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Bloody Tarawa: One Square Mile of Hell

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

There are some things that should not be forgotten, unfortunately many of them are lost to history. One of these events was the American assault against the Japanese fortress on Tarawa Atoll in November 1943. The battle was one of the bloodiest encounters of the Second World War and was waged for the control of a tiny coral atoll that only occupied one square mile of the earth’s s surface. Dug in on that atoll were about 4,000 Japanese defenders.

I hope that this small attempt to detail that battle helps you understand the sacrifice of the men who fought there.

Peace

Padre Steve+

The Decision: Operation Galvanic

USMC-M-Tarawa-3The Target: Betio Island at Tarawa Atoll

Following Guadalcanal and the shift of significant naval forces from the Solomons the focus of the US shifted to the thrust across the Central Pacific.  Unlike the Solomons which were initially a Navy and Marine Corps Operation and shifted to the Army under MacArthur as the campaign shifted to Borneo, the operations here would be an almost total Navy and Marine Corps operation. Operation Galvanic, the first offensive operation in the Central Pacific, came about as a result of the Joint U.S. Strategic Committee decision in April 1943 to favor an advance in the Central Pacific while maintaining the offensive in the South Pacific.[i] The driving force behind this strategy was Admiral King who fought for the plan and “insisted that any campaign should focus on the destruction of Japan’s overseas resources, which meant an offensive directed only toward the Western Pacific sea lanes.”[ii] The Joint Chiefs believed that a simultaneous attack by Nimitz in the Central Pacific and MacArthur in the South Pacific would “keep the Japanese guessing.”[iii] The decision was presented to the British at the TRIDENT meetings in May 1943 and though the British resisted the American plans a compromise was reached allowing the Americans to “simultaneously…maintain and extend unremitting pressure against Japan….”[iv]

japanese emplacing gunJapanese Emplacing 8″ Vickers Gun

The decision to begin operations in the Central Pacific meant that MacArthur’s priority in logistics and personnel would be reduced in order to launch the Central Pacific operation.  MacArthur protested, to no avail and the Joint Chief’s stood firm in their decision that the Central Pacific operation “would make it easier to isolate Japan from her domain in the south.”[v] MacArthur was allowed to continue OPERATION CARTWHEEL while Nimitz seized the Marshall and Caroline islands.[vi] Nimitz’s staff began preparations and decided on a conservative course to capture the Gilberts first before taking the more heavily defended Marshalls.[vii] This was in part due to the “need to minimize the risks to his untried amphibious forces against such heavily fortified enemy bases out of reach of air cover.”[viii]

japanese conducting firing exerciseJapanese conducting Live Fire Range prior to the Assault

Several factors were considered by Nimitz and his planners considerations in this choice.  Nimitz did not have enough troops to capture all of the vital heavily defended locations in the Marshalls without dividing his forces.[ix] Additionally the Gilbert operation could be supported by land based bombers.[x] A final consideration was the Joint Chief’s decision to allow MacArthur to retain control of 1st Marine Division which Nimitz had hoped would be available for operations in the Central Pacific.[xi] CINCPAC did a thorough photo reconnaissance of the Gilbert’s convinced the Joint Chiefs that Tarawa and Makin needed to be taken to provide air bases for the assault on the Marshalls.  Finally the order for Galvanic was issued on 20 July 1943 with its execution planned for November 1943.[xii]

Japanese Preparations

shibasakiAdmiral Shibasaki boasted that it would take a million men a thousand years to take Betio

The Japanese did little to prepare against potential American offensive operations against the Gilbert’s until Makin Island was raided by elements of 2ndRaider Battalion in August 1942.  The Makin raid shook the Japanese and at which time they reinforced Makin and occupied Betio.[xiii] The Japanese occupied Betio with the Yokosuka 6th Special Landing Force, essentially Naval Infantry or Marines[xiv] and the 111th Construction Battalion on 15 September 1942, over nine months after they attacked Pearl Harbor.[xv] These forces were commanded by Admiral Tomanari, who at once began to fortify Betio. Recognizing his need for more troops  Tomanari asked Tokyo for reinforcements.  The reinforcements came in the form of Commander Sugai’s 7thSasebo Special Naval Landing Force, which landed on 14 March.[xvi]Commander Sugai’s troops were the Rikusentai, the best of the Japanese Navy’s land forces.

USMC-M-Tarawa-p6Japanese Conducting Gunnery Exercises

The fortification of Betio proceeded slowly until the arrival of Rear Admiral Shibasaki, who relieved Tomanari who returned to Japan.[xvii] Shibasaki, a tough veteran of service at sea and ashore including 19 months as a Rikusentai[xviii] officer in China was chosen by Admiral Koga to instill a better fighting spirit on the island.  The Imperial General Headquarters “New Operations Plan” ordered the outer defensive islands, such as Tarawa, to “hold up any American advance while an inner line of fortresses was constructed….”[xix] Shibasaki drove the garrison hard, inspiring them to “extraordinary heights of labor that resulted in Betio’s superb defenses.”[xx]Betio mounted four 8” Naval guns[xxi], four 14 cm guns, four dual mount 5.5” dual purpose guns[xxii] six 80 mm anti-boat guns, eight 75 mm dual purpose guns, ten 75 mm mountain guns, six 70 mm guns and nine 37 mm anti-tank guns, numerous machine guns and light AA guns and 14 light tanks.[xxiii] These weapons were mounted in well camouflaged armored or reinforced pillboxes.[xxiv] In accordance with the directives of the high command Shibasaki ordered his troops “to defend to the last man all vital areas and destroy the enemy at the waters’ edge.”[xxv] The Japanese records note that Shibasaki “immediately began to strengthen morale and carried out advanced training, and as a result…the garrison remarkably enhanced its fighting capability and they were full of confidence.”[xxvi] Even the service troops were thoroughly trained to fight from their superb defensive positions.[xxvii] Shibasaki reportedly told his men that it would take a million men a thousand years to take Betio.

American Preparations

lvtLVT Amphibious Tractor

Nimitz organized his forces into three major commands, the 5th Fleet, commanded by Admiral Raymond Spruance, the 5th Amphibious Force under Admiral Richmond “Kelly” Turner and the V Amphibious Corps under Major General Holland “Howlin’ Mad” Smith, USMC.[xxviii] The 2nd Marine Division which would make the assault at Tarawa was commanded by Major General Julian Smith. The force that sustained in this operation and subsequent amphibious operations was the Service Force Pacific Fleet.[xxix] This was a collection of ships whose mission it was to sustain the fleet in mobile operations,[xxx] which greatly “increased the range and power of the Navy in amphibious operations.”[xxxi] The planned assault called for the Army’s 27th Division take Makin and the veteran 2nd Marine Division which had been blooded at Guadalcanal to take Tarawa supported by the carriers and battleships of 5thFleet.

This was the first application of new amphibious tactics developed for the Pacific war.[xxxii] Air and sea bombardment would precede the actual assault. The Marines would be transported ashore in a new vehicle called an LVT (Landing Vehicle Tracked) and other amphibious ships and craft including the LSD (Landing Ship Dock), LCM (Landing Craft Mechanized) and LCVP (Landing Craft Vehicle Personnel).  The LVTs were absolutely vital, nicknamed “Amtracks” or “Amphtracks” they were essentially a tracked amphibious personnel carrier. They were developed from a commercial vehicle used by U.S. Forrest Service Rangers in the Florida Everglades and were capable of crossing coral reefs that would cause other craft to go aground.  The early LVTs had retrofitted armor and mounted a .50 cal. machine gun.  At Tarawa the Marines deployed 75 LVT-1s[xxxiii] and 50 LVT-2s. 93 LVTs would be part of the first wave of the Marine assault.[xxxiv] The LVTs were transported to Tarawa aboard LSTs (Landing Ship Tanks.)  Other innovations included the assignment of Naval Gunfire Support teams to the Marine Regiments and some battalions,[xxxv] and the first use of the M4 Sherman tank by the Marines.[xxxvi] Tarawa was a proving ground for the tactics and equipment which would be improved on and used in every subsequent amphibious operation in the Pacific.  Tarawa would also mark the last major use of rubber landing craft by the Marine Corps in an opposed landing.[xxxvii]

There were limitations to American preparations. First the size of the force meant that it could not be assembled in one place for rehearsals or to train as a team.[xxxviii] A second problem for the Americans was the assumption that high and low tides would be sufficient to get their landing craft across the reef in spite of warnings to the contrary.[xxxix] Likewise the Americans failed to completely anticipate the scope to which the Japanese had fortified the island. This was despite good intelligence that they had done so. In particular aerial photos taken by the air force and ULTRA intercepts provided good information on the Japanese units on the island and the layout of the defenses.[xl] Additionally some equipment shortages were not remedied. The Marine Bazooka’s did not arrive, and neither the 6th or 8th Marines had made an actual amphibious assault.  At Guadalcanal they made an administrative landing and few field-grade officers remained from the 2nd Marine Regiment who had landed at Tulagi.[xli] They were far from “amphibious experts” that they would become.[xlii] However, they made up for their lack of experience by their cohesiveness, high morale and esprit, being well armed and equipped, in top physical condition and knowing the basic tools of their trade: “weapons proficiency and field firing, close combat techniques, fire and maneuver, tactical leadership, fire discipline.”[xliii]

tarawa 8 inch gun8 Inch Gun Emplacement

The most critical aspect of the operation was to get across the reef onto the island.  There were few good landing sites and it was decided to make the landings from inside the atoll’s lagoon onto the Betio’s north shore.  This decision meant that transports embarking the Marines would unload outside of the lagoon and that the landing craft would have to make a 10 mile trip.[xliv]There was only one entrance into the lagoon and it was not deep enough for heavy ships to enter.[xlv]This meant that heavy ships such as battleships and cruisers would not be able to have direct fire on the Japanese positions best situated to disrupt the Marines.

