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Publisher's Summary

The celebrated 2010 HBO miniseries The Pacific, winner of eight Emmy Awards, was based on two classic books about the War in the Pacific, Helmet for My Pillow and With The Old Breed. Audible Studios, in partnership with Playtone, the production company co-owned by Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman, and creator of the award-winning HBO series Band of Brothers, John Adams, and The Pacific, as well as the HBO movie Game Change, has created new recordings of these memoirs, narrated by the stars of the miniseries. James Badge Dale (who portrayed Robert Leckie) and Joseph Mazello (who played Eugene Sledge) bring all the passion and emotion of their riveting television performances to these new audio productions.

In Helmet for My Pillow, Robert Leckie enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in January 1942, shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. This riveting first-person account follows 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.

BONUS AUDIO: Tom Hanks, one of the executive producers, has written and narrated an original introduction to Helmet for My Pillow, where he describes his appreciation for the book's author, the narrators, and the soldiers who had fought in the cauldron of the Pacific Theater during World War II.

For more from Audible and Playtone, click here.

©1957 Robert Hugh Leckie. "The Battle of the Tenaru" c. 2001 by Robert Hugh Leckie. (P)2013 Audible, Inc.

Critic Reviews

“Robert Leckie's unvarnished 1957 memoir paints a vivid picture of his experiences as a Marine on the frontlines of the Pacific Theater in WWII. Using the unadorned demeanor of a tough Marine, narrator James Badge Dale delivers Leckie's eloquent text with intensity and respect. He adopts a touch of humor when describing the occasional raucous camaraderie of the men but mostly employs a hard-boiled, sturdy veneer for Leckie's revealing and sometimes shocking narrative. Dale's unrelenting pronunciation of long "a"s (such as "a gun") is at first distracting but eventually comes to feel like the unyielding backbone of a young warrior facing the brutal action of battle. A brief introduction from Tom Hanks helps the listener anticipate the significance of this powerful American chronicle.” ( AudioFile)
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)

What listeners say about Helmet for My Pillow

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Should be required reading in high school

This is one of the top WW2 history or biographies that I've read or listened to,
and is a truly moving account. History for me is a passion and I try 5 or 6 new
books a year. This author Robert Leckie tells of his experiences in such a way
that you can truly begin to understand the horrors of war, and what it was like
to be a front line soldier.

They gave up so much, and their story deserves to be told and retold .

91 people found this helpful

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Engaging Account of the War in “The Pacific”

This is a review of two books, “With the Old Breed” and “Helmet for My Pillow.” HBO based its miniseries “The Pacific,” on these books, and Audible Studios and Playtone recently made new recordings of both books. If, like me, you were interested in both, hopefully this will help sort out how they stack up. In short, both are worth the listen, but if you only wish to get one, go with “With the old Breed.”

“With the Old Breed” is the war diary of E.B. Sledge (a.k.a. “Sledgehammer”). Although not an author by trade Sledge is obviously very intelligent and well-spoken. He writes like he was telling the story to his family, which is, in fact, apparently why Sledge wrote the book in the first place. Sledge describes his experiences at the battles of Peleliu and Okinawa, but also describes his training prior to the battles. The scenes are graphic and disturbing at times, but no doubt accurate.

It’s been said before that Sledge’s book is required reading for anyone thinking of joining the Marines, and I think this must be correct. For officers, Sledge’s account as a private depicts and describes the traits of the “good” officers verses the, let’s call them, “not so good” officers. It’s a veritable “how to” earn and command the respect and admiration of your men, which may be useful for any person in a leadership position to know. For the enlisted men, the book is a very real account of the inglorious nature of war. Wars are not fought to win honors, and no-one should join up in search of glory and fame. As Sledge says, often, it’s a “waste.”

As for the narration, Mazzello is a good actor, but a little slow. I’d recommend listening at 1.25% speed at least, or else it just drags on.

“Helmet for my Pillow” is Robert Leckie’s account of his experiences in the war. Leckie fought at Guadalcanal, New Britain, and Peleliu, but also writes considerably about his “debauchery” in Australia between the battles. His prose (and even his poetry) are quite well-written, and you get a good sense of what life must have been like in the Pacific when the fighting was not going on.

The book is also well narrated. Dale tells the story with good pacing, tone, and vocal color throughout. (By the way, Tom Hanks phones in his introductions for both books, which is disappointing).

In comparison, although there are many similarities to the realities of war, the books are very different. Leckie’s book is much better written than Sledge’s, but perhaps not as engaging from a story-telling perspective. Also, these two Marines could not be more different in character. Sledge is a boy-scout, whereas Leckie is a rogue, spending it seems more time in the brig, than in battle. This is not likely a fair comparison, given the horrific things both privates had to put up with, but Leckie comes off as less sympathetic than Sledge.

