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Okinawa: The Last Battle of World War II Robert Leckie Viking Adult 1St Edition edition


31st August 2011 History Books 35 Comments

Larger in both number of troops and tonnage than the Normandy landing, the battle for Okinawa, April 1-June 21, 1945, was the last great campaign of WWII. Leckie here recreates the events, from the planning by American fleet admirals in a suite at San Francisco’s St. Francis Hotel to the ritual suicide of Lt. Gen. Mitsuri Ushijima on a cliff overlooking the Pacific the day the Americans declared victory. Much of the succinct, fast-paced narrative deals with how the Army and Marine divisions cooperated as they applied the “corkscrew and blowtorch” methods necessary to dislodge the tenacious defenders of an island only 375 miles from their Japanese homeland. In a thought-provoking final section, Leckie discusses the still simmering questions of whether the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki compelled the Japanese to surrender, whether they would soon have surrendered anyway and whether the Okinawa campaign was in fact unnecessary. Leckie, a prolific author of popular military books, writes stirring prose; his fans will not be disappointed by this one. BOMC selection.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.

On this 50th anniversary of the battle of Okinawa (April to June 1945), we can expect an avalanche of titles about this last major battle of World War II. Okinawa was an epic amphibious-air-sea-land battle the likes of which may never be seen again. The conflict raged for 83 days; 13,000 Americans and 100,000 Japanese perished. Kamikazes sank 34 and damaged 361 U.S. vessels. Both Astor and Leckie are experienced military historians who tell their stories in the words of participants. Astor interviewed numerous veterans and compiled a masterful account of the battle as seen through the eyes of both American and Japanese survivors. He explores the history, training, and morale of the army and marine divisions and demonstrates why each was bound to succeed or fail. On the other hand, Leckie has written a “Monarch Notes” version of the battle that tells us nothing new. For the best history of the Okinawa campaign, readers should consider James and William Belote’s Typhoon of Steel: The Battle for Okinawa (1970).?Stanley Itkin, Hillside P.L., New Hyde Park, N.Y.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.

A retelling of the April Fool’s day invasion of Japan in 1945 by a U.S. Marine veteran offers a perspective of the eighty-three-day battle from American and Japanese viewpoints and includes portraits of Japanese generals who committed hara-kiri. 35,000 first printing. $30,000 ad/promo.

Okinawa: The Last Battle of World War II

Helmet for My Pillow: From Parris Island to the Pacific

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

“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

Here is one of the most riveting first-person accounts ever to come out of World War II. Robert Leckie enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in January 1942, shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. In Helmet for My Pillow we follow his odyssey, from basic training 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 sacrifices of war, painting an unvarnished portrait of how real warriors are made, fight, and often die in the defense 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 war is really like when victory can only be measured inch by bloody inch. Woven throughout are Leckie’s hard-won, eloquent, and thoroughly unsentimental meditations on the meaning of war and why we fight. Unparalleled in its immediacy and accuracy, Helmet for My Pillow will leave no reader untouched. 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.

Now producers Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg, and Gary Goetzman, the men behind Band of Brothers, have adapted material from Helmet for My Pillow for HBO’s epic miniseries The Pacific, which will thrill and edify a whole new generation.

Helmet for My Pillow: From Parris Island to the Pacific










  • 35 responses to "Okinawa: The Last Battle of World War II Robert Leckie Viking Adult 1St Edition edition"

  • Karla Shelton
    14:54 on August 30th, 2011
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    You are very likely reading this review as this book is one of the major sources for the new mini-series “The Pacific”. I haven’t seen any episodes of that yet, and I read this book years ago, this is my second purchase. My dad suggested Helmet for My Pillow as he said it very accurately showed what war was like in New Guinea, where he also served.

    What is interesting about this book is that it really isn’t a combat story book so much. Hanging around with my Dad’s WWII buddies down at the VFW allowed me to hear plenty of stories about the war- but mostly about sadistic DIs, bad and good officers, bad chow, funny stories about Basic Training, and sneaking out to get a beer or two. Not much about actual combat, and almost never any mention of their personal bravery- and these were guys with chests full of “fruit salad”. Reading this book was exactly like listening to those veterans.

    For example- the author never mentions he won the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal with Combat Valor. He does mention his time in the brig on bread & water, sadistic DIs, bad and good officers, bad chow, funny stories about Basic Training, and sneaking out to get a beer or two. Oh yes, he does tell a few harrowing combat stories. But it’s more of how life really was for a Marine in WWII, not a bunch of war stories. The conditions in New Guinea- the rain, the mold, the malaria- those are told so well you feel as if your are there also.

    Very well written, and very true to life. But- not a lot of combat stories. There are other books with better and more thrilling accounts of combat, this is not the best choice for those.

  • cjinsd
    21:29 on August 30th, 2011
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    I read this book while my husband (with his family in tow) was stationed at Butler on Okinawa. We lived on Kinser, visited the ER on Lester, shopped at Courtney, Foster & Kadena (ect.), and visited every base on the Island over the 3 years we were there.

    I thought Leckies books was both powerful & noble in the telling of the Battle for Okinawa. I could actually SEE the battle as my family & I visited memorials and battle sites. Leckie’s book brought it all to life for me.

    Here’s something of intrest for all those who read Mr. Leckie’s book; The Camp Kinser Commissary is built on the site of a former temp. cemetery for those who died in the battle for Sugar Loaf Hill. There wasn’t a trip for groceries at Kinser that I wasn’t reminded why my Marine was on Oki.