The execution of the plan involved land based bomber strikes beginning on D minus 7. Carrier aircraft would begin their operations on D minus 2.  Cruisers and destroyers joined the cacophony of destruction on D minus 1 and the battleships on D Day itself.[xlvi] On D-Day itself Navy planned to bombard the island with 3,000 tons of shells in 2 ½ hours.[xlvii] The Navy was confident in the bombardment plans. Rear Admiral Kingman commanding the fire support group declared “We will not neutralize; we will not destroy; we will obliterate the defenses on Betio!”[xlviii] Four battalions of Marines would land in the first wave, the three battalions of the 2nd Marines and 2nd Battalion 8th Marines all commanded by Colonel David Shoup. Colonel Shoup who would win the Medal of Honor on Betio and later became the Commandant of the Marine Corps assumed command of 2nd Marines when its Regimental commander fell ill on the journey to Efate.[xlix] The division reserve was the remaining 8th Marine Regiment battalions. The 6th Marine Regiment served as the corps reserve.[l]The assault units would be reinforced by tanks and the 1st and 2nd Battalions 18thMarine Regiment, the division’s combat engineers.

Invasion: Day One

landing craft going to beachGoing Ashore

The naval gunfire bombardment commenced at 0542 on 20 November, and the assault waves began their trek to the beaches.  The transports were out of range of Japanese guns but ththat ensured boats would have to make a 10 mile trip.[li]At this point things began to go wrong.

lcm sinking at tarawaNavy LCT Sinking after Being Hit By Japanese Fire

The Navy had “badly miscalculated the amount of softening-up that could be done in two and a half daylight hours bombardment.” Although major coast defense guns were silenced not enough damage was done to the Japanese defenses.[lii] The Japanese helped the Marines by firing their larger guns at warships, identifying their positions to Navy gunners.[liii] The bombardment lifted to allow an attack by carrier based aircraft. However the aircraft were late to arrive and the ships did not resume fire, allowing the Japanese to emerge and re-train their weapons.[liv] Likewise the destroyers Ringgold and Dashiell inside the lagoon had to cease fire, knowing the Japanese gunners along the shore were still active.[lv] Some believe that an extra half hour of direct fire from the destroyers would have saved many lives.[lvi] The LVTs in the first three waves were delayed by heavy chop and did not make landfall until 0913 throwing off the landing schedule.[lvii] The expect and planned for rise in tides did not materialize and they remained unpredictably low for the first 48 hours. No landing boats could cross the reef and the Marines were forced to wade ashore from 600 to 1000 yards.[lviii]

marines wade ashore at tarawaMarines Wading Ashore

Shoup’s Marines landed on three beaches.  Red one and two lay to the west of a 500 yard long pier and Red three lay to the east.  3/2 landed on Red-1, 2/2 on Red-2, 2/8 on Red-3, elements of 1/18 and the scout snipers on the pier, with 1/2 in reserve to land behind the battalion making the best progress.[lix] As soon as the Amtracks hit the reef the Japanese began firing.  Every “working weapon along the north and west shorelines….blazed forth in fierce, interlocking fields of fire.”[lx] As they watched the Amtracks craw over the reef that Japanese knew they were in for a tough fight, one of Warrant Officer Ota’s men exclaimed “Heavens! The God of Death has come!”[lxi] The Marines of 3/2 on Red-1 received enfilade fire from Japanese guns emplaced in a U around the beach.  Before the Marines landed they began to take causalities, Amtracks were hit in the lagoon and most that were not sunk or destroyed were unfit for further use.[lxii] The 2000 Marines who landed in the first hour were badly disorganized, the commanding officer’s of 2/2 and the Amtracks were killed, 3/2’s commander was isolated on the reef and only 2/8’s commander was with his troops. 2/8 was the only battalion being to reach the shore relatively intact.[lxiii] 3/2 was down to 65% of its strength and K/3/2 had taken over 50% casualties.[lxiv] The Marines in the fourth to sixth waves were struggling to wade ashore from the reef. Landing craft “ran aground or milled about helplessly outside the reef, which was swept by crossfire from behind the beaches and from a grounded hulk northwest of the pier.”[lxv] Most of the tanks were put out of action either through accurate fire by Japanese guns or by sinking in deep areas of the lagoon, the Tank battalion commander was blown out of his Amtrack, wounded and survived 24 hours by clinging to a pile of dead bodies to keep from drowning.[lxvi]

Col_Shoup_on_TarawaColonel Shoup Directing Operations on Tarawa

Shoup himself landed at Red-2 and began directing operations on the beach.  He knew that he had to get more troops ashore to exploit the minimal gains his Marines had made.  The news from Red-1 and Two was bad; he decided to bring 1/2 in at Red-2 thought that 3/8 should go in at Red-3.[lxvii] At 1018 General Julian Smith ordered the 8th Marines to dispatch 3/8 to Red-3.[lxviii] 3/8 had to make their way across 700 yards through the water to get to the beach.  It was a slaughter, only 30 percent of the first wave got ashore, in the second less and the third “were practically wiped out.”[lxix]

taraw close combatClose Combat on Betio

As his Marines struggled ashore those who had gotten ashore engaged the Japanese at point blank range.  Lt. Hawkins of the 2nd Marine Scout and Sniper platoon and 5 of his men engaged the Japanese on the pier in vicious hand to hand fighting,[lxx] Sergeant Bordelon of the Engineers on Red-2 though grievously wounded knocked out four gun positions, some by lobbing dynamite charges into them and galvanizing survivors into action, finally being killed while taking on a Japanese position alone.  He would be awarded the Medal of Honor.[lxxi]

HD-SN-99-02572Wounded Marines Being Evacuated by Rubber Raft

By afternoon Julian Smith realized that he needed more troops, his last battalion, 1/8 waited to go ashore.[lxxii] Smith asked for the 6th Marines and had Admiral Hill send a message to Admiral Turner stating “Issue in doubt. I concur.” This sent a chill through the listening Naval Staff.[lxxiii] Ashore Shoup brought howitzers from 1st Battalion 10th Marines on surviving Amtracks to the eastern edge of Red-2 near the pier,[lxxiv] which landed in the early evening.[lxxv] He sent Lieutenant Colonel Carlson to make a personal report to General Smith that he would hold his beachhead no matter what happened. Shoup ordered his Catholic Chaplain to lay out a cemetery and begin burying the dead who were already decomposing in the tropical heat.[lxxvi] As this transpired 2/8 got two 37mm anti-tank guns into position to drive off Japanese tanks approaching the beachhead.[lxxvii] The Division Band assisted corpsmen in bringing back wounded Marines.[lxxviii] The rest of the day the Marines continued to eke out a beachhead; Shoup’s Marines on Red-2 and Red-3 managed to advance about halfway across the island, 3/2 and elements 1/2 and 2/2 was isolated and Major Ryan of Lima Company pulled them back to meet an expected Japanese counter-attack.[lxxix] The Marines had taken over 1500 casualties of 5000 men landed the first day.[lxxx] There is no evidence that Shoup considered withdraw that night.[lxxxi] No counterattack occurred due to Japanese command and control problems, Admiral Shibasaki and his staff were killed while shifting headquarters during the afternoon,[lxxxii] and their communications were in shambles. A counterattack would have been disastrous in their condition,[lxxxiii] yet they assembled over 1000 men to oppose the Marines on day two.[lxxxiv] Had Shibasaki lived and communications survived a counterattack might have had ramifications far beyond Tarawa.[lxxxv]

Day Two: D+1

marines advancingMarines Advancing

The second day began with 1/8 landing on Red-2 and the 6th Marines began to land on Green Beach at the far western tip of Betio.  1/8’s landing turned into a bloodbath, the tide fell even lower than the previous day and as they hit the reef and waded ashore drifted into some of the heaviest Japanese defenses. Japanese guns, including the dual 5.5” guns took direct aim at the boats, and Marines ashore watched helplessly, and correspondent Robert Sherrod noted: “This is worse, far worse than it was yesterday.”[lxxxvi] Only half of 1/8 reached the beach with none of their heavy weapons or equipment.  Shoup ordered the remnants of the battalion into line on his western flank in preparation for an advance inland.[lxxxvii] During five hours of landings on day two, the “Marine casualties reached a higher rate than that sustained on the first morning.”[lxxxviii]

Meanwhile, Shoup ordered Ryan’s “orphans” to make an attack down the right flank of the Japanese positions on Green beach and the “ultimate American victory at Betio evolved from the attack during one intense hour the second morning.”[lxxxix] Taking every available Marine, two surviving Shermans and some mortars, Ryan gathered his force and coordinated Naval Gunfire support.  The area contained a number of heavy guns including two of the 8” mounts.  A destroyer blanked the Japanese positions with 5” shells and fire from her light AA guns.[xc] Attacking behind the beach, Ryan’s Marines isolated and destroyed everyone and everything that looked hostile.[xci] Against minimal opposition Ryan’s Marines quickly seized the gun positions and the western end of the airfield.  Within an hour his Marines occupied the entire western side of Betio up to a 200 yard depth by 1200 and he radioed to let Shoup know the good news and that he intended to advance east against the airfield.[xcii] The attack allowed the Marines to be able to land intact battalions with supporting arms for the first time battle.[xciii]

