Helmet for My Pillow-From Parris Island - Robert Leckie by Robert Leckie

Helmet for My Pillow-From Parris Island - Robert Leckie by Robert Leckie

Author:Robert Leckie
Format: epub

1

I have heard it said that General Smedley Butler was fond of observing: “Give me a regiment of brig-rats, and I’l lick the world.” It may be that Old Gimlet Eye never said this. But it is exactly the sort of thing he might have said, or, if not he, then many another Marine commander. For it is most especial y a Marine sentiment, and when analyzed, it turns out to be not shameless or shocking, but merely this: a man who lands in the brig is apt to be a man of bold spirit and independent mind, who must occasional y rebel against the harsh and unrelenting discipline of the camp. I am not attempting to exalt what should be condemned. I am not suggesting that because of their boldness or independence the brig-rats be forgiven and escape punishment. Brigged they must be, and brigged they were. Nor am I speaking of the habitual brig-rat, the steady malingerer, the good-for- nothing who is more often in the brig than out of it and who seeks to avoid every consequence of his uniform, even fighting. I speak of the young, high- hearted soldier whose very nature is bound to bring him into conflict with military discipline and to land him—unless he is exceptional y lucky—in the brig. I speak of Chuckler and Chicken and Oakstump and a dozen others—and, of course, of myself. George Washington’s birthday was the day on which Chuckler and I smudged the purity of our record books. The division was to parade in Melbourne that day. We were to march up Swanston Street, hardly a month after our arrival in Australia, to accept the plaudits of a city and nation stil mindful of the Jap threat that had existed on Guadalcanal. But Chuckler and I did not want to march. We wanted to see the parade, and this, you wil understand, is quite impossible to the person who marches in it, rifle glued to the shoulder, eyes straight ahead and unswervingly focused on the nape of the forward fel ow’s neck. By some subterfuge we evaded this odious duty, and so it was that we were firmly entrenched outside the City Club, drinks in hand, when the First Marine Division marched in Melbourne on the afternoon of February 22, 1943. Around us rose the cheerful and delighted cal s of the Australians, as our comrades swung past.

“Good on you, Yank!” “Ah, a bonzer bunch, indeed!” “Good-o, lads!” “Hurrah for the Yankee lads!” The men wore field uniforms, combat packs and ful combat dress. Rifles were slung and bayonets fixed; each man wore or carried the weapon which was his in battle. So they were impressive; lean, hard, tanned—clean-limbed and capable-looking. I swal owed frequently, and my eyes were moist as they passed by. Even the Australians—who have inherited the British fondness for heel-clicking, arm-swinging, strutting troops—even they final y fel silent at the noiseless passage of the First Marine Division, walking in that effortless yet wary way that marks the American fighting man moving to the front.



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