  • PaulTheZombie
    22:38 on August 30th, 2011
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    This thin book is amazing for the amount of basic detail and information. It was great for getting a simple start on my genealogy project for a general understanding of what the invasion was about and for a non-military reader. It’s easy to read and highly recommend to WWII history buffs. Only complaint I had was the high price for the size of the paperback book.

  • Ripel
    0:31 on August 31st, 2011
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    This is the fourth book I’ve read on the battle fought on and around Okinawa. It is the thinnest in length and in content – packs a lot for a little book – but not quite enough for a student of military history. Unfortunately – many good books have come before – and the book just doesn’t measure up in comparison.

    The author sets a trap for himself if he intended a compact book with all necessary players and events that shaped this battle. He does a good job of tracing the conflicts within the US and Japanese command structures – insolence on the part of Japanese junior officers leading to poor advice/unnecessary slaughter – to outright disobediance of orders on the US side on the part of Douglas MacArthur who unnecessarily invaded inconsequential southern Philippine Islands – rather than divert his military resources to the Okinawa campaign as ordered.

    All the pieces for a great read are here – except nothing was developed in enough depth to put the reader THERE. Other books, such as “The Old Breed” and even Samuel Morison’s “Two Ocean War” do the battle events greater justice as although more limited in scope (USMC or US Navy centric) the reader of these books is given a more in depth understanding of the parts these entities played in the battle.

    Okinawa was essentially 10 wars fought in tandem:

    1. The Japanese ‘Land War’
    2. The Japanese ‘Naval War’
    3. The Japanese ‘Air War’
    4. The Okinawa civilians ‘war refugees and victims’
    5. The US Army ‘Land War’
    6. The US Army Logistics Effort’
    7. The US ‘Surface Navy War’
    8. The US Navy ‘Air War’
    9. The US Marine Corps ‘Land War’
    10. The US Marine Corps ‘Air War’

    This is much too much data for a 200 some odd page book – no matter how compactly written and craftily edited. Uncomfortably – one admires how well one zips through the pages, until one realizes he/she just got a ‘Cliffs Notes’ version of some of the important and/or major events.

    Major players and heros got premier treatment – valor recognized mainly for the land battle participants. Sailors were not so prominently featured – as the land battle took the lead in the book.

    The amount of damage inflicted on the US Fleet turned out to be a Japanese disappointment – as the US Navy landed and supported the ground campaign throughout the entire battle. More damage to US ships was expected, and the Japanese leaders deliberately inflated their combat statistics not as not to lose face in light of their commands efforts.

    The author indeed does a good job of fighting his way out of his own trap of limited space. The editing is to be admired – but the content falls short of a historical standard that does this battle justice.

  • TrafficWarden
    0:55 on August 31st, 2011
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    Leckie’s memoir of his time in WWII is certainly not a combat memoir. Sure, there is combat since he fought in Guadalcanal, New Britain and Peleiu, but right from the beginning you can see that Leckie’s memoir is one of the marine itself and the institute that the marine must live in. Not knowing this might lead to a false impression, but once you know it lends a lot to the understanding of a marine in the Pacific.

    Leckie is very descriptive, bringing the reader right in to the life and times of a marine entering WWII. You feel as though you are there with him when he enlists and goes through 6 weeks of boot camp. And again when he sets sail and finally lands at Guadalcanal. We are shown the life of a marine, his thoughts, his fears, his weaknesses, and most certainly his experience as he fought the Japanese. But the combat is quickly brushed over as Leckie focuses more on the human side of himself and his fellow marines. This was very disappointing at first, because I wanted to read about his battle experiences in detail, not in everything but his combat experience.

    This is soon forgotten as we then move to Melbourne and shown the miriad ways that the marines humored themselves, how they had to avoid the MPs and thus the brig and how, on numerous occasions, he was successful in avoiding the brig. This to me showed the human side of the soldier and really showed how the soldier interacted and lived. Without this bird’s eye view then we would be left simply with a generic attempt by other marines to only discuss their combat experience. Don’t get me wrong, I love reading about the combat experience, but Leckie’s account it so much more deep and in depth that it makes me see the marines in a whole different light. A brighter light that shows you who they were.

    The downside is that sometimes he waxed poetically too much and there was very little combat. Is this a recommend for the WWII enthusiast? Certainly, a must I would add, as Leckie shows us what war is and why it was fought. Most poignantly is his epilogue and the reader can’t help but be touched at what he and other men have sacrificed for our country. And then to have it turned and ask for forgiveness, as he closes his memoir with “forgive us for that awful cloud”. A recommend.

    4.5 stars.

  • John Baxter
    3:50 on August 31st, 2011
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    Not really a war memoir. The author describes more the times before and after the battles. The reader can experience the transition from untrained civilian to veteran. Mixed into the story are the surreal exploits of the marines in Australia after Guadacanal. Fine companion piece to the other books used as a basis for the HBO series.

  • nedendir
    5:16 on August 31st, 2011
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    I read this and “The Old Breed.” Two different books but telling remarkable stories of bravery, loss and horror. I recommend that this one be read before Sledge’s work. After reading them both I’ve come to appreciate both their different styles and focus. What struck me most was when I read passages that described the same event but from obviously different perspectives. It is sad that as I watch “The Pacific” miniseries it only scratches at the strength both of these books convey. Read these books to get at the story because the screenplay makes compromises along the way.