To the east behind Red-2 and Red-3 The 8th Marines and survivors of 1/2 and 2/2 attacked against fierce Japanese opposition near Shibasaki’s former command bunker and two other large bunkers which were mutually supporting.  The attack by the 2nd Marine survivors eventually succeeded in getting completely across the south side of the island.[xciv] During the attack Lt. Hawkins of the Scout Snipers was mortally wounded.  He too would win the Medal of Honor.  The attack cut the island in two but the Japanese launched a counterattack on the Marine positions which was beaten back.[xcv] The 8thMarines faced a more difficult task going against what was now the heart of the Japanese defense, as its defenders had been reinforced by Lt. Minami and his third company of the 7th Special Naval Landing Force.  Vicious fighting ensued and by nightfall “the Marines had little to show for their heavy losses,[xcvi] but they did make significant inroads against the Japanese to warrant optimism for D+2.[xcvii] By evening the Marines on Red-1 and Red-2 had consolidated their beachhead so that reinforcements were landing, including jeeps, artillery and heavy equipment, and other Marines noted that Japanese defenders were beginning to commit suicide and they began to feel that Japanese morale had broken.  By late afternoon Shoup transmitted the message: “Casualties many. Percentage of dead unknown. Combat efficiency-We are winning.”[xcviii] By late afternoon Major Jones’ 1/6 landed on Green beach in their rubber boats, reinforcing Ryan’s orphans, it was the first of the 7 battalions landed to get ashore intact and the two officers coordinated their units for a night defense and an early attack the next morning.[xcix] 2/6 cleared the nearby island of Bairiki allowing 2/10 to land its howitzers on the island.  This in effect cut off any line of retreat for the defenders of Betio.[c] Colonel Edson came ashore during the evening to relieve Shoup[ci], who remained ashore to help coordinate the next day’s attack.  Again there were no coordinated Japanese counterattacks, the only senior officer, Sugai was isolated in the pocket between the Red and Green beaches and no senior officer could coordinate any attacks.[cii]

Day Three and Four: D+2 and D+3

tarawa wreckageWrecked LVY’s and Bodies on the Beach: The Marines Released Photos to Get the Public to Understand the Cost of the Battle

Day three began with attacks against Japanese strong points and the arrival of more reinforcements including 3/6 which landed on Green beach and three light tank platoons which landed on Red-2.[ciii] The Marines attacked off of Green beach sweeping east to join the 2nd Marines who had cut the island in two the day before.  The 8th Marines continued to attack the heavily fortified bunker complex eventually taking these heavily fortified and defended positions.  During the assault Lt Sandy Bonnyman of 1/18 won the Medal of Honor for leading the assault on these positions.[civ] Fighting remained fierce throughout the day and General Smith arrived to take command on shore.  The Marines attacked supported by tanks, artillery and naval gunfire.  By the evening they were established at the east end of the airfield.  The Japanese launched a series of Banzai charges which beginning about 1930 hours and ending about 0400 when the Marines annihilated the last attack with the assistance of artillery.[cv] The attack, which could have succeeded the first or early the second day, now aided the Marines by sacrificing strength that might have been used to exact a higher price for the tail of the island.[cvi] The next morning the Marines pushed forward and eliminated the last Japanese defenders and by 1200 Betio was secured.  Of about 5000 defenders only 17 Japanese and some Korean laborers were taken prisoner.[cvii] The Marines lost over 1000 killed and 2300 wounded.[cviii]

Tarawa prisonerOne of the 17 Japanese Who Survived the Battle being Interrogated by Marines, only one Chief Warrant Officer Ota was an Officer

Epilogue

The Marines paid a heavy price for Betio, but it was not to be a useless sacrifice, though it was a source of great controversy especially among politicians.[cix]Spector wonders if waiting for better tides or a full moon would have saved lives.[cx] Holland Smith later argued that Tarawa should have been bypassed, but Nimitz’s biographer Potter notes “if the lessons of the amphibious assault had not been learned at Tarawa, they would have to be learned elsewhere, probably at greater cost.”[cxi]The lessons learned alone aided all future amphibious operations in the Central Pacific and elsewhere.  Timing and coordination of naval gunfire support, air strikes and combat loading of transports were all refined in future operations. Large numbers of armored and up-gunned Amtracks would be part of every future operation.[cxii] Intelligence was emphasized and replicas of the Japanese fortifications were built and tested to determine the best way of destroying them.[cxiii] The Marines shocked the public by releasing photos and films of the carnage on Tarawa to awaken them to the challenges ahead.[cxiv]

Today the battle is remembered annually by the 2nd Marine Division at Camp LeJeune, an ever shrinking number of veterans of the battle attend the ceremonies.  Samuel Eliot Morison put it best: “All honor, then, to the fighting heart of the United States Marine. Let the battle for that small stretch of coral sand called Betio of Tarawa be remembered as terrible indeed, but glorious, and the seedbed for victory in 1945.”[cxv]

Appendix: Leaders on Tarawa

smith and smith at tarawaLieutenant General Holland Smith and Major General Julian Smith on Betio

General Holland M. “Howling Mad” Smith USMC: (1882-1967) Lieutenant General Holland M. Smith command V Amphibious Corps during the Gilberts operation.  Prior to the war he had worked extensively on amphibious warfare doctrine for both the Marine Corps and Navy. Unlike many senior officers Smith was not a Academy graduate having matriculated from the Alabama Polytechnic Institute (now Auburn University) in 1903 and law school in 1903.  Smith served as Adjutant of the 4th Marine Brigade in the First World War and served in Panama and the Dominican Republic in addition to other Marine tours afloat and ashore.  He served well and had many key assignments between the wars culminating in as the Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps.  Subsequent to the Gilbert campaign he served as Commanding General of the Fleet Marine Force, Pacific and later commanded the Marines at Iwo Jima.  He retired in 1946.

Major General Julian Smith USMC: (1885-1975) Major General Julian Smith served as Commanding General 2nd Marine Division at Tarawa.  He graduated from the University of Delaware and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in 1909.  He served in Haiti, Santo Domingo and the Vera Cruz expedition. During the First World War he served as an instructor in the Marine Officer training camps at Quantico. After the war he served in Cuba, Nicaragua and various command and staff posts including the Army Command and General Staff College.  He commanded 5th Marines in 1938 and in 1942 was promoted the Major General serving as director of Fleet Marine Force Schools, New River, NC.  He took command of 2nd Marine Division in May 1943 and served there until April 1944 when he became Commanding General, Expeditionary Troops, Third Fleet and in December 1944 took command of the Military Department of the Pacific.  He retired in 1946.

shoupColonel Shoup After the Battle

Colonel David Shoup USMC: (1904-1983) Colonel David Shoup commanded the 2nd Marines at Tarawa, being appointed as commander when its commander fell ill.  Shoup won the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions on Tarawa.  A 1926 graduate of DePauw University, Shoup was commissioned a Second Lieutenant through the ROTC program that year.  He served in various assignments to include service in China, at sea on the battleship Maryland and Marine Barracks Puget Sound Navy Yard. He joined the staff of 6th Marines in October 1940 and assumed command of 2/6 in February 1942.  He was assigned as the Assistant Operations Officer for 2nd Marine Division in July 1942 and promoted the Lieutenant Colonel.   He went with the Division to New Zealand where he became the G-3 and from which he was fleeted up to command 2ndMarines at Tarawa.  After Tarawa he served as the Division Chief of Staff at Saipan and Tinian.  After the war Shoup continued to be assigned in key billets at the Pentagon and as commanding General, 1st Marine Division and then the Third Marine Division.  He became Chief of Staff, HQMC in 1958 and was appointed as the 22nd Commandant of the Marine Corps by President Eisenhower, a post that he retained until his retirement in 1963.

Admiral Tomanari Sachiro IJN: (1887-?) Commander of Tarawa garrison until relieved by Rear Admiral Shibasaki.   Graduate Naval Academy 1910, initially a communications officer he held various commands including Heavy Cruiser Haguro and Battleship Kirishima and two smaller ships.  Assigned to Tarawa in February 1943 he helped design and supervised the initial construction of Tarawa Defenses until relieved by Admiral Shibasaki on 20 July1943.  He returned to Japan and served the remainder of the war on Navy Division of Imperial General Headquarters.  Tomonari survived the war though nothing is mentioned as to his postwar fate.

Rear Admiral Shibasaki Keiji IJN: (1894-1943) Commanded Tarawa Garrison until his death during the battle.  He graduated from the Naval Academy in 1915 and he was a skilled navigator and instructor.  Prior to the war he had served afloat and ashore and ashore and had commanded a ship and naval station and served as a naval attaché to a member of the Imperial Family.  Among his assignments was 19 month combat tour with the special Naval Landing Forces in China, where he served as Chief of Staff of Shanghai Special Naval Landing Force.  Shibasaki’s leadership helped the garrison improve their defensive capabilities and combat skills as he inspired them to great heights and executed an intense training program. He was killed in the battle.

A Personal Note

I have not been to Tarawa but feel that I know it well.  I served in Second Marine Division from April 1999 through December 2001.  Due to my prior service experience I was used to fill gaps where chaplains were needed and ended up serving in four different battalions.  I served in 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion, the descendant of 1/18, the combat engineers.  We had a WWII Bulldozer outside our command post named after Sergeant Bordelon, the Medal of Honor Citations for Bordelon and Boonyman were prominently displayed.  I also served in 1/8 and 3/8.  I knew the accounts of the slaughter of these Marines as they attempted to land but as I re-read the accounts I was moved by their courage under fire.  The CPs of these battalions are also adorned with citations of their heroes lost at Tarawa.  Veterans would visit our units during Tarawa Days at Camp LeJeune, worn by the battle and the years they always made an impression. There is almost a mystical connection between the Second Marine Division and the Marines of Tarawa; it was a crucible that defined the division, whose motto is the same as the Army Infantry School. “Follow Me!”

Semper Fidelis,

Padre Steve


[i] Spector, Ronald H. Eagle Against the Sun: The American War with Japan.  The Free Press, New York, NY 1985. p.253

[ii] Murray, Williamson and Millett, Allan R. A War to Be Won: Fighting the Second World War, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA 2000. p.338

[iii] Ibid. Spector. p.253

[iv] Ibid. p.255 The conference also set a date for the invasion of France.

