"I'm sorry I must leave, but I must do what is asked of me by my God, my Country, and my Corps.. and so, the war blog begins, again." ~B

14 March 2010

Helmet for my Pillow: From Parris Island to the Pacific by Robert Leckie

In preparation for the HBO miniseries The Pacific, I have been reading all of the accounts the producers used for the film, as well as any others I can get my hands on. I started with Robert Leckie's A Helmet for my Pillow.

My first reaction, after reading the poem that the book takes it's name from is How did I not read this in school? It is amazing what we do not learn. This account of the war in the Pacific is one of the most gripping accounts of any war that I have read.

I have a special love for Marines and the lore of the Marine Corps. Many of my family members are Marines. My best friend is a Marine. I have been taken in and adopted, in a sense, by a local Marine Corps Veterans Association. The first individual I ever wrote to as a volunteer with Soldiers' Angels was a Marine. For that reason, I love the history of the Old Breed as it is presented by Leckie. It is fascinating to read of his time at Parris Island, his time in the fleet, and his time at war. As he says, "The making of Marines...it is a process of surrender."

What makes this book so gripping, is that it could be about Marines today. I recognize so many similarities in the spirit and make up in the Marines, both young and old, that I know today. I can picture his characters as men I know. Hoosier could easily be an old salt I know from the Vets Association who island hopped with the 1st Marine Division. The echoes of Leckie's Parris Island remain in the tales I hear from friends and family during and after recruit training.

Leckie's account of the Pacific campaigns are powerful. Much of what he says is relevant today. There are many passages where I would have to stop reading and ponder what he wrote. He writes about war and the thin line between sanity and madness. I am struck yet again by how much we have to learn from these men. The warriors of the Second World War did their duties and came home to live out their lives. They may have had more recognition from the general public for their service, but they still had to live out the private battles that continued to rage in their minds. Leckie writes, "And there is terror, coming from the interaction of trial and tedium." Our men and women today are fighting wars that are just as terrifying and just as destructive. We should learn what we can from these men who fought in the Pacific and apply it as we help our present day warriors heal from their war.

In my opinion, the last three pages are the most powerful. Here, he struggles to answer the eternal question from the fat, wealthy, protected, ignorant civilian, "What did you get out of it? What were you fighting for?" These are the questions we still ask. These are the questions warriors past and present still use to try and put their experiences into perspective.

Leckie found his answer, or at least found the answer he was willing to share with the world. He writes:

"Now I know. For myself, a memory and the strength of ordeal sustained; for my son, a priceless heritage; for my country, sacrifice. The last is enough for all, for it is sacrifice--the suffering of those who lived, the immolation of those who died...It is to sacrifice that men go to war. They do not go to kill, they go to be killed, to risk their flesh, to insert their precious persons in the path of destruction...But sacrifice says: 'Not the blood of your brother, my friend-your blood'(304)."

"That is why women weep when their men go off to war. They do not weep for their victims, they weep for them as Victim. That is why, with the immemorial insight of mamkind, there are gay songs and colorful bands to send them off to fortify their failing hearts, not to quicken their lust for blood. That is why there are no glorious living, but only glorious dead. Heroes turn traitor, warriors age and grow soft-but a victim is changeless, sacrifice is eternal (305)."


Remember the sacrifices, large and small.

Thank you, Mr. Leckie, for sharing your story.

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