  • cjinsd
    11:51 on August 31st, 2011
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    The book by E.B. Sledge was much more enjoyable more ‘readable’. Leckie goes overboard several times describing things. After a while I just got tired of reading the many ways he could describe an event or situation and skipped to the next paragraph.

  • PaulTheZombie
    13:00 on August 31st, 2011
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    `Helmet for My Pillow” is a reissue from 1957. My one and only complaint is my usual one with reissues…please put in an updated introduction…tell us what has happened with the author or life, don’t just reissue it and do nothing else. This will be made into a mini series which is probably the reason for the reissue. No matter what the reason it’s definitely worth reading. Robert Leckie’s descriptions create a picture; from his drill sergeant…” but above all he had a voice” to the exultation of leave in Australian after the battle of Guadalcanal. There are black and white pictures throughout the pages of the men he served with and of Leckie which definitely helps with the mind’s pictures.

    But most of all this book is remarkable. I have heard men describe their experiences with jungle warfare, both from WWII and Vietnam, but never with the awful clarity that is done in these pages. I grew up in the army and have been with the military all of my life and can agree with so much of what is said here, and said with far more ability than almost any other book I have read.
    Leakie pulls no punches, not in the way many of the enlisted were treated by their officers or in his own `mistakes’ that landed in him the brig.
    Historically there is much in here that I have never read before, and I have read and listened to much. There are stories of the hunger the fighting men felt during battle and how Japanese forces would try to sneak into their camps at night for food. Then there are the descriptions of the `widow makers’, trees that were weakened by artillery fire that killed 25 men as they broke and fell on them.
    This is truly an incredible account, eye opening and worthy of your time and effort to read.

  • Obladi Oblada
    18:36 on August 31st, 2011
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    I first read this book about thirty years ago when I first joined the army; I have just completed reading the re-issued version of the book as I have an interest in the Pacific war.

    Personally I enjoyed Robert Leckie’s story of his journey from induction to the front line with the US Marines in the Pacific, his descriptions of places like the Solomon Islands are spot on. I journeyed there almost fifty years after the end of the war in the Pacific, to assist in the location and disposal of WW2 ordnance in the islands and this work took me through many of the locations in the island chain, such as the Russells, New Georgia and Guadalcanal. Having also spent some time in tropical warfare environments and experiencing living in jungle conditions in the Australian army’s battle school, I relate to the author and his descriptions of life in these island environments. The discomfort, being constantly wet and encountering various jungle animal nasties, as well as encounters with the enemy, often at night and in very close quarters is definitely something to keep one in a high state of tense anxiety.

    I was also particularly drawn to his experiences spent in Melbourne, Australia, as Melbourne is my home town and looking at pictures of the young Robert Leckie in his Marine uniform reminded me of stories my mother related about families in Australia at the time hosting US servicemen into their homes. The period 1941-1942 were dark days for Australia, with the threat of Japanese invasion very real and many Australian families welcomed US service personnel into their homes at the time. Sadly many of these young men were to return to the Pacific and not see their homeland again.

    Robert Leckie describes the various characters in his book with a bit of a larrikin’s view, describing them by nicknames and also giving his impressions on many of the personalities; he strikes me as a person who didn’t suffer fools irrespective of their rank or status. This character trait manifests itself through the book from his time in Recruit camp through to the time of his last battle.

    In summary a well written book, with a serviceman’s personal observations of places and personalities that give a grassroots experience of what it is like to be in the front lines. The book is more focused on the author’s personal experiences and not so much on historical data, it allows the reader to experience life in the tropical South Pacific and gives them experiences of beach landings, patrolling in jungle and living in a dripping, wet environment. Together with the ever-present possibility of a contact with the enemy who could be as close as five metres when encountered due to the terrain. Well done, Robert Leckie!

  • TrafficWarden
    19:00 on August 31st, 2011
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    If you watched the HBO Pacific series and wanted to know the details about Leckie, this book provides it all.
    Somewhat flowery writing style is unique. Leckie was a real character and it comes accross in this book. It reveals alot about military discipline that is often omitted in accounts of many wars.
    It was a great add on after watching the HBO series and if your a WWII buff you’ll enjoy it.

  • John Baxter
    21:55 on August 31st, 2011
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    “Helmet for my Pillow” is a book written by writer who was from my hometown of Rutherford, NJ. He had a personal relationship with his family physician William Carlos Williams the great poet. They spent much time together and you do not know how much of William’s descriptive poetry style rubbed off on Leckie. I found his vocabulary to be extensive. You must keep in mind that he is describing a terrible yet historical time in U.S. history and he is attempting to give his fellow comrades in the marines their fair due. He never names a person by their real name and I think that is masterful because it shows how you do not want to get too personal with your fellow marines, because, they will be may gone at some point soon. He wrote the book after seeing ‘South Pacific” when he walked out half way through the play and said to his wife Vera “I am going to write a book to tell the true story of what took place in the South Pacific”. He wanted to honor his friends who gave up so much whether they lived or died. The book is hard reading but not as hard as he had it. He was a wild guy who tells the truth. He doesn’t mix word or actions. Yeah, they drank a lot. From basic training to the awful islands where they would steal Saki when they could. After a while you begin to wonder if all the marines drank that much. Yet you must remember that his generation started the cocktail hour and they lived by “Its 5 O’clock, Dear Lets have a drink!”. To sum it up they are making a huge HBO show 10 parts series about it, so whether you like it or not it is a must read to appreciate the show. I read it, and, I will have a much better understanding of what those men went through. I would recommend this book. I never met Mr. Leckie as far back as I can recall. My mother and uncles were his very close friends at St. Mary’s high school, in Rutherford. He was the youngest of 8 kids and it is quite exceptional that the baby in the family turned out to be such a success. He wrote over 40 books in his lifetime and he is a man with a high school education. The Sisters of St. Dominic must have done a greast job teachingb him when he wasn’t playing hookie.