[v] Toland, John. The Rising Sun: The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire, 1936-1945. Random House, Inc. New York, NY 1970. p.468

[vi] Ibid. Spector. p.255

[vii] Costello, John. The Pacific War 1941-1945. Quill Publishing, New York, NY 1982. p.430

[viii] Ibid.

[ix] Potter, E.B. Nimitz. Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD, 1976, Third Printing with Revisions 1979. p.243. Nimitz’s forces would have had to seize 5 major Japanese bases and his staff was not sure that the Pacific carrier force would be strong or experienced enough to provide the necessary air cover for the operation.

[x] Ibid.

[xi] Ibid. pp.243-245

[xii] Morison, Samuel Elliott. The Two Ocean War: A Short History of the United States Navy in the Second World War. Little Brown and Company, Boston and Toronto, 1963. p.296.

[xiii] Hammell, Eric and Lane, John E. Bloody Tarawa: The 2nd Marine Division, November 20-23, 1943. The Zenith Press, St. Paul MN 2006.  Text copyright 1998 Eric Hammell and John E. Lane. p.4

[xiv] See Alexander, Joseph H. Utmost Savagery: The Three Days of Tarawa.Ivy Books, published by Ballantine Books, New York, NY. 1995. pp. 39-40.  This unit became the Third Special Base Unit on its deployment and was joined by the 111th Construction Battalion.

[xv] Ibid. Hammell. p.4

[xvi] See Alexander pp.39-40. This unit was basically a reinforced infantry battalion with 3 rifle companies, a weapons battery, anti-aircraft battery, a light tank company and support units numbering about1600 men.

[xvii] Ibid. Alexander. p.43

[xviii] Alexander p.27 The Rikusentai was the Japanese equivalent of Marines, who numbered about 50,000 men.  The officers attended Army schools and qualified enlisted men attended additional Army specialist training.

[xix] Ibid. Costello. p.431

[xx] Ibid. Hammell. p.22

[xxi] See Alexander p.77. While most writers say that these guns were brought from Singapore, Alexander notes that British writer William H Bartsch submitted proof (serial numbers) that the guns were sold by Vickers to Japan in 1905 as a legitimate business transaction.

[xxii] These are the same guns (127mm) mounted as the secondary armament of Nachi and Takao Class Heavy Cruisers and later mounted on light cruisers to replace the main battery with a more effective anti-aircraft armament.

[xxiii] Ibid. Hammell. p.22

[xxiv] Hammell notes that many of these bunkers and pillboxes were so well concealed that they could not be seen.

[xxv] Ibid. Toland. p.469.

[xxvi] Ibid. Alexander. p.43.

[xxvii] Ibid. Hammell. p.28

[xxviii] Ibid. Morison. p.297

[xxix] Ibid. Costello. p.429

[xxx] At this point the force could provide everything except major permanent repairs to warships.

[xxxi] Liddell-Hart, B.H.  History of the Second World War. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, New York, NY 1970. p.511

[xxxii] Ibid. Costello. p.431

[xxxiii] The older LVT-1s had boiler plate armor added as a field modification and were given a heavy machine gun. Prior to this they were unarmored and had two light machine guns.

[xxxiv] Ibid. Morison. p.303

[xxxv] Hammell includes a by name list of these officers in Appendix B.  Of note for today, each MEUSOC (Marine Expeditionary Unit, Special Operations Capable) has an assigned Naval Gunfire Support Team.

[xxxvi] Ibid. Alexander. pp. 61-62.  The Shermans had to be transported aboard pre-loaded LCM-3s carried in the well decks of the LSDs.

[xxxvii] Ibid. Alexander. pp.58-59

[xxxviii] Ibid. Morison. p.297.  As a sidebar discussion it should be noted that Galvanic helped provide the model for the organization of all further Marine Corps amphibious doctrine now known by the acronym PERMA; Planning, Embarkation, Rehearsal, Movement and Assault, which describes the 5 phases of a amphibious assault.

[xxxix] Ibid. Hammell details the intricacies of the particular tides seen at Tarawa and the knowledge that the Marines had from the former Resident Commissioner of the Island, Major Frank Holland who warned the division staff that he knew that there would not be enough water over the reef to get landing craft across it. (pp.18-20)

[xl] Ibid. Alexander. pp.75-77

[xli] Ibid. Alexander. pp.67-68.

[xlii] Ibid. p.70

[xliii] Ibid. p.71

[xliv] Ibid. Morison. p.302

[xlv] Ibid. Hammell. p.16

[xlvi] Johnston, Richard W. Follow Me! The Story of the Second Marine Division in world War II.  Copyright 1948 by the Second Marine Division History Board and published by Random House Publishers, New York, NY 1948. p.106

[xlvii] Ibid. Liddell-Hart. p.511  Johnson says 2,700 tons. (p.106)

[xlviii] Ibid. Johnston. p.106

[xlix] Ibid. Hammell. p.17

[l] Ibid.

[li] Ibid.. Hammell. 46-47

[lii] Ibid. Morison. p.303

[liii] Ibid. Alexander. p.113.  Alexander notes that the Japanese would have been better served by using these guns on the stalled out landing craft.

[liv] Ibid. Hammell. p.47.

[lv] Ibid. Hammell. p.58

[lvi] Ibid.

[lvii] Ibid. Morison. p.303

[lviii] Ibid. Alexander. p.79

[lix] Ibid. Hammell. p.17

[lx] Ibid. Alexander. p.121

[lxi] Wukovits, John. One Square Mile of Hell: The Battle for Tarawa. NAL Caliber, published by New American Library, a division of Penguin Group USA, New York NY, 2006. p.112

[lxii] Ibid. Johnston. p.116

[lxiii] Ibid.

[lxiv] Ibid. Wukovits. P.119  Other companies suffered as grievously, K/3/2 was not alone in its suffering.

[lxv] Ibid. Spector. pp.263-264

[lxvi] Ibid. Alexander. pp.136-138

[lxvii] Ibid. Hammell. p.90

[lxviii] Ibid. p.95

[lxix] Ibid. Spector. p.264

[lxx] Ibid. Wukovits. p.114

[lxxi] Ibid. Alexander. pp.139-140

[lxxii] 1/8 did not arrive on the beach due to botched communications until D plus 1.

[lxxiii] Ibid. p.150  The last time this signal had been sent it was by Major Devereaux at Wake Isalnd

[lxxiv] Ibid. p.151

[lxxv] Ibid. Johnston. p.132

[lxxvi] Ibid. Hammell. p.112

[lxxvii] Ibid. p.130

[lxxviii] Ibid. Johnston. p.122

[lxxix] Ibid. Johnston. p.122

[lxxx] Ibid. Costello. p.436

[lxxxi] Ibid. Alexander. p.163

[lxxxii] Ibid. Alexander. pp.157-158  Hammell notes that Shibasaski was most likely killed by fire from Ringgold or Dashiell.

[lxxxiii] Ibid. Hammell.pp.139-140

[lxxxiv] Ibid. Alexander. p.162

[lxxxv] Ibid.  Wukovits. p.176. Wukovits notes how this could have affected the planning for the Normandy invasion.

[lxxxvi] Ibid. Alexander. p.173

[lxxxvii] Ibid. Hammell. p.160

[lxxxviii] Ibid. Costello. p.437

[lxxxix] Ibid. Alexander. p.170

[xc] Ibid. Hammell. p.163

[xci] Ibid. Hammell. p.166

[xcii] Ibid. Wukovits. p.178

[xciii] Ibid. Alexander. p.170 Ryan would be awarded the Navy Cross for his efforts.

[xciv] Ibid. Hammell. p.172

[xcv] Ibid. Alexander. p.179

[xcvi] Ibid. Alexander. p.181

[xcvii] Ibid. Hammell. p.178

[xcviii] Ibid.. Wukovits. p.194

[xcix] Ibid. Hammell. p.202

[c] Ibid. Hammell. p.212

[ci] Shoup would be awarded the Medal of Honor and eventually go on to be the Commandant of the Marine Corps.

[cii] Ibid. Alexander. pp.191-192

[ciii] Ibid. Johnston. p.134  2 platoons landed on Red-2 and one on Green Beach.

[civ] Ibid. Alexander. pp.202-205

[cv] Ibid. Johnston. pp.145-146

[cvi] Ibid. Johnston. p.147

[cvii] Ibid. Toland. p.470

[cviii] Ibid. Murray and Millett. p.345

[cix] Ibid. Liddell-Hart. p.511

[cx] Ibid. Spector. p.266

[cxi] Ibid. Potter. P.264

[cxii] Ibid. Murray and Millett. p.347  The Amtrack in improved forms has been part of the Marines ever since. The current model serves in a traditional amphibious role as well as a Armored Personnel Carrier for Marines involved in ground combat operations ashore.

[cxiii] Ibid. Costello. p.439. The method found to work best was long range plunging fire by heavy guns found on battleships and heavy cruisers.

[cxiv] Ibid. Murray and Millett. p.346

[cxv] Ibid. Morison. p.306

Bibilography

Alexander, Joseph H. Utmost Savagery: The Three Days of Tarawa. Ivy Books, published by Ballantine Books, New York, NY. 1995.

Costello, John. The Pacific War 1941-1945. Quill Publishing, New York, NY 1982

Morison, Samuel Elliott. The Two Ocean War: A Short History of the United States Navy in the Second World War. Little Brown and Company, Boston and Toronto, 1963

Hammell, Eric and Lane, John E. Bloody Tarawa: The 2nd Marine Division, November 20-23, 1943. The Zenith Press, St. Paul MN 2006.

