ECU retired geographer pens book
(Dec. 13, 2002)
"In the Islands: A Life Story," by former ECU geography professor Edward Leahy, and published in 2002 by Hats Off Books, is a page-turner for anyone in search of action and adventure. Leahy's opening chapter about growing up in Port Washington on the north shore of Long Island quickly segues into his enlistment in the Marine Corps in 1942.
He begins training at Paris Island, S.C. and then moves to Camp Lejeune. From there on, "In the Islands" takes off to the South Pacific on a series of combat missions described in such detail that readers might imagine hearing the sounds of bullets flying and bombs exploding.
His life as a Marine takes him to the bloody beaches of Saipan, Tinian and finally to Iwo Jima. At the latter battle, he described himself as landing on the beach "festooned like a Christmas tree" with satchels of C-2 explosives hanging from his neck.
"The landing craft hit the beach with a jarring lurch, and I sprawled forward onto my face in a tangle of equipment," he wrote.
"Then several things happened at once. First we were bracketed by artillery shells, one falling close on the right and another close on the left. The ramp went down with a crash and the beach gaped before us. As I struggled to rise, a burst of machine-gun bullets swept into the boat and killed the coxswain who was standing behind me."
It comes at no surprise that when the war ends, Leahy's adrenaline was still at a level too high for him to fit into a cozy suburban lifestyle. He found time for college studies, a serious love affair and worked for a while as a corporate trainee. He quit his job and signed on a Danish freighter as a cabin boy.
For the next 10 years, he spent his time drifting in Europe, America and the Caribbean. At times, he traveled in "fast company." He met Ann Todd, a British actress, and they became close friends.
His relationship with Todd led to a brief stint in the movies. While visiting with Todd at her home in London, the actress received a phone call from film actor and friend Gregory Peck. Todd and Peck had appeared in a movie together. Peck told her that he and director John Houston were filming Moby Dick in Fishguard on the coast of Wales.
Leahy went to Fishguard and used Todd's name as a reference to meet with Peck. The actor introduced Leahy to John Houston. With Peck's and Houston's help, and some finagling to get the approval of the British unions, Leahy landed the role of Yankee Sailor #5 and can be recognized in the film aboard one of the Pequod's whaling boats.
During the period he calls his "wild man" years, he traveled at the top and at the bottom of life. He sold trinkets in the streets of London, and did time on skid row in Los Angeles. He hitchhiked back and forth across America half a dozen times and was hungry in Madrid, and Paris, and Denver. He said he wrote a lot of stuff that nobody ever wanted to buy.
Leahy's story also includes the more settled time of his life while teaching at ECU when he also found time for exploration of mountain ridges in Latin America at locations in Chile, Mexico, Columbia, the Amazon and the Gran Sabana. In 1985, he joined the Juneau Icefield Research Program that took him to mountainous terrain in Alaska and Canada that had become research site to study glaciers and environmental changes.
In these middle age years he said he finally learned how to make the compromises that are essential to living within organized society. He said he also managed to find peace within himself.
Leahy is a Professor Emeritus in the ECU Department of Geography and Planning. He is co-author of Venezuela: Search for a Middle Ground, published