  • nedendir
    23:21 on August 31st, 2011
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    This author continues in his established mode of writing: never use one word when four will work and utilize hyperbole whenever possible. I got through two chapters and had enough. Great material but buried in overdone wordiness.

  • cjinsd
    5:56 on September 1st, 2011
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    I picked this up immediately upon hearing it was used as a basis for HBO’s The Pacific miniseries. I fully expected to see lots of commentary on combat, but what I got turned out to be more than that. Sure, Leckie does talk about his harrowing experiences upon arriving on Guadalcanal and engaging the Japanese forces, there..but it is the time spent in between the fighting that reflects most on Leckie’s memoir.

    The first third of the book concerns Leckie’s enlistment and training in the marine corps in and around Parris Island. We discover the trials he faces learning how to fight as well as how he comes to cherish his friends in the camp. This definitely serves Leckie’s humanity as he becomes a trained killer for the United States Marines prior to his deployment.

    Another very interesting piece is when Leckie and his mates are shipped to Australia for R&R after the Guadalcanal campaign. What ensues is nothing short of The Great Debauch as Leckie nicknames it.

    I recommend this book to anyone with an interest in World War II and especially, the personal aspect of the Pacific conflict through a common man’s eyes. Those seeking detailed combat stories and analysis will be disappointed I’m afraid. It does get a little wordy in places but its nothing that detracts from the overall experience. I suggest reading this along with With the Old Breed – an excellent book in its own right. Leckie’s memoir is a treasure from someone who was there and graciously provides us with an eye-opening, and sometimes candid, view of the world at war from where he stood (and fought) at that time in history.

  • PaulTheZombie
    7:05 on September 1st, 2011
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    I thought the book was good, but I was looking for Robert Leckie’s accounts on Okinawa. This book was a more iformational book than one Marine’s time on Okinawa.

  • pop frame
    9:56 on September 1st, 2011
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    I first learned of this book when I read that it was being used as one of the sources for HBO’s 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, 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.

  • TrafficWarden
    10:20 on September 1st, 2011
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    I purchased the book on the advice of a friend. I looked forward to getting into the meat of the battles to get a first hand account of what life was like during the chaotic and deadly Pacific battles for our soldiers. With all respect to Robert Leckie, I got very few details about the actual battles. As others have reviewed, there was a lot about the process of becoming a marine, time spent in Austrailia, and the like. Understandably this was no doubt hugely significant for our Marine Heroes, but for those of us who weren’t there and are relying on the author to specifically detail the war, Leckie in my opinion, came up a little short. I have purchased E.B. Sledge’s book, “The Old Breed” to see if his hopefully details the first hand account of the Pacific a little better. Regardless of my feelings about the content (NOT THE AUTHOR) of this book, I AM FOREVER INDEBTED TO OUR WORLD WAR II VETERANS, INCLUDING LECKIE FOR THE ULTIMATE SACRIFICES THAT ALL OF THEM PAID IN ONE WAY OR ANOTHER!!!!

  • John Baxter
    13:15 on September 1st, 2011
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    I do believe that Robert Leckie tried to write a comprehensive history of the Battle for Okinawa, but somehow gave way to writing a superficial, grab bag story that tries to tell everything but just bounces around. We can see the history of the area, of Japan’s conquest of the island and of the development of the Samurai spirit in Japan. But then what is lacking is any real investigation and substance about what it all means and the larger context for the battle.

    A case in point is that we hear a great deal about the attacks of the Kamikaze plans on the American fleet at Okinawa, but just as it seems he is about to go into more detail, Leckie pulls back and goes into some background story or piece about the land battle. Similarly, he focuses extensively on regimental names and assignments but rarely does he go into the suffering that soldiers, marines and sailors experienced during the battle. If he does, it is only on a very think level.

    This is a good enough book if you’re interested in a superficial history of the Battle, but for people with a genuine interest in it, you’re better off elsewhere.

  • Karla Shelton
    18:37 on September 1st, 2011
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    Having seen this title as one of the Bantam’s World War II series when I was much younger … I remember always passing over it for a book that focused on the European Theatre. Watching HBO’s “The Pacific” compelled me to read this book and looking back, I must say that I am glad I waited. I was mesmerized by the Leckie’s recollection of his wartime experience … in a way that I probably wouldn’t have appreciated had I read it when I first saw it as a child. Leckie has a writing style that easily allows the reader to shadow him through his experiences and his dedication to detail seems to invigorate the senses as well. This book about one Marine’s experience from boot camp to Peleliu has contributed greatly to my craving to learn more about Pacific Theatre of World War II.

    First of all, the book was easy and enjoyable read. The vividly detailed writing-style puts the reader on point throughout the book and Leckie allows us to view his world through a colorful panoramic lens. In fact, I never felt myself in need of additional information or details; all questions are answered and all voids are filled. Many books have a tendency to tease readers when describing events, leaving us to use our imagination to fill the gaps. I find this particularly annoying when reading about an eyewitness viewpoint of history as I don’t like to guess about what is actually being seen by the author.

