Book: Helmet for My Pillow – Veteran’s Day 2019

Hell of book to finish right before Veteran’s Day. So many good quotes:

– Nor was my squad troubled by racial or religious bigotry. We had no “inner conflict,” as the phrase goes. These things happen most often in the imagination of men who never fought. Only rear echelons with plenty of fat on them can afford such rich diseases, like an epicure with his gout.

– The man who has had it roughest is the man to be most admired. Conversely, he who has had it the easiest is the least praiseworthy.

– It is an American weakness. The success becomes the sage. Scientists counsel on civil liberty; comedians and actresses lead political rallies; athletes tell us what brand of cigarette to smoke.

– A soldier’s pack is like a woman’s purse: it is filled with his personality. I have saddened to see the mementos in the packs of dead Japanese. They had strong family ties, these smooth-faced men, and their packs were full of their families.

– Smell, the sense which somehow seems a joke, is the one most susceptible to outrage. It will give you no rest. One can close one’s eyes to ugliness or shield the ears from sound; but from a powerful smell there is no recourse but flight.

– Charlie did not kill many people, but, like Macbeth, he murdered sleep.

– This was no feeling of dedication because it was absolutely involuntary. I do not doubt that if the Marines had asked for volunteers for an impossible campaign such as Guadalcanal, almost everyone now fighting would have stepped forward. But that is sacrifice; that is voluntary. Being expended robs you of the exultation, the self-abnegation, the absolute freedom of self-sacrifice. Being expended puts one in the role of victim rather than sacrificer, and there is always something begrudging in this.

– upon that change he passes over to the ranks of the Old Salts and ceases to be a Boot forever. Youth rebels and age conserves; between them, they advance. The Marines will cease to win battles the moment either camp achieves clear-cut ascendancy.

– when a map and a compass come into contact with a second lieutenant, prepare yourself for confusion.

– My eyes having adjusted to the gloom, I found myself in a room about twenty feet by fifteen, into which a murky light sneaked through a rectangle of thick glass high in one wall.

– We devoured the food. What a banquet! Here was the lowly hot dog, but it was spiced with risk, flavored with prohibition and washed down with the nectar of a watering mouth.

– Keep it up, America, keep telling your youth that mud and danger are fit only for intellectual pigs.

– Naval shells hissed shoreward in the air above us. Those of us who had been on Guadalcanal, remembering our own ordeal with naval bombardment, could spare a pang of pity for the foe—

– I turned to go, and as I did, nearly stepped on someone’s hand. “Excuse me,” I began to say, but then I saw that it was an unattached hand, or rather a detached one. It lay there alone— open, palm upwards, clean, capable, solitary. I could not tear my eyes from it. The hand is the artisan of the soul. It is the second member of the human trinity of head and hand and heart. A man has no faculty more human than his hand, none more beautiful nor expressive nor productive. To see this hand lying alone, as though contemptuously cast aside, no longer a part of a man, no longer his help, was to see war in all its wantonness; it was to see the especially brutal savagery of our own technique of rending, and it was to see men at their eternal worst, turning upon one another, tearing one another, clawing at their own innards with the maniacal fury of the pride- possessed. The hand saddened me and I offered it a respectful inclination of the head while recovering my balance and making a careful circle around it.

– Racehorse drew his pistol and laid it against the driver’s head and said, “Get youah ass moving,” and the driver quickly shifted gears and drove frontward with a roar. Racehorse had won a Navy Cross for his bravery on Guadalcanal. He won another on Peleliu, but it was awarded posthumously. He perished attacking a pillbox, may he rest in peace.

– Rutherford had said, “See you in the old home town.” But now I would go home alone. May he rest in peace.

– Heroes turn traitor, warriors age and grow soft— but a victim is changeless, sacrifice is eternal.

– now pray in the name of Chuckler and Hoosier and Runner, in the name of Smoothface, Gentleman, Amish and Oakstump, Ivy- League and Big- Picture, in the name of all those who suffered in the jungles and on the beaches, from Anzio to Normandy— and in the name of the immolated: of Texan, Rutherford, Chicken, Loudmouth, of the Artist and White- Man, Souvenirs and Racehorse, Dreadnought and Commando— of all these and the others, dear Father, forgive us for that awful cloud.

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