Overall, if you choose only one of these two books, I recommend “With the Old Breed,” but really I’d recommend both books to anyone, even those not interested in history. These are not stale accounts of dates and locations and troop numbers. These are firsthand accounts of the horrors of war, which is something later generations (such as my own) luckily have not experienced to this extreme. The people Sledge and Leckie describe are real people, not just characters. When they died, or were injured, or went crazy, these things really happened, which is, I think, something worth remembering.

Read the book(s), and thank a veteran when you see one.

48 people found this helpful

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Great story, but a bit too poetic

What did you love best about Helmet for My Pillow?

It's a great story and the narration was super, the only complaint would be that Leckie is a bit too flowery with his language, but that isn't a reason not to listen. Leckie really gets you to feel how horrible war is in a way that makes you ashamed if you've never been there and somehow thought it would be cool or glorious.

27 people found this helpful

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  • R.
  • 04-17-15

Semper Fidelis Marine!!

Its funny how I went too boot camp (Hollywood), in the early 90's and Iraq from '04 to '07.... I laughed as I related to his days in boot camp, felt the terror of incoming all around me and the misery of my unit replacing a unit on the line already (RIP or relief in place)!! As with "The Old Breed" I was able to have a more profound understanding what they felt, and what they went through, being a Combat Vet myself now! Though he candy coated the real language of Marines... A must read/listen too for those who truly want too know what its like.....
"Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends" John 15:13

26 people found this helpful

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Profane and Profound

There's an assumption in the military that the best and the brightest are officers. The enlisted, particularly those in all volunteer services, are thought to be uneducated louts without skills, options, or hope. That assumption is wrong. In fact, as Robert "Lucky" Leckie describes in
"Helmet for my Pillow: From Parris Island to the Pacific: a Young Marine's Stirring Account of Combat in World War II" (1957) intelligence and leadership can sometimes be mutually exclusive.

For at least part of World War II, an American man could be drafted into any other service, but he chose to be a Marine and the Marines chose him. Writer Leckie volunteered shortly after Pearl Harbor, and served in Company H, 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division.

"Helmet for my Pillow" is Leckie's story, and the stories of men who fought and died in the battles of Guadalcanal, Cape Gloucester, and Peleliu. This isn't a book about tactics and goals. The only 'Big Picture' in this book is a nickname for one of Leckie's Lieutenants. He's also got officers called 'High Hips', 'Commando', 'Ivy League' and 'Dreadnought'. Leckie's pseudonyms are spot on accurate, and the only officers he respected earned their commissions on the battlefield.

Leckie was great at fighting, but - cursed with an explosive temper - garrison life didn't suit him. He got busted several times and was what he proudly called a "Brig Rat". He would have been in a lot more trouble without the help of several Australians whose convict origins must have given them an innate hatred of MPs.

"Helmet for my Pillow" isn't a nostalgic look back at what was later remembered as a hero's war in the Pacific. It's a cold, hard, eloquent and sometimes horrifying story. Leckie's writing was excellent, and I plan to read/listen to his other military histories.

The narration was good, and there's an Easter Egg: there's a brief introduction by Tom Hanks.

[If this review helped, please press YES. Thanks!]

20 people found this helpful

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every American needs to read/hear this

A well described and explained account from the hell of the Pacific. Should be taught in schools.

18 people found this helpful

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A must listen

Totally different than the old breed. Steady as you go commentary on military service. In and out of combat that makes it different than old breed. Not as much combat but still as moving and personal. Another must listen on war in the Pacific.

16 people found this helpful

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Just a well done book

The author can be a little fond of expensive words at times, but he really does write well. Powerful imagery of the horrors and stupidities of war. Just well written.

The narration, which has killed so many a good book, was first class. I'm a fan.

15 people found this helpful

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History must read

As a former Marine this was riveting to listen to. What hell they went through.

14 people found this helpful

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A gripping first-hand account of the pacific war

What does James Badge Dale and Tom Hanks (introduction) bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

Having seen the mini-series "the pacific" it was very appropriate to hear James Badge Dale as the narrator. He did a great job as well.

Any additional comments?

This book is an amazing account of the pacific war. I was worried about purchasing this at first because I know Leckie is a writer. This gave me pause because I figured there would be too many creative adjectives mucking up the story. I assumed there would be otherwise long descriptions of things that were quite elegant, but were side notes to the story. After having listened I feel like it really enhanced the story and he was not too verbose. The descriptions of things were just embellished or compared to creative normal experiences to make it colorful but not in an overly dramatic way as I had feared. I plan to purchase more of Leckie's books. I also read Sledge's 'with the old breed' and I think I liked both of these books about equally as well. Sledge's perhaps gave a better overall picture to the question 'what was it really like' as there are parts of this book were he tells what happened but can't remember all the details or glosses over some detail. Overall worth the time though. I recommend both.

14 people found this helpful

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