    Another tactic that I found particularly effective was Leckie’s preference to refer to all fellow Marines exclusively by their nicknames (enlisted men and officers alike); it made his storytelling even more personal. We are introduced to men like Eloquent, Chuckler, Hoosier, The White-man, Souvenirs, The Kid, Big-Picture and Commando … along with an explanation of how those names were appropriately earned.

    The contents of Leckie’s journey starts immediately following the attack on Pearl Harbor and the author decides to enlist. We follow him throughout the process of him becoming a Marine and meet the men in his unit that form the core of his wartime experience. Leckie colorfully illustrates the antics, pranks and miseries of boot camp, his transformation from neighborhood kid to a fighting man, as well as his sardonic attitude toward authority and the rigid set of rules he must obey. It is at this point where we meet his three most-revered buddies that would share all aspects of the journey with him (The Runner, The Hoosier and The Chuckler). Aside from the fact these men were trained to be fodder for the fight against a relentless, unforgiving foe, no opportunity was left not to exploit. Whether it be foraging for goodies in an Army depot to being AWOL in order to meet women … even time in the brig didn’t deter Leckie and his buddies from making the most out of what they were facing, wherever they were. Leckie doesn’t ever dwell on thoughts of dying … much of his book is about living and taking advantage of certain moments … living on the edge.

    When Leckie describes his combat experiences on Guadalcanal, Cape Gloucester and Peleliu, he spares no detail in describing events before, during and after the battle. Whether it be stumbling upon a Japanese patrol in the humid foliage of Guadalcanal or running for his life and diving in a shell crater on the sun-scorched airfield of Peleliu … he takes you with him, sweating, thirsty, scared and out-of-breath. The after-battle recollections give the reader a sense of surveying the battlefield and makes you realize how much simple luck had to do with survival (like crowding in a shell-hole located in the middle of the airfield while being targeted by a Japanese heavy gun that was simply too big to fire accurately at close range, but it kept trying anyway). Eventually, after being caught in the middle of a Japanese artillery barrage at Peleliu, Leckie’s wartime experience ends on a hospital ship and he learns that the battle for Peleliu claims the lives of most of the men he introduced us to throughout the book.

    Overall, “Helmet for My Pillow” was a brilliant/engrossing read and a hard book to put down. What separates Leckie’s book from most other books of its genre is that Leckie delves into more than just the Marine Corps and World War II battles … we are treated to the life-defining experience that World War II was to so many young men … a grand adventure defined by extremes: the Heaven of Melbourne to the Hell(s) of various land-dots in the vast Pacific Ocean, the comforts of a dry hospital bed to sleeping in muddy water for days on end, witnessing the thrill of seeing a buddy survive to the seeing the ignominious defiling of the dead. Leckie’s storytelling is superb and I’m glad I finally gave myself the chance to read this book after so many years.

  • Satish KC
    23:17 on September 1st, 2011
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    Having read quite a few books about Marines, I can say that this book is among the best. It is well written, verging on poetic at times, and conveys a feeling of ingenuity uncommon in today’s war literature. It is at some times gently humorous, and portrays Leckie and his fellow marines very believably. However, like many people, I felt after finishing it that it was more a portrayal of the friendships of the characters and minor events with little to do with the war than the war itself; For instance, events like Leckie’s escape from MP’s are very detailed, whereas the Battle of Tenaru is a fairly brief and vaguely described event. Overall, this is still a stellar novel that should not be missed. (And while I’m writing this, I thought I’d recommend The Good Soldiers, by David Finkel, to you war novel enthusiasts.)

  • Seano
    4:13 on September 2nd, 2011
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    Okinawa
    The Last Battle of World War II Robert Leckie

    The author describes in detail the various battles using landmarks on maps. Unfortunately, the book has not a single map. If you want to read this book, get your own detailed map of Okinawa to try and follow along.

    The author at the end tries to say that Truman thought the use of the a bomb was a mistake using a letter he wrote to his sister at the time saying that the decision to bomb was a terrible decision. Obviously, the decision was terrible. He knew that many thousands would die. The decision was not a mistake however, and Truman never said that it was.

    As the Author points out, Okinawa was a compromise between what Adm King wanted, which was an invasion of Formosa, and Okinawa. Formosa had 3 times as many Japs defending it. King agreed, as Okinawa would also would provide a jumping off point, but to Kings chagrin, was not nearly as close to China, which King also wanted to help.
    Casualty estimates to attack Formosa were 150,000 Americans, much too costly.
    With Saipan taken, Iwo Jima and Okinawa were natural stepping stones to Japan. Taking Okinawa would also cut off the supply line of oil to Japan.
    Okinawa was to be the jumping off point for the invasion of Japan in the fall of 1945.

