Now working as an intelligence scout for the 1st Marine Division, Leckie accompanies his fellow troops in the invasion of Cape Gloucester, New Britain (located in the South Pacific, despite its name) the day after Christmas. They again encounter Japanese resistance. In describing the outnumbered enemy’s relentless attacks one private calls them “incredibly brave or incredibly stupid,” to which Leckie replies, “Or they just really fucking hate us.”
Either way Leckie, like all of them, is beat down to the nub. Months of torrential rains and intense battles lead to psychological meltdowns, even suicides. (The other two primary characters in the series are non-existent in this episode, except a brief appearance by Mazello while he’s doing basic training in California.) Leckie begins to suffer from enuresis, a nice word for “bedwetting”. The condition worsens when they leave and move to Pavuvu where the rats and crabs are worse than the Japanese, so they send him to an island hospital where the staff psychiatrist makes quick-fix diagnoses and describes most cases as guys just being “exhausted and worn out”.
After his rest, Leckie is “cured” and convinces the doctor to let him return to his unit while leaving the other psychotics behind, including a fellow Marine who believes he is sending Leckie good wishes by hoping that a sniper gets him. All things considered, everything is relative when it comes to cures. The psychological impact of war has largely been ignored as a serious illness until recent years; Vietnam vets, especially, were left to figure it out on their own. It’s good to see The Pacific take the time to look at what Col. Kurtz called “the horror” in Apocalypse Now.
I’m liking Leckie the way I liked Capt. Nixon (Ron Livingston) in Band of Brothers. There’s such unvarnished truth to the guy, though he’s far from being a saint and has a serious problem with authority. I have to keep remembering that most of these marines were under 21. The war, though, quickly ages them. It is clear that the filmmakers took great pains to cast faces, not just actors. The vacant stares, the on-the-brink-of-madness smiles. Leckie, with each successive hardship, moves to another level of hardness. And you wonder how he’ll ever survive the rest of the war.