidal battles for what was considered to be their country's God, the Japanese Emperor.
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VINE VOICETOP 1000 REVIEWERon 16 October 2017
Not sentimental but a searingly honest and unflinching book with a compelling, powerful narrative and hints of native humour and self depreciation. This book seeks not to mask the horrors which the author experienced on Guadalcanal, New Britain and Peleliu but to bring them into sharper relief. Reading this is an emotional experience and makes one very glad not to have had to do what Leckie had to do.
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on 26 April 2011
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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on 18 July 2012
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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on 5 June 2014
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 massive skillbase gets misdirected into self-destruction not only while it lasts, but more frighteningly, in preparation for the next one.... (There is always a next one) Leckie tells us how his war was and we really, really should be paying more attention to what the guys say who got dragged into fighting people they'd no personal quarrel with.

Governments may make war, but it's their people who die.

His book is well but starkly written, and pulls few punches when ugly stuff has to be covered. He never glorifies it, but tells us what happened.

There's comradeship, brotherhood, humour, pride, shame, pity, and tolerance in its pages. This world could do with a whole heap more of that last one.
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on 4 March 2015
Ok, but find his writing a little pretentious. Trying to over describe everything, such as the sound of a shovel in soil for example. He is clearly trying to impress us with his literary skills, but it becomes a bit tedious as he uses ten lines that could be said in two.
The story and his experiences are worth sticking with though. EB Sledges book is much better though.
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on 10 March 2017
An excellent book which a friend expressed an interest in after seeing the mini series The Pacific. My friend unable to turn pages so this audio CD has been a god send. I thought it expensive at first but it has been so enjoyed I now do not mind the expense.
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on 4 March 2013
This author's account of his traumatic combat experience in the Pacific theatre of WW2 forms much of the successful TV series
"The Pacific". There is no doubt that his decision to write about those terrible times were a form of catharsis and helped
him and those who shared his experiences to come to terms with the results to mind and body It deserves to be read by
generations to come...along with "With The Old Breed" by E.B. Sledge. Both are classics of their kind and salutary
reminders of the sheer awfulness of all out war.
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