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Cannonball Read 2 # 45: Helmet For My Pillow by Robert Leckie

Helmet For My Pillow is another of the three books upon which the HBO miniseries The Pacific was based, and as far as the miniseries goes, Robert Leckie was by far my favorite character. His book begins with him joining the Marines, follows him through training camp, and into his first several battles in the pacific theater.

It's hard not to compare this book to E.B. Sledge's With the Old Breed. While both books are very similar in some ways--they are both men who are in the same places at approximately the same time enduring the same circumstances--there are some marked differences. The first and most obvious is style. Sledge's memoir is much more "Just the facts." He is quite direct in his descriptions, while Leckie's past as a newspaper writer shows in his more "literary" style of writing. Another difference is that Sledge was a mortar operator, while Leckie began as a rifleman and eventually ended up working in intelligence, so they got very different views of the battles that were going on. The final difference is their attitudes; Sledge comes in as a naive boy, and while his innocence is definitely shattered, he tries not to get too "What does it all mean?" about it. He suffers both physically and mentally, but mostly just puts his head down and carries on. Leckie, on the other hand, arrives as a slightly more sophisticated and cynical person (possibly because he is older when he joins), but also seems to be more seriously mentally effected. In fact, Leckie suffers a minor breakdown and is evacuated to a hospital for a time during the war. He seems to want to view the "bigger picture" while Sledge's memoir was more of a "Here's where I was and here's what I did and here's what I thought of it at the time" type of story.

This book was really very good, and I got through it very quickly -- I couldn't put it down, really. the author's descriptions and wry wit make for a book that is both entertaining and thought-provoking. On the whole, I highly recommend it.

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