    The island was fortified and was made of coral. The Japs would also use the kamikaze for the first time in large numbers. The author spends a long time discussing the history and use of the kamikaze flyer. He discussed the Jap generals in charge of the defense of Okinawa. The kamikazes destroyed a bunch of Navy ships. Each is detailed by the author.
    The force invading was larger than the D Day invasion force in terms of ocean going ships, Navy firepower, tonnage, and numbers of troops invading. Ike had 150,000 troops invading, Gen Buckner had 184,000 invading. Kelly Turner was the Navy man in charge of getting the troops to shore. He had a habit of trying to manage the assault force after it got ashore too, and caused a bunch of fights with the Marine officer. Turner had screwed up the Guadalcanal invasion causing a bunch of Marines to be killed, so the Marines were not happy to have him in charge again.17 carriers were used.
    Okinawa was pounded for several days by the ships as they did not want to make the same mistake as at Iwo, which only 2 days bombardment by the ships left many Jap fortifications and Japs alive to kill Marines when they came ashore.
    Several medals of honor were won by the Navy, Marines, and Army.
    The Japs did not defend the beaches, so it was a couple of days before they came upon the enemy lines.
    The largest battleship afloat, then or now, the Yamato, made a one way kamikaze trip from Japan to try and use her 18 inch guns to stop the landings, but was sunk on its way there. It was hit by sub torpedoes, as well as by bombs and torpedoes from American Navy planes. The ships escorting her were also sunk.
    The death of Ernie Pyle is described.
    The battle of Kakazu ridge is discussed in detail
    The Japs mostly defended from fortified positions. When they came out for Banzai charges, they were slaughtered by the Americans.
    Two ammunition ships were lost to kamikazes on April 6, and the loss of the ammo was felt for a long time.
    Hodge made and attack and was hurled back by the Japs.
    The air force and Navy both attacked the kamikaze air bases.
    Army Gen Buckner, in charge of the Okinawa operation did not give the Marines a chance to make a behind the lines invasion that could have stopped the fighting a lot sooner. The Marines were not suffering the ammunition shortage the Army was, and could have done the invasion.
    The Navy was getting tired of Buckner’s slow progress, and they wished that Marine Gen Holland Smith was in charge. The quicker the invasion was over, the quicker the navy ships could move out of range of the kamikazes.
    Adm Nimitz had loaned some of his ships to MacArthur, and wanted them back, but Mac refused, saying they were being used. Mac had invented a task for the ships so that he did not have to return them.
    May 7, an attack started and continued for days. Finally the Jap lines broke and the Jap generals killed themselves.
    According to the author, the capture of Okinawa finally convinced Emperor Hirohito that the Japs had lost the war. He now would help the peace group trying to find a way to stop the war.

  • Ripel
    6:06 on September 2nd, 2011
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    Robert Leckie joined the Marines in January 1942 and as a reward he spent six months
    in hell on Guadalcanal. His portraits of his colleagues and others are remarkable,
    incisive and vivid. The conditions were dreadful, with little to eat and no communication with the outside world. When it was over, the Marines were heroes to all Americans and were more than a little stunned.

    After a few months of rest in Australia and New Zealand they hit the Japanese again at New Britain and finally at the insignificant island of Peleliu, which left few
    survivors.

    First read Gene Sledge’s brilliant combat writing; then read Leckie. Then you can appreciate the sacrifices other Americans made in a war that left few survivors.

    Tom Hanks is reportedly filming a sequal to Band of Brothers in the Pacific campaign. Read this first to see what it was really like.

  • Juana Cruz
    9:26 on September 2nd, 2011
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    First, I must admit a particular regard for this book as the granddaughter of Bill Smith (whom Leckie refers to as ‘Hoosier’), who served with Leckie in How Company. Leckie offers nuanced insight into the ways in which he and his friends understood national military service, the `enemy’, and the war more generally, and how these perspectives or ideas evolved among the men from North Carolina to Guadalcanal, Australia, and New Britain. Leckie steers clear from prototypes or cliches; there is no enblematic enlisted man or officer. Rather, these men are treated as real people coping (or not) with the profound uncertainty of their situation.

    Perhaps this appreciation says more about my own lack of experience with combat/warfare. Thinking of Guadalcanal from a macro or military history perspective, it is easy to take for granted that marines’ objectives – and the most efficacious means to pursue them – were always apparent to those involved. In this context, Leckie’s account of warfare as a learning process was fascinating. For example, he describes: 1) the marines’ first reactions to air battle and subsequent adjustment to air battle as a simple process of attrition; and 2) the uncertainty confronted by officers at various stages, against the backdrop of the US’ limited military experience in the Pacific or in jungles more generally. In this way, Leckie also makes apparent the need – and efficacy – of severe hierarchy. For this reason, I think that reviewers’ arguments positing a lack of regard for officers deserve qualification.

    ***UPDATE/REFLECTIONS***
    Hoosier was wounded and evacuated early in the Battle of Peleliu; I believe that Chuckler and Runner were wounded later and evacuated with Leckie. Leckie and his friends stayed in touch – in the summer of 1985, my grandfather and his wife, as well as Runner (Juergens) and his wife, went to visit Leckie in New Jersey. There Leckie decidated a park in their honor, in honor of all marines who fought in the Pacific Theater (I uploaded a photo of the dedication plaque in the ‘customer image gallery’).

    Although Hoosier never liked to share his experiences from the war, my father considers the book to be true to his character. And, while the HBO miniseries diverges considerably from the book, Hoosier’s sense of humor appears true to form (the book provides far greater nuance and depth, different dialogue, and events unfolded differently). This edition of the book also includes a few photographs of Leckie, Runner, Hoosier, and others – some taken in their dress blues, and others on Guadalcanal.

  • Jim Levitt
    15:12 on September 2nd, 2011
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    Robert Leckie was a reporter for the Associated Press and he wrote a very readable book on his WWII experiences as a US Marine in the Pacific War. I’ll bluntly say that his book was sort of used as a guide for the first part of the HBO series The Pacific (HBO Miniseries). The book is a frame for the movie. Well trust me, the book has darn little in common with the HBO series and you’ll come to enjoy the book a lot more than the series.

