A Helmet for my Pillow

Robert Leckie

A helmet for my pillow,
A poncho for my bed,
My rifle rests across my chest—
The stars swing overhead.

The whisper of the kunai,
The murmur of the sea,
The sighing palm and night so calm
Betray no enemy.

Hear!, river bank so silent
You men who sleep around
That foreign scream across the stream—
Up! Fire at the sound!

Sweeping over the sandspit
That blocks the Tenaru
With Banzai-boast a mushroomed host
Vows to destroy our few.

Into your holes and gunpits!
Kill them with rifles and knives!
Feed them with lead until they are dead
And widowed are their wives.

Sons of the mothers who gave you
Honor and gift of birth,
Strike with the knife till blood and life
Run out upon the earth.

Marines, keep faith with your glory
Keep to your trembling hole.
Intruder feel of Nippon steel
Can t penetrate your soul.

Closing, they charge all howling
Their breasts all targets large.
The gun must shake, the bullets make
A slaughter of their charge.

Red are the flashing tracers,
Yellow the bursting shells.
Hoarse is the cry of men who die
Shrill are the wounded’s yells.

God, how the night reels stricken!
She shrieks with orange spark.
The mortar's lash and cannon’s crash
Have crucified the dark.

Falling, the faltering foemen
Beneath our guns lie heaped.
By greenish glare of rocket's flare
We see the harvest reaped.

Now has the first fierce onslaught
Been broken and hurled back.
Hammered and hit, from hole and pit—
We rise up to attack!

Day bursts pale from a gun tube,
The gibbering night has fled.
By light of dawn the foe has drawn
A line behind his dead.

Our tanks clank in behind him,
Our riflemen move out.
Their hearts have met our bayonet—
It's ended with a shout.

“Cease fire!”—the words go ringing,
Over the heaps of the slain.
The battle's won, the Rising Sun
Lies riddled on the plain.

St. Michael, angel of battle,
We praise you to God on high.
The foe you gave was strong and brave
And unafraid to die.

Speak to The Lord for our comrades,
Killed when the battle seemed lost.
They went to meet a bright defeat—
The hero’s holocaust.

False is the vaunt of the victor,
Empty our living pride.
For those who fell there is no hell—
Not for the brave who died.

The battle of the Tenaru River, also known as the battle of Alligator Creek or the battle of Ilu River, was fought on 21 August 1942. Robert Leckie was part of the US Marines who fought off repeated Japanese attacks.