Johnston, Richard W. Follow Me! The Story of the Second Marine Division in world War II.  Copyright 1948 by the Second Marine Division History Board and published by Random House Publishers, New York, NY 1948

Murray, Williamson and Millett, Allan R. A War to Be Won: Fighting the Second World War, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA 2000

Potter, E.B. Nimitz. Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD, 1976, Third Printing with Revisions 1979

Spector, Ronald H. Eagle Against the Sun: The American War with Japan.  The Free Press, New York, NY 1985 Toland, John. The Rising Sun: The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire, 1936-1945. Random House, Inc. New York, NY 1970

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The Guadalcanal Campaign: A Wave Top View of a Forgotten yet Epic Battle

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today is another day where I am posting an article dealing with the Guadalcanal campaign. The campaign is often forgotten in our day. It was featured during the mini-series The Pacific and the 1998 film The Thin Red Line. The campaign was long and bloody, but it allowed the United States to gain the initiative in the Pacific, and it was the first time that American Marines and Soldiers defeated the Japanese on land, even as the U.S. Navy fought a series of naval engagements which cost the Imperial Japanese Navy large numbers of ships and combat seasoned sailors that they could not replace. It was also the first time that the United States military began to operate in a joint manner. Thus it is important, and sadly it is all too often forgotten, even by military history buffs. I was able to meet Mitchell Paige who was awarded the Medal of Honor on Guadalcanal about three years before he died when I was stationed at Camp Lejuene North Carolina. He was spry and active, and it was an honor to meet him after hearing him speak. 

This is a “wave top” look at the campaign. Maybe someday when I finish my Civil War books I will do something about this campaign. That being said I hope this article might inspire my readers to read any of the fine books that deal with this campaign. Have a great night.

Peace

Padre Steve+

Guadalcanal map 2

The Decision to Invade

Guadalcanal came to American attention in early 1942 as a result of the Japanese South Pacific advance, which “threatened the Allied line of communications with Australia.”[1] Admiral King believed that “the Japanese must not be permitted to consolidate the formidable prizes” that they were then in the course of gathering.”[2] General MacArthur and Admiral Nimitz both wanted to “exploit the Midway victory by a speedy change-over from the defensive to the counter offensive.”[3] MacArthur wanted to strike Rabaul directly using Navy carriers. The Navy, not wanting to give up control of its carriers proposed a strategy of working up through the Solomon Islands, under Navy control.[4] The debate was at times acrimonious. Eventually King and General Marshall worked out a compromise that divided the campaign between the Navy and MacArthur,[5] the Navy in charge of taking Guadalcanal and Tulagi.[6] OPERATION WATCHTOWER was approved in a Joint Chief’s of Staff directive on July 2nd 1942.[7]

turner and vandagrift

Partners Rear Admiral Richmond K. Turner and Major General Alexander Vandegrift

The Japanese had not initially placed a high priority on the Solomons, “as they did not expect a counteroffensive in the Pacific for months.”[8] However, after Coral Sea and Midway, they authorized operation “SN” to “strengthen the outer perimeter of Japan’s advance by constructing airfields at key strategic points….”[9] The Japanese sent a contingent of troops, which arrived on June 8th[10] to build an airfield on Guadalcanal, in addition to the seaplane base on Tulagi, as part of a strategy to take the offensive in the South Pacific with an attack on Port Moresby in mid-August.[11]

coastwatchers

Coastwatchers

Japanese commanders were impatient for the airstrip to be completed, yet work began at a leisurely pace, with the Japanese unaware that every move was being “watched and reported to Allied headquarters in Australia,” by coast-watchers.[12] As the Japanese on Guadalcanal dithered the Americans rushed their preparations for the invasion[13] nicknamed “SHOESTRING” by American officers.

The Landings and Initial Actions through the Ilu (Tenaru) River

marines landing at guadalcanal

Marines coming ashore at Guadalcanal

Preparations, though rushed enabled the 1st Marine Division under General Vandegrift to embark on transports for Guadalcanal, despite not being combat loaded and having been assured that they “need not expect a combat mission before 1943.”[14] The invasion force under the overall command of Admiral Fletcher and Admiral Richmond “Kelly” Turner set sail on July 25th and cloaked by heavy rain and clouds[15] remained undetected by the Japanese until they arrived in the waters off Guadalcanal, achieving complete surprise.[16] The invasion force landed on both Tulagi and Guadalcanal. On Tulagi, 1st Raider Battalion under Colonel Edson and 2nd Battalion 5th Marines quickly drove off the 350 Japanese defenders of the 3rd Kure Special Naval Landing Force,[17] and in three days eliminated the Japanese garrison which resisted to the death, with only 23 prisoners.[18] On nearby Gavutu-Tanambogo 1st Parachute Battalion subdued the Japanese personnel operating the seaplane base, though not without difficulty, the naval bombardment was ineffective[19] and the Parachutists suffered heavy casualties[20] and forcing the commitment of the 1st and 3rd Battalions, 2nd Marines.[21] Across the sound the main force of 1st Marine Division went ashore near Lunga Point with 5 infantry battalions. The Marines rapidly ran into difficulty, not due to the Japanese garrison, which melted into the jungle,[22] but to a lack of maps, the thick jungle and kuni grass, their own “deplorable physical condition” from being shut up in the holds of the transports for two weeks and overburdened with full packs and extra ammunition.[23]

japanese aircraft guadalcanal

Japanese “Betty” Bombers attacking US Transports

While the Marines advanced inland, supplies built up on the landing beaches due to the limited number of cargo handlers. Additionally, the Japanese launched a number of heavy air raids which caused minimal damage to the destroyer Mugford on the 7th but were more successful on the 8th damaging a transport badly enough that it had to be abandoned.

GuadM3Tank

Marine M3 Stuart Light Tank and Crew at Guadalcanal

The Marines on Guadalcanal, comprised of the 1st and 5th Marine Regiments consolidated a bridgehead around the captured airfield on the 8th, but the next day found that their situation had changed dramatically. The Japanese Navy had attacked and mauled the covering force, sinking four cruisers and damaging one at the Battle of Savo Island.[24] The destruction of the covering force and Admiral Fletcher’s withdraw of the carriers forced the transports to depart on the 9th, still bearing much equipment, supplies and nearly 1800 men of the 2nd Marines.[25] Vandegrift was left with only 5 infantry and 3 artillery battalions, and the 3rd Defense battalion on the island as well as some tanks, engineers and Navy “Seabees.”[26] When the Navy left Vandegrift went over to the defensive and organized a line from the Ilu river on the east to Lunga point and the airfield to a point about 1000 yards past Kukum.[27] Defenses were prepared to defend against potential Japanese amphibious attacks. 1st Marines held the eastern perimeter and 5th Marines (-) the west. One battalion with tanks and half-tracks was reserve. The line was thin and not continuous, thus Vandegrift could only watch and wait for the Japanese strike and move “part of his mobile reserve to meet it when it came.”[28] On the 12th a prisoner reported that Japanese near Matanikau were willing to surrender and LtCol Goettge the G-2 led a 25 man patrol to investigate. The patrol was ambushed and decimated with only three survivors.[29] The Japanese landed the advance party of the 5th Special Naval Landing Force in broad daylight on the 16th, and Vandegrift decided to bring 2/5, and the Raider and Parachute battalions from Tulagi as soon as he had ships to do it.[30] On the 20th the airfield was opened and a squadron each of Marine Fighters and Dive Bombers landed on Guadalcanal.[31]

guadalcanal makeshift obstacle

Makeshift Obstacles: With no barbed wire the Marines used the ingenuity

General Hyakutake of the 17th Army was allotted 6,000 men of the Special Naval Landing Force, and the Kawaguchi and Ichiki detachments to re-take Guadalcanal. 17th Army also had the Sendai 2nd and the 38th Divisions, tank and artillery units, but they were scattered from Manchuria, to Borneo and Guam.[32] Hyakutake was ordered to use only the Ichiki detachment, a move which some at Imperial GHQ vigorously opposed.[33] Kawaguchi, recognized Guadalcanal’s importance and told a reporter that “the island would be a focal point in the struggle for the Pacific.”[34] On the 18th Colonel Ichiki landed with half of his unit, 915 men, 25 miles east of the Marines. Overconfident, he disobeyed orders to wait for the rest of his troops, left 125 men behind to guard his bridgehead and set off to attack.[35]

col ichiki

Colonel Ichiki whose elite 5th Special Naval Landing Force was annihilated at the Tenaru River

Ichiki’s force attacked shortly after 0100 on the 21st. He thought that he had achieved surprise[36], but, opposing him was 2nd Battalion 1st Marines under LtCol. Al Pollock. Warned by patrols that encountered the oncoming Japanese, and by Sergeant Major Vouza,[37] the Marines were on alert, well dug in, though lacking barbed wire, of which a single strand was emplaced across their front. The Japanese ran into the barbed wire and were mowed down as they attempted to cross the sandspit against G/2/1 and a weapons platoon. About 0300 artillery joined the action, catching the Japanese bunched together near the sandspit inflicting heavy casualties.[38] Around 0500 Ichiki made another attempt, sending a company through the surf, which was engulfed in machine gun and artillery fire.[39] At daylight the Marines counter attacked. Colonel Cates ordered Lt.Col. Cresswell’s 1st Battalion 1st Marines, to envelop the Japanese along the beach. Pollock’s Marines ranged mortars and small arms fire on Japanese survivors to their front, picking them off “like a record day at Quantico”

battle of tenaru river

Dead Japanese of the Ichiki Detachment at the Tenaru

[40] Marine aircraft made their first appearance, strafing the Japanese survivors. A light tank platoon crossed the Ilu and began to mop up the Japanese with 1/1 at 1530. At 1630 Ichiki burned his regimental colors and committed suicide. The Battle of the Ilu was over, the Japanese suffering at least 777 dead,[41] 15, 13 of whom were wounded were captured, only a Lt. Sakakibara and one soldier escaped to join those at the landing site.[42] The Marines suffered 35 dead and 74 wounded.[43] Ichiki made critical mistakes; he failed to reconnoiter, made a frontal attack against a dug in enemy and repeated it, with disastrous results.[44] Hyakutake informed Tokyo: “The attack of the Ichiki detachment was not entirely successful.”[45] The Americans were shocked at the Japanese fight to the death, and Griffith would note: “from this morning until the last days on Okinawa, the fought a ‘no quarter’ war. They asked none for themselves. They gave none to the Japanese.”[46]