    The book is quite readable and Robert has a good craft in writing. He is one of those people who is observant of his surroundings and has a good wit about him. So, his entire fellow marines end up getting descriptive names. Example, a snarky lieutenant is called Lieutenant Ivy League, a bigoted marine is called white boy, and most of the other characters in the book get some sort of nick name; it protects the innocents. This type of writing has been copied by other authors, such as in the forgettable post 2008 Iraqi book called Kaboom: Embracing the Suck in a Savage Little War. But it appears Mr. Leckie was one of the originators of this type of writing and he does a fantastic job describing the people he runs into in the marines.

    The book is a narrative of Mr. Leckie’s marine life. He will take a reader in a good narrative of boot camp, being reviewed by the Secretary of the Navy before being shipped to Guadalcanal, spending rebuilding time in Melbourne, Australia, going back to the Pacific Island for fighting, and then being assigned to Pavuvu; a little third rate island in the Pacific known for rats and crabs. After Pavuvu the reader is then taken to the nightmarish last battle that Mr. Leckie participates in before he receives wounds and is shipped back to the USA.

    I liked this book and it was a fast read despite the fact it was 300 pages long. Now, I only gave it four stars. Here are my reasons. First, the book has no chronology. So, a reader will have to do their own homework on when events, such as Guadalcanal happen. Indeed, I had to cross reference this book with my naval books on the first and second naval battles of Guadalcanal. In 1957 it may have been common knowledge to the pubic of when the various events happened in the Pacific but a chronology is a nice thing to have now. Second, there isn’t an index. That is a minor thing but since I work in the history field and this is a primary source then it’s nice to have the information at hand. Additionally, there are few maps of the islands. Last, we don’t see anything on his weapons used. I do know Mr. Leckie used a 1903 Springfield and water cooled Browning .30 caliber at Guadalcanal. But I was a little unclear on the weapon types in his marine unit.

    This book goes nicely with another book on the subject, Guadalcanal: Starvation Island. Starvation Island is a book that gives the historian’s point-of-view on the island campaign. Mr. Leckie’s book is a personal narrative. Both books complement one another. A historian can’t know what one marine is thinking. A single individual can’t know all that happens during a battle. Both books give a person an overall picture and an individual view of one of the most crucial campaign of the Pacific war.

    Mr. Leckie’s book was one of the more entertaining books I’ve read on a marine’s time spent in the Pacific. I didn’t know about the very good time the Marines had at Melbourne, Australia. Additionally, I didn’t know what a rotten back water Pavuvu was and how the men generally disliked the place.

    This is a four star WWII book that is worth the read. Mr. Leckie writes a witty book that looks at WWII exclusively from a marine private’s point of view. A reader will be exposed from everything from hard fighting to picking up women to spending time in a Marine brig.

    Yes, this book is worth it and Mr. Leckie did a good job. Enjoy.

  • eliteuser
    21:13 on September 2nd, 2011
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    I must reluctantly admit that I was disappointed with the book. It was, at many times, a difficult and laborious read. Leckie’s style in this book is that of a poet, rather than one who has been through war. While it is a unique perspective and telling, it struck me as an over the top attempt to impress with a unnecessary onslaught of metaphors and analogies. Some sentences strung on for well over a hundred words, comprising their own paragraphs. Not everything needs to be found analogous to something else. If you want to read the memoirs of one of the characters from HBO’s The Pacific, I’d recommend Eugene Sledge’s “With the Old Breed.” If you enjoy prose and excessive comparisons, you would probably like Leckie’s memoir.

  • Satish KC
    1:53 on September 3rd, 2011
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    With a newspaper reporter’s eye and the unique perspective of a front-line enlisted Marine, Robert Lecke weaves a cynical and satirical tale of his experiences in three Pacific battles.

    As a member of the vaunted First Marine Division, “The Old Breed”, Lecke lived through (barely) the grinding battle of Guadalcanal, the filthy, wet, disease-infested campaign of Cape Gloucester and the wanton, and arguably useless, slaughter on the hot, dry island of Peleliu. His creative nicknames for both his buddies and his superiors result in memorable characters and sometimes serve to protect the guilty.

    Lecke’s offbeat sense of humor colors his experiences but cannot hide the slow but immutable physical and mental deterioration he experiences as the grinding gears of war tear at him almost without reprieve. You will laugh with him and agonize with him and sometimes feel sorry for him but he will keep you enthralled as he takes you through his experiences both as a frightened but determined fighter as well as a reckless and carefree young man on leave in Australia.

    In the end you may not like the guy but you will love his story!

    John E. Nevola
    Author of The Last Jump: A Novel of World War II

  • PaulTheZombie
    3:02 on September 3rd, 2011
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    One of the best personal memoirs of war I have ever read. Leckie is brutally honest about anything and everything to do with his experiences in the 1st Marine Division during WWII. Incredibly impressed by his sensitive candor and philosophical reflections on the impact of war on human beings. Having been an officer myself, I was truly shocked to read his descriptions of Marine officers blatantly stealing from enlisted men. I guess in wartime, they were willing to let anyone become an officer. Leckie pulls no punches but shows remarkable understanding, forgiveness, and mercy towards all his comrades and even the enemy. This book is a classic and a must-read for anyone interested in what combat in the Pacific theater was really like and about young men’s reaction to war. Rest in peace, Robert Leckie. For those who fell, there is no hell. I thank God knowing you have been reunited with your comrades. Thank you for writing this book. It was a privilege to have read it. A great gift to those who have never known the horrors and sacrifice of war.

