Essay on War II: Across the Globe
In the early 1940’s, a war broke out. This war soon entrapped several world powers and would go on to be known as World War II. Many of the brave men and women who lived through this war, no longer live to tell their stories; however, two men took it upon themselves to publish their own accounts in order to allow future generations the opportunity to hear their story and how history was made. Through John Steinbeck’s Once There was a War and Robert Leckie’s Helmet for My Pillow, readers are able to see the differences between the hardships and experiences soldiers faced in both the Pacific and European Theaters.
On December 7, 1941, Japan struck a huge blow to the United States with their attack on Pearl Harbor. The United States declared war on Japan and General MacArthur was to lead the American Military into battle. Robert Leckie, the author of Helmet for My Pillow, decided to serve his country and enlist into the military. Leckie chose the Marines as his branch for enlistment. (Leckie 7) Upon enlisting Leckie was shipped to the first island of his journey: Paris Island. (Leckie 9).
Paris Island served as the training grounds for boot camp. Leckie took on the struggles of adjusting to the military lifestyle, however, he was an awful shot with a rifle. (Leckie 21) Therefore, Leckie was placed in the 5th Regiment of the 1st Marine Division, a machine gun company. Immediately after training he boarded yet another ship and was floated to the New River. Here he formed new friendships with men by the names of Hoosier, Runner, and Chuckler. Leckie was officially a gunner’s assistant and was shipped off to the West Coast to invade Guadalcanal. This invasion was a part of General MacArthur’s “island hopping” campaign.
They were not faced with any resistance and moved inland. While moving inland Leckie faced anxiety attacks, the hot heat of the tropical environment, and a growing thirst as rations of water were slim. In the battle of Tenanu, Leckie performed gallantly but did not receive credit for holding the line. Chuckler was honored instead and this created tension between Leckie and his Lieutenant, Ivy League. After Guadalcanal, Leckie arrives in Australia to rest and continue training before being shipped off the Gloucester. In Gloucester, the soldiers met a fierce resistance from the Japanese. Because of the heavy rain, bombardment of artillery, disease, and the death of one of his close friends Amish, Leckie begins to feel the toll of war affecting his mental and physical state. Leckie became a nervous wreck and began to wet the bed due to violent and harsh nightmares. Because of his diminishing health, Leckie is shipped off yet again to receive treatment. (Leckie 214) After forgoing treatment, he returns to the war but is injured on the beaches of Peleliu. Leckie returns to the U.S. and stays there for the remainder of the war.
On the opposite side of the globe, a war correspondent by the name of John Steinbeck was preparing for war in the European theater. He tagged along and documented interesting events as they unfolded and published them in the newspapers. As the reader delves into the collection of articles, often referred to as short stories, they are able to have a grasp of what it would have been like to board a troopship and sail to England, live in Tunisia and at a bomber squadron in England, or even go on a mission to Italy. Steinbeck claims the media was extremely censored during the war in order to help protect the lives of soldiers. If mission details were published in the news then soldiers lives would be in danger. (Steinbeck 7) Every correspondent tried to follow the rules the best they could in order to ensure the safety of the soldiers and to prevent the loss of the war being their responsibility. Many years after the war Steinbeck decided to publish his articles in the form of a collection of short stories titled: Once There Was a War.
An interesting account captured by Steinbeck was that of Big Train Mulligan. Mulligan was a driver for the U.S. Army, and he was very intelligent, driven, and satisfied with his role. A fascinating detail about Mulligan is that he loved his job so much he did not want to be promoted. In order to escape promotion, he would precisely mess up just enough to where he would not be promoted but be allowed to keep his job as a driver. His responsibility was to transport military officials to and from meetings and destinations. Mulligan was a lady’s man, and while the officers were meeting or resting, he would always find a way to meet a nice woman. Mulligan kept an address book with all of the women he had met and would find a nice place to stay, a nice bed to sleep in, and wake up to a nice home cooked meal. In return for their hospitality he would give them a pack of cigarettes or chocolate from the officer’s luggage. (Steinbeck 89-91)
This account documented by Steinbeck is a prime example of how the European Theater differed from the Pacific Theater. Leckie faced a serious amount of hardship while being shipped around the Pacific Ocean; however, Steinbeck arrived late to the war and was traveling by land across Europe, where it was much easier to get supplies. Leckie was also a Gunner’s Assistant and Steinbeck was a correspondent. The two men’s jobs required very different skills; therefore, the challenges and hardships they faced came in two different forms and Robert Leckie got the short end of the stick. Both, Robert Leckie and John Steinbeck were brave men who served their country in the best way they could.