Bloody Ridge

mitchpaige

Artists depiction of Sgt Mitchell Paige assaulting attacking Japanese units at Bloody Ridge

A round of minor engagements was fought in late August and early September as each side sent reinforcements. Kawaguchi’s brigade landed between August 29th and September 4th, but many troops were lost due to air attacks on the destroyers, transports and barges. Kawaguchi received the remainder of Ichiki’s force, bringing his force to 6200 men. He refused Hyakutake’s offer of an additional infantry battalion, believing intelligence that only 2000 Marines remained on Guadalcanal.[47] In fact Vandegrift had already moved the Raiders, Parachutists from Tulagi to Guadalcanal. Most of Kawaguchi’s force was east of the Marines; elements of 4th Regiment under Colonel Oka were on the Matanikau.[48] Vandegrift used the Raiders to attack Kawaguchi’s rear areas, capturing Tasimboko and killing 27 Japanese, destroying many of his troop’s supplies and foodstuffs.[49] Kawaguchi was infuriated by the attack and 17th Army prepared to send troops from the Sendai 2nd Division to the island.

vandegrift and staff

Vandergrift and Key Marine Leaders

The Raiders and Parachutists took positions on a ridge south of Henderson field on their return from the raid against Kawaguchi’s rear. Vandegrift placed his “Amtrackers” to the west of the ridge with 1st Pioneer Battalion.[50] Colonel deValle’s artillery was emplaced to give close support and observers attached to Edson’s battalion. The artillery was registered on pre-plotted points.[51] Edson’s force had little time to prepared defenses and due to the ridge and jungle prevented him from having “anything like a continuous line.”[52] First Marines held the line from Edson’s left to the sea along the Ilu. Unlike Ichiki, Kawaguchi avoided an attack on the strong 1st Marines position, and headed across the jungle to attack the airfield from the south with the 124th Infantry Regiment. Due to the difficult approach his battalions had a hard time reaching their start positions, two of the three reached the assembly areas two and three hours after the start time. When they did attack they lost their way, became scattered and intermingled; and Kawaguchi his battalion commanders lost all control.[53] The attack on the 12th was frustrating to Kawaguchi who later wrote “In all my life I have never felt so helpless.”[54] The attack was so ineffective that Edson thought the Japanese were “testing” him.[55]

11th marines 155mm howitzer

Marine Artillery on Guadalcanal

Kawaguchi regrouped as did Edson, who pulled back his line 200 yards to a stronger point on the ridge, reorganizing the line and command and control.[56] This improved fields of fire for his automatic weapons.[57] 2nd Battalion 5th Marines, the only reserve was moved south of the airfield so it could relieve Edson on the 14th.[58] As darkness fell, the Japanese attacked. I/124 attacked the ridge and the area to the west. Marines withdrew up the ridge under heavy pressure supported by artillery, which dropped fires almost on top of the Raider positions.[59] During the withdraw the Parachutists became confused and continued to withdraw, and only stopped when Edson’s operations officer, Major Bailey stepped in and halted it.

bloody ridge

Artists depiction of the Battle of Bloody Ridge

Artillery pounded I/124 and halted its attack even as companies of the reserve, 2nd battalion 4th Regiment attacked forcing the Raiders back to a knoll, the last defensive position before Henderson Field.[60] Edson exhorted the Marines who threw the Japanese back, and parachutists under Captain Torgerson counterattacked. Two more attacks were repulsed with assistance from 2/5 which had moved up in support.[61] The third Japanese battalion did not get into action[62] and Colonel Oka in the west made a weak attack that was handily defeated. The Japanese lost over 1200 men in their attack on the ridge.[63] The demoralized Japanese retreated west to join Oka’s men, taking a week and costing even more casualties.[64] Short on food, Oka pushed the survivors west and so he could defend the river line.[65]On the 18th Vandegrift was reinforced with 4700 men of the 7th Marines along with trucks, heavy equipment and supplies.[66] Edson was promoted to command 5th Marines.[67]

Matanikau Battles and the Fight for Henderson Field

wildcat on henderson field

Marine F4F Wildcat on Henderson Field

The Japanese now decided to send the Sendai and 38th divisions and heavy artillery to the island. Hyakutake went to the island to direct the campaign. The decision resulted in the suspension of 17th Army’s offensive against Port Moresby.[68] Admiral Yamamoto committed the fleet to cover the operations[69] setting up a major air, land and sea confrontation with the Americans. However before these forces could reach the island Vandegrift launched a series of attacks against Oka’s force on the Matanikau using the Raiders, and elements of 5th and 7th Marines.[70] The first attacks took place 24-27 September. The Matanikau position was important to future Japanese operations as their artillerymen stressed that they could not effectively shell the airfield unless guns were emplaced across the river.[71] The Raiders attacked at the log bridge[72] supported by C/1/7 and were repulsed by Oka’s 12th Company with heavy casualties.[73] Puller’s attack by 2/5 and parts of 1/7 at the mouth of the river was rebuffed by 9th Company. An amphibious assault by three companies of 1/7 was ordered by Edson who mistakenly believed that his Marines had crossed the river.[74] The force isolated by Oka’s II/124 and 12th Company, its commander killed and the Marines had to be rescued by Navy units.[75]

litter_bearers_on_guadalcanal

Navy Corpsmen preparing to evacuate a wounded Marines (above) and the 1st Marine Divsion Field Hospital

1st mardiv field medical

A second attack by the Marines on the Japanese, now reinforced by 4th Infantry Regiment on 6-9 October dealt them a crushing blow. An attack by 2/5 and 3/5 along the coast met heavy Japanese resistance and General Nasu decided to push across the river. While this was taking place, 7th Marines and the Whaling Group[76] outflanked the Japanese on the river and pushed to the coast. The Marines mauled the 4th Infantry, a Japanese report noting at least 690 casualties.[77] The action had decisive impacts on the next phase of Japanese operations.

General Hyakutake

General Hyakutake Commander of the Japanese 17th Army defending Guadalcanal

7th Marines and the 164th Regiment of the Americal Division arrived allowing Vandegrift to mount a full perimeter defense while Admiral Halsey replaced Ghormley as COMSOPAC.[78] Arriving on 10 October with the Sendai Division and 17th Army Artillery, Hyakutake, was notified that “American artillery had ‘massacred” the Fourth Infantry Regiment”[79] and found Ichiki and Kawaguchi’s units in an emaciated condition, the total effectives of the 6 battalions numbering less than a full strength battalion.[80] He radioed Rabaul “SITUATION ON GUADALCANAL IS MUCH MORE SERIOUS THAN ESTIMATED, and asked for more reinforcements and supplies at once.”[81] The Navy turned back a Japanese bombardment group on the 12th, but battleships and cruisers blasted Henderson Field on the 13th, 14th and 15th, destroying many aircraft.[82]

kongo

The 14″ guns of the Japanese Battleship Kongo and her sister Haruna pounded Henderson Field

Hyakutake received reinforcements including tanks and an infantry-artillery group and prepared to attack. General Sumiyoshi[83] was to make a diversionary attack along the coast with Army artillery and 5 infantry battalions. The Sendai Division under General Maruyama[84] with 9 infantry battalions moved inland along a route “the Maruyama road,”[85] to make the main effort to attack the airfield from the south. Sumiyoshi divided his artillery to support the bombardment of Henderson Field and support his infantry attacks, but was short ammunition.[86] The Marines had fortified the eastern side of the Matanikau and Sumiyoshi probed the Marines with infantry and tanks and artillery fire on the 20th and 21st, giving the Marines their first taste of concentrated artillery.[87] Sumiyoshi’s demonstration on the coast was effective, and Maruyama’s division remained undetected throughout its advance avoiding Marine and native patrols.[88]

bloody ridge aftermath

Japanese dead after the failed attack on Henderson Field

The attack began on the 23rd with Sumiyoshi attacking on the Matanikau; but he did not get the word that the attack for that night had been postponed until the 24th since Kawaguchi’s units had not gotten to assembly areas on the right of Sendai division.[89] His tanks advanced at 1800 and all but one were destroyed by deValle’s artillery as soon as they moved across the sandspit. The supporting infantry withdrew, and most never went forward as they were hit hard in assembly areas by Marine artillery losing over 600 men.[90] The action succeeded in the Marines shifting 2/7 and 3/7 north leaving Puller’s 1/7 alone on “Bloody Ridge.”[91] Fortunately for the Marines these Japanese forces were detected by Scout-Sniper’s[92] and Puller dug in his battalion deeper and set out a platoon in an outpost 1500 meters south of his position.[93]

puller1

Chesty Puller

On the 24th Maruyama’s Sendai troops attacked the ridge. He divided his force into two wings each of three infantry battalions commanded by General Nasu on the left and Colonel Shoji[94] on the right, three battalions served as a reserve. He advanced at 1900 but a storm turned the jungle into a vast mud bog exhausting the Japanese. Shoji’s wing advanced tangential to the Marine line and only one battalion made contact with Puller’s battalion.[95] Nasu’s troops hit Puller’s who realized that he was facing a major attack; he fed platoons from 3rd Battalion 164th Infantry, a National Guard unit into his lines and requested reinforcements.[96] The Marines and Guardsmen beat back all but one attack, that of LtCol. Furimiya of III/29 who got into the Marine perimeter and held out 48 hours, colors flying, leading Hyakutake to believe that they had captured the airfield.[97] The Japanese were driven off 9th Company of the 29th Regiment was wiped out primarily by the efforts of Sgt. John Basilone’s machine gun section.[98]

wrecked aircraft

Wrecked Aircraft on Henderson Field

The next day was known as “Dugout Sunday”[99] and that night the Japanese renewed the attack. This was better coordinated, but the Marines, reinforced by 3/164 and 3/2, and backed by artillery, devastated the Sendai division. Nasu and the commander of 16th Infantry were killed with at least 2000 of their soldiers.[100] Colonel Oka attacked 2/7 and was driven off with heavy casualties. Marine Sgt. Mitchell Paige won the Medal of Honor for single handedly manning his platoon’s machine guns after his troops became casualties, going gun to gun.[101] The attacks were crushed leaving more than 3000 dead or dying Japanese on the battlefield.[102]