  • pop frame
    5:53 on September 3rd, 2011
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    John Hersey’s “Into the Valley” (1942) is the best written first person account of pacific battle in WWII; but for verisimilitude, Leckie’s account is the best I’ve seen. Leckie, a sports writer before the war, is direct and honest regarding his experience. I found this book and E.B. Sledge’s “With the Old Breed” to be the best things I discovered out of the disappointing “Pacific” television series.

  • TrafficWarden
    6:17 on September 3rd, 2011
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    Leckie quit his job as a sports writer for a local newspapaer in NJ to join the Marines. Why he did that isn’t really clear but its worthwile keeping the question in mind as you read his memoir. I suspect he did so to emulate Ernest Hemingway, his hero, when he went off to the Spanish Civil War which served as grist for his novels. In other words, the Marines and the Pacific war were to be the material for Leckie’s great war novel. This memoir is as close to a great novel as he got. In reading his novel/memoir you learn a lot about Leckie, his disdain for all authority that didn’t recognize his brilliance which means almost every officer he encountered, his penchant for stealing stuff and going AWOL which landed him in the Brig on a regular basis. Something he learned to be pround of. He also was involved in some battles but what you learn of them has mostly to do with how it impacted on Leckie. Oh yes, Leckie was also a great lover, a big time drinker and, as mentioned earlier, a serial thief. As far as recommending it, if you aren’t put off by his penchant for referring to officer’s statements as “ejaculations” then it serves as a bookend to Sledge’s classic, “With the Old Breed”, in that it presents the views of a misfit Marine to the honorable and compelling account of Sledge’s experience as a Marine.

  • John Baxter
    9:12 on September 3rd, 2011
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    I was just a bit disappointed with this particular work. The only words I can use, off the top of my head are “thin” and “shallow.” Fortunately, this was a fast and very easy read and was worth the small effort it took to read. As pointed out by other reviewers, there were no maps! It is difficult, if not impossible to glean helpful information in reference to battle with out them. There were many, many aspects of this particular battle which were briefly touched upon, but nothing in depth. Perhaps the most unfortunate aspect of this work is the fact that while I can complain about lack of information, etc. which is not really all that important, the true wonderful men who fought this battle, I feel, are quite short changed here. They, the men, deserve better. I suppose I can recommend this one if you want a brief overview, but other works should certainly be read and pondered.

  • nedendir
    10:38 on September 3rd, 2011
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    This is a well written history of the battle and more. Having lived on Oki more than once and flown out of Kadena AFB, I have some first hand knowledge of this island battle.

  • Satish KC
    15:18 on September 3rd, 2011
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    I have many of Leckie’s books about American history. His books are average reads generally. In this book, Leckie details the last battle of World War II and why Okinawa was picked as an island to be invaded by the Marines and U.S. Army. At a little over two hundred pages, it is an easy read and one can understand the ferocious fight that developed between the Americans and Japanese.
    Five chapters of this book deal with the kamikazes and the effects on the U.S. Navy. Only four pages deal with the attack on the Yamato, which I believe was a significant event of the battle for the island. The rest of the book concerns the desperate struggle for the island and the death or capture of the Japanese forces. As a previous reviewer has noted, some of battles for the island have been shorted or left out in this summary history. Leckie does include some interesting details, such as the fact 10,000 Japanese soldiers surrendered rather than commit suicide.
    This is an average read about a great battle. Leckie provides a lot of upfront history prior to explaining the great battle over the island, and this might lessen the interest of those who want to read about the subject of the book. Operation Iceberg is a more detailed book about this battle.

  • PaulTheZombie
    16:27 on September 3rd, 2011
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    The story is OK, but Robert Leckie isn’t a great writer. The most mundane details are written using ridiculously overblown language. Sneaking out of doing chores is written as “By some subterfuge we evaded this odious duty”. It gets old.

  • Ripel
    18:20 on September 3rd, 2011
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    I read this book when I was in my 20′s and thought it was great for the action and adventure aspects. I re-read it now that I am in my 60′s. Again I thought it was great, but now, more for the humanity and feelings the author presents in his story. When I was younger, I tended to ‘skip over’ the poetry, but with this reading, I was more able to experience the feelings that Mr. Leckie was conveying.

    I would recommend this book for an example of life experienced during the period of the World War II Pacific War.

  • Markoc
    20:48 on September 3rd, 2011
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    For those who don’t know, Leckie was a sportswriter for the Hackensack Record who enlisted in the Marines on 8 December 1941. The book is an authentic memoir of Leckie’s career as a Marine from boot camp at MCRD Paris Island through his wounding at Peleliu.

    Leckie is a gifted writer, his prose is very evocative and descriptive of his environment and the men around him. One of the most interesting things about the book is that throughout Leckie makes no effort to “polish up” his own image. He is quite forthcoming about his sojourns in the brig and about his disdain for officers. He makes no attempt to sanitize or rationalize the behavior of himself and his buddies in Melbourne. He is even frank about his affliction with enuresis (bedwetting) during the Cape Gloucester campaign.

    As a result of his candor, his writing skills and his personality, a picture of Bob Leckie emerges that is almost stereotypical of a smart-ass, pugnacious, Irish reporter from back east. He comes across almost like a character played by Jimmy Cagney in a Ben Hecht screenplay. Whether that is an accurate description of the actual man, I can’t say, but it is the one he paints of himself.

    This was simply a thoroughly satisfying book, in fact it will remain on my shelf among other outstanding WWII memoirs such as Manchester’s Goodbye Darkness and Fraser’s Quartered Safe Out Here

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