That being said, much of the above has been somewhat lightened of late, and it is time to get back, perhaps not in a full swing, but getting back just the same. So here we are again. I've missed bringing you these blogs, and the feedback coming my way tells me many of you have missed the stories as well. So I hope today's meets with your approval. It's a long one!
The story has been well told in the United States. But not so here in Canada. It involves the senior military service, both here and south of the border. It's the navy of course. Well sort of! Actually the Marines in this case. About 500 of them. And the United States Coast Guard. Only a handful of them, but what a handful... and what a leader!
Signalman First Class Douglas Munro was that leader, and today his name is revered by everyone wearing a US Marine or US Coast Guard uniform, and most of those going before them, dating back to September 27 1942. In fact so revered, that the boot camps for both organizations for decades have made the Munro heroism part of the history that is required learning for every recruit.
Many stories have appeared in this space about Douglas, who was born in Vancouver BC. (Please use the search engine on this site to read some of these.)
The story began back during the 2nd battle of Matanikau, which was part of the Guadalcanal campaign of September 1942. It would be here that a Marine Lt. Colonel decided to move three companies of men along the coast line to a position where they could advance and push back the Japanese line... so he thought.
He turned to the US Coast Guard on site to help land some 500 marines. The CG called for volunteers and Douglas Munro stepped forward as did a handful of others and soon over a dozen small craft landed the men at the beach head. But within a few hours the men were taking heavy mortar and machine gun fire. The call then went out for a Coast Guard rescue. Munro and team raced back. But this time they were under incredible heavy fire.
Worse yet, the Guard weapons were of little match to the enemy's. And the boats like Munro's were of wooden hull. His had two air cooled machine guns but again little to counter the enemy strength and weaponry.
In very short order about 25 wounded and another 475 Marines were extracted. But the last boat had run up on the beach and could not extract itself. Munro then went in with another small craft to help the beached craft.
But as this was going on the enemy set up a MG pit in very close range with the last craft as their target. Munro then shielded his mates from the enemy by placing his own boat between the two. In doing so his craft took many hits and wounds and he received a direct hit to the scull which knocked him unconscious. When it finally returned to safe lines, he awoke just long enough to ask if all the marines got off alive. He was told they did, he then smiled... and died on the spot. It was just 2 weeks before his 23rd birthday.
One of the 500 saved was the Lt Colonel above mention. His name was "Chesty Puller" and in the years to come, would reach the rank of Lt. General and become the US Marine Corps' most decorated soldier. Had it not been for Douglas and a handful of others in the United States Coast Guard, the general may have never made it to full Colonel, or even stepped off the Solomon Island again.
Many times before, and after Douglas's bravery, the Coast Guard had..and to this day continues to save lives. Recent stats tell us that in an average year they conduct almost 20,000 search and rescue missions, and in those over 3,500 lives are being saved.
Douglas Munro's Medal of Honor was the first, and to this day, the only Medal of Honor awarded to a serving US Coast Guard member. (I say serving because, as recently noted in this space, "Snake" Hosking Jr. was a former Guardsmen, but later earned the MOH while serving in the army.)
Quite an honour indeed for both men... and about 2,000 other Guardsmen who have been awarded heroic decorations of varying grades over the Guard's 225 year history. Massive when you think they are the smallest of the country's military services. Yet the oldest!
Note also that during WWll the Coast Guard manned over 350 ships and hundreds more assault craft used for landings and rescues. During these operations they suffered more casualties, percentage wise, than any other branch of the military.
The Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands marine rescue took place West of the Point Cruz tip seen at the top center of the sketch above. The stranded Higgins landing craft would have been to the left of this high point, (as you look at the image.)
That very day Edith was so proud of the US Coast Guard and the way they had respected the sacrifice the family had made, that she enrolled in the Coast Guard women's reserve with a commission as a Lieutenant, Jnr. Grade. Shown above in uniform, she would served in various arenas across the US over the next few years and then retired from the service, which itself was de-activated just 2 years after close of the war.
Between 4 June 1989 and 4 August 1990 the Guard celebrated its bicentennial. To help with this they commissioned the official painting seen above by artist Bernard D'Andrea. And it of course depicts the bravery of the Coast Guard, and Douglas's crew at Guadalcanal.
This powerful navy destroyer escort was launched back in 1944. It was just over 300 ft. long and had an officer crew of 14 and 201 enlisted men. She would begin her career as an Admiral's flag ship, would provide over 16 years of most honorable service and even be awarded three Battle Stars for meritorious participation at battle.
The navy kept Douglas Munro's story alive by naming the vessel... the USS Douglas A Munro, and when launched, it would be christened by its sponsor... none other than US CG Lt, Jnr Grade Edith Munro.
A few years after it was de-comishioned, and attached to Mare Island California, it was taken to sea for one last duty... to act as a target for the navy. (Regular readers will hopefully recall past blogs about Mare Island and the possibly burial site for Newfoundland born John Neil, a Civil War navy MOH recipient. Use this site's search engine for a re-read).
I had hoped to get many parts of this story in this blog but it is already far too long. I will return on Sunday with more.
Once again my apologies to all for being away so long.
Cheers till Sunday,