On the Offensive

Guadalcanal

Marines pause during advance

As the Japanese struggled out of jungle to the coast the Marines began preparations to attack as each side brought in reinforcements, the Americans receiving the 8th Marine Regiment and 2nd Raider Battalion of 2nd Marine Division, as well as the 2nd Marines who had been on Tulagi and more of the Americal Division.[103] On November 1st and 5th Marines attacked across the Matanikau and by the 4th had eliminated a Japanese pocket on Point Cruz.[104] To the east 1/7 and 2/7 along with 2/164 and 3/164 attacked Col. Shoji’s force and fresh troops sent to relieve him near Koli Point. The battle lasted until the 9th when Shoji broke through the American cordon with 3000 men pursued by 2nd Raider Battalion. Shoji eventually made it back to 17th Army with 700-800 soldiers, most unfit for combat after battling the Raiders and the jungle.[105] The Japanese attempted to reinforce the island during the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal from 13-15 November. Out of 11,000 troops of 38th Division on 11 transports only 2000 got ashore after 7 of the 11 were sunk enroute by Henderson Field aircraft and the surviving ships beached.[106]

jap transport and mini sub

Grounded Japanese Transport and Midget Submarine on Guadalcanal

The Americans received the rest of 2nd Marine and Americal Divisions and parts of 25th Division and Vandegrift decided to attack, his command now being a de-facto Corps.[107] Though they still numbered 30,000 the Japanese were incapable of offensive operations but still full of fight.[108]On 18 November the 8th Marines and the Army and elements of the 164th and 182nd regiments attacked on the Matanikau. They met heavy resistance from Col. Sakai’s 16th Infantry and in a 6 day battle and lost 134 dead with minimal gains.[109] The new arrivals allowed 1st Marine Division to be withdrawn[110] as it was no longer combat effective.[111] On 9 December Vandegrift[112] turned over command to General Alexander Patch of the Americal Division.

crossing a bridge

Advancing across a improvised pontoon bridge

Patch used early December to conduct aggressive patrolling[113] and decided to clear the Japanese from Mt Austen, which they had nicknamed “Gifu” and in a 22 day battle the 132nd Infantry eliminated the 38th Infantry Group.[114] With the 25th, Americal and 2nd Marine Division Patch now headed XIV Army Corps.[115] Although the Americans were unaware the Japanese had decided to withdraw from Guadalcanal on 31 December, after a heated debate.[116]

vandegrift edson paige and basilone

Major General Vandegrift, Colonel Edson, 2nd Lt Mitchell Paige and Sgt John Basilone all awardees of the Medal of Honor

The final offensive began on 10 January. Patch hoped to clear out the Japanese by April.[117] The 2nd Marine Division attacked along the coast while General Lawton Collins led his 25th Division in a flanking movement heavily supported by artillery and air. 6th Marine Regiment relieved 2nd Marines flanking the Japanese enveloped the majority of the 4th and 16th Regiments.[118] The Japanese began withdrawing on the 17th moving west shielded by the Yano battalion.[119] Collins troops finally reduced and eliminated the Japanese on the Gifu by the 23rd.[120] “The annihilation of Japanese detachments from regimental size down” characterized operations over the final phase of the command.[121] A characteristic of American operations now included the use of heavy massed artillery including time on target or “TOT” missions.[122] On the 22nd the Japanese began to extricate their troops via the Tokyo Express at Cape Esperance.[123] On 1 February Patch landed 2/132 at Verahue on the southwest tip of the island and the 25th and Americal Divisions continued their push to the west against the rearguards of 17th Army. On the 8th of February the last survivors were withdrawn[124] in a move described by the Chief of Staff 17th Army as a “minor miracle.”[125] The Japanese were shocked that the Americans “press them hard” and turn the withdraw “into a bloody rout.”[126] Still expecting a fight Patch’s troops found nothing on Cape Esperance but abandoned boats and supplies.[127]

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Japanese Prisoners

The Guadalcanal campaign had ended with the loss of nearly 30,000 Japanese. Japan lost the psychological advantage it had possessed from the beginning of the war.[128] It was an action that was an offensive won with defensive actions. The Americans seized a strategic point that the Japanese could not afford to lose and then fought a defensive battle of attrition to grind the Japanese down. The American Marines and Soldiers showed themselves to be the equals of the Japanese in one of the most demanding campaigns of the war. Kawaguchi would comment to a reporter in Manila; “We lost the battle. And Japan lost the war.”[129]

Appendix: Leaders On Guadalcanal

Major General Alexander A. Vandegrift: (1887-1973) Commander of 1st Marine Division on Guadalcanal. He served in the Corps 40 years and retired in 1949 as Commandant of the Marine Corps. After Guadalcanal he commanded 1st Marine Amphibious Corps at Empress Augusta Bay. He was a key player in the congressional debates regarding the Marine Corps in 1946 when President Truman supported by the Army pushed to eliminate the Marine Corps as a ground combat force. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his service at Guadalcanal. USS Vandegrift FFG-48 was named after him. That ship made the first visit of a US warship to Vietnam since the Vietnam War in 2003.

Major General Alexander Patch: (1889-1945) Commander of XIV Army Corps at Guadalcanal. He assumed command of forces on island from Vandegrift on 9 December 1942. General Marshall ordered him to Europe in 1943 to take command of 7th Army from General Patton. He commanded 7th Army in the south France and the Rhone campaign of 1944, leading that army across the Rhine in 1945. He was to take command of 4th Army in the United States but died of Pneumonia. He was considered a very good commander in both the Pacific and Europe. Patch Barracks in Stuttgart Germany is named after him.

Major General Lawton Collins: (1896-1987) “Lightning Joe” Collins commanded 25th Infantry Division (Tropical Lightening) at Guadalcanal. He commanded VII Corps and distinguished himself in France and was instrumental in Operation COBRA and the breakout from Normandy. He was considered by many to be one of the outstanding Corps commanders in the Second World War. During Korea he was Army Chief of Staff and later served with NATO and as a special representative to Vietnam.

Lieutenant Colonel Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller: (1898-1971) “Chesty Puller commanded 1st Battalion 7th Marines at Guadalcanal and was instrumental in the fight for Henderson Field against the Sendai Division. His early career was marked by much time in Haiti and Nicaragua where he was awarded his first and second Navy Crosses. He served with the “China Marines” (the 4th Marines) He was wounded on Guadalcanal and later served as Executive Officer 1st Marine Regiment and commanded that Regiment at Peleliu. In Korea he again commanded 1st Marines at the epic Battle of the Chosin Reservoir. He was promoted to Brigadier General and served as Assistant Division Commander for that Division. He was promoted to Major General and Lieutenant General prior to his retirement in 1955. He is considered one of the most iconic and beloved Marines who have ever lived earning 5 Navy Crosses and numerous other awards for valor in combat include the Bronze and Silver Stars and Distinguished Service Medal and the Purple Heart. The USS Puller (FFG-23) a Perry Class Frigate was named after him. His uniforms and many of his medals and citations were displayed at the former Marine Corps Barracks, Naval Weapons Station Yorktown until 2006 when they were transferred to the custody of the Marine Corps Museum following the death of his wife Virginia who insisted that they be displayed in Yorktown.

General Harukichi Hyakutake: (1888-1947) Commanded 17th Army on New Guinea and Guadalcanal. He was an infantry officer who studied crypto analysis and served with the Kwantung Army in Manchuria before the war and following Guadalcanal he remained in command of Japanese Troops in the Solomons. He returned to Japan at the end of the war and died in 1947.

Major General Kiyotake Kawaguchi: (1892-1961) Commanded 35th Infantry Brigade on Guadalcanal and was senior officer until the arrival of General Hyakutake and the Sendai Division. Led the unsuccessful battle at “Bloody Ridge” and was relieved of his command just prior to the October attack on Henderson Field. Was one of the few Japanese officers who expressed an early understanding of the importance of Guadalcanal to the overall war effort. Following his evacuation from Guadalcanal and return to Japan he was transferred to the reserve. Convicted of war crimes in 1946 for actions committed in the Philippines in 1941-42 he was released in 1953 and died in 1961.

Notes

[1] Spector, Ronald H. Eagle Against the Sun: The American War With Japan, The Free Press, New York, NY p.185
[2] Morison, Samuel Elliott, The Two Ocean War: A Short History of the United States Navy in the Second World War, Little, Brown and Company, Boston and Toronto, 1963. p.164

[3] Liddle-Hart, B.H. History of the Second World War G.P. Putnam’s Son’s. New York, NY 1970. 356

[4] Ibid. Spector. p.185

[5] Ibid. Spector comments that “MacArthur declared that the navy’s obstinacy was part of a long time plot to bring about ‘the complete absorption of the national defense function to the Navy, the Army being regulated to merely base, training, garrisoning, and supply purposes.’” (p.185)

[6] Toland, John. The Rising Sun: The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire 1936-1945, Random House Publishers, New York, 1970. p.346

[7] Ibid. Morison. p.165

[8] Ibid. p.350

[9] Frank, Richard B. Guadalcanal: The Definitive Account of the Landmark Battle, Penguin Books, New York, NY 1990. p.30

[10] Ibid. p.31

[11] Ibid. Morison. p.166

[12] Griffith, Samuel B II. The Battle for Guadalcanal originally published by Lippincott, New York, 1963, University of Illinois Press, Champaign IL, 2000. p.19

[13] Costello, John. The Pacific War 1941-1945, Quill Publishers, New York, NY. 1981. p.320.

[14] Ibid. Spector. p.186

[15] Ibid. Frank. p.60

[16] Ibid. Spector. p.191

[17] Ibid. Frank. p.72

[18] Ibid. Costello. p.323

[19] Ibid. Griffith. p.49

[20] Ibid. Frank. p.72. 1st Raider Battalion took 22% casualties and 1st Parachute Battalion 50-60%.

[21] Ibid. Frank. p.74. Frank notes that of the 536 Japanese defenders that only about 50, a platoon from the 3rd Kure Naval Landing force were trained for ground combat.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Ibid. Griffith. p.45

[24] Savo Island was the worst defeat suffered by the US Navy. In a short engagement the heavy cruisers Astoria, Quincy and Vincennes and the RAN Canberra were sunk and the Chicago badly damaged, leaving the covering force but one heavy cruiser and some AA Cruisers and Destroyers to cover the transports. Over 1000 sailors lost their lives.

[25] Ibid. Frank. p.125

[26] Costello notes the presence of the Seabees, but neither Franks nor Griffith mentions them by name. The discrepancy appears to be the date of their arrival on the island. Morrison notes that 387 men of the 6th Seabee Battalion landed on September 1st with 2 bulldozers and other equipment and that they then took over the improvement of Henderson Field. Morison, Samuel Elliott. The Struggle for Guadalcanal: August 1942-February 1943, Volume V of History of United States Naval Operations in World War II, Copyright 1949, Samuel Elliott Morison, Castel, Books New York, NY 2001, published in arrangement with Little Brown and Company. p.76

[27] Ibid. Griffith. p.68

[28] McMillan, George. The Old Breed: A History of the First Marine Division in WWII, The Infantry Journal Incorporated, Washington DC. 1949. p.50

[29] Ibid. Frank. p130, Griffith. p.70. McMillan pp.52-56. This incident is still shrouded in mystery as no Japanese records survive to record the outcome of the incident. According to McMillan, when Goettge went out he believed he was also on a humanitarian mission and took the assistant division surgeon and a language officer. The Goettge Field House at Camp LeJeune NC is named in his honor.

[30] Ibid. Griffith. p.74

[31] Ibid. McMillan. pp.56-57

[32] Ibid.. p.59

[33] Ibid. Griffith. pp.79-80 some believed the commitment of small numbers inadequate to the task would repeat the defeats suffered at the hands of the Russians and in China. Ichiki himself was given poor intelligence stating that there were only about 2000 Americans on the Island and that they suffered from low morale and were trying to flee Guadalcanal to Tulagi. (p.81)

[34] Ibid. Toland. p.364

[35] Ibid. p.365

[36] Ibid. p.366

[37] Ibid. McMillan. p.61. Vouza, a native constable had actually been captured and interrogated by the Japanese, who bayoneted him and left him for dead.

[38] Ibid. pp.61-62

[39] Ibid. Griffith. p.84

[40] Ibid. p.86

[41] Ibid. Frank. p.156. Richard Tregaskis in Guadalcanal Diary reports that he heard there were 871 Japanese dead in the battle area. Tregaskis, Richard, Guadalcanal Diary, Originally published by Random House, 1943. Modern Library Paperback edition, Random House Publishers, NY 2000, with an introduction by Mark Bowden. p.130

[42] Ibid. Toland. p.367 Griffith reports that a Captain Tamioka survived. (p.87)

[43] Various accounts give slightly different figures for the Marine casualties. This number is taken from McMillan.

[44] Ibid. Griffith. pp.87-88. Griffith comments: “there was something more fundamental involved here than action taken on the basis of poor information, a reckless and stupid colonel, dedicated soldiers, and a disparity in weapons. This was ‘face.’ Once committed to the sword, Ichiki must conquer or die. This was the code of the Samurai, ‘The Way of the Warrior’: Bushido. (p.88)

[45] Ibid. McMillan. p.64

[46] Ibid. Griffith. p.88

[47] Ibid. Frank. p.218. Toland reports that he received intelligence that 5000 Marines were on the island but he believed that he could be victorious. (p.378)

[48] Ibid. Toland. p.376. Oka’s force was particularly hard hit by the air attacks during transit, losing 650 out of 1000 men, and his survivors had little food and ammunition and were not in good condition to attack.

[49] Ibid. Frank. pp.221-222. They also brought back documents, Kawaguchi’s dress uniforms and beer.

[50] Vandegrift rusted in the understanding that every Marine is a rifleman.

[51] Ibid. Griffith. p.115

[52] Ibid. Frank. p.229

[53] Ibid. p.231

[54] Ibid. p.232

[55] Ibid. Griffith. p.117

[56] Ibid. Frank. p.235 He still lacked the manpower to form a continuous line.

[57] Ibid. Griffith. p.117

[58] Ibid. Frank. p.235

[59] Ibid. Griffith. p.119

[60] Ibid. Frank. p.239

[61] Ibid. p.240

[62] This was III/124 under Colonel Wanatabe, suffering from old war wounds he failed to get his unit into the fight and Kawaguchi told him to commit Hari-Kari. (Griffith .121)

[63] Ibid. Griffith. p.121. The Marines lost 263 men of which 49 were killed and 10 missing. The Parachute battalion which began the campaign with 397 men had only 86 ambulatory after “Bloody Ridge” and were withdrawn. (Frank. p.241)

[64] Ibid. Costello. p.346 Frank also notes that another of Kawaguchi’s battalions, the Kuma battalion and his artillery fared even worse while trying to move to the west, becoming lost in the jungle for three weeks, losing all their weapons and becoming severely malnourished. (Frank. p.246)

[65] Ibid. Griffith. p.125

[66] Ibid. Toland. p.385 The Japanese began to call the island Starvation Island.

[67] Edson and Bailey both were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for their actions on the ridge. (McMillan p.81)

[68] Ibid. Griffith. pp.126-127

[69] Ibid. Spector. p.199 and Costello. p.348

[70] Ibid. Frank. p.269.

[71] Ibid.

[72] Ibid. Griffith. p.135. Griffith refers to this as the “Jap bridge.” I use Frank’s the name given by Frank.

[73] Ibid. Frank. p.272

[74] Ibid. Toland.p.390

[75] Ibid. Frank p.273-274. Frank analyzes: “In a retrospective assessment, the Marines found that the operation had an improvised purposeless flavor. It had been initiated without meaningful intelligence on the enemy situation or the terrain, and the attack was characterized by the commitment of battalions along unreconnoitered axes, beyond mutual support range, and without coordination of movements or of air and artillery support.” (p.274)Griffith comments: “Here Edson, as always supremely confident, had dispersed his force haphazardly to assault an enemy well armed, well concealed, and at each pointing superior strength. Second Matanikau hammered home to Vandegrift that a commander who allows himself or a subordinate, to drift aimlessly into any action will pay the price. (Griffith p.137)

[76] Ibid. Griffith. p.283. The Whaling Group consisted of 3rd Bn 6th Marines and the Scout Sniper detachment.

[77] Ibid. 289. The Division history of 1st Marine Division reported over 900 Japanese killed. (McMillan p.96)

[78] Ibid. McMillan. p.99

[79] Ibid. Griffith. p.148

[80] Ibid. p.338

[81] Ibid. Toland. p.392

[82] Ibid. Griffith. p.157. By the 15th the Marines only had 27 aircraft left, but by the evening a Navy fighter squadron had reinforced them.

[83] Artillery commander 17th Army.

[84] Ibid. Toland. p.393. Maruyama noted before the division departed from Japan that Guadalcanal was the “Decisive battle between Japan and the United States, a battle in which the fate of the Japanese Empire will be decided.”

[85] Ibid.p.340 Toland notes how this “road” had been hacked out of the jungle in the proceeding month. (Toland. p.393)

[86] Ibid. p.342. The 15 150mm guns targeted the airfield and the remaining 17, 75mm and 100mm guns and howitzers targeted the infantry.

[87] Ibid. Griffith. p.165-166

[88] Ibid. Frank. p.348

[89] Ibid. Griffith. pp.166-167. Sumiyoshi was not at fault as he had fallen into a coma brought on by Malaria. Kawaguchi was relieved by Hyatutake for this failure.

[90] Ibid. p.167

[91] Ibid. McMillan. p.105

[92] Ibid. Toland. p.401. Frank notes that even this discovery did not alert the Marine command to the Japanese presence south of the ridge and he credit’s Puller’s lack of complacency.

[93] Ibid. Frank. p.352

[94] Ibid. Frank. Shoji had relieved Kawaguchi.

[95] Ibid. Frank. pp.352-353

[96] Ibid.. p.355-356

[97] Ibid. p.356. Furimiya would eventually commit suicide when he had lost the rest of his troops. His diary, found by the Americans made a note that “we must not overlook firepower.” (p.366) Griffith notes the officer as Ishimiya and notes that only 9 men were with him. (p.169)

[98] Ibid. p.356. Basilone won the Congressional Medal of Honor.

[99] The day was marked by a fierce air-sea battle between American aircraft and a Japanese naval task force sent to shell Henderson Field and supporting fighters. A number of Japanese ships were damaged and the light cruiser Yura sunk. See Morison. History of Naval Operations in WWII vol V. pp.197-198

[100] Ibid. Frank. pp.364-365

[101] Ibid. pp.363-364. I met Paige in 2000 at Camp LeJeune. This icon of the Corps remained an outspoken Marine until the day that he died.

[102] Ibid. Toland. p.404

[103] Ibid. Liddle-Hart. p.361

[104] Ibid. Griffith. p.184

[105] Ibid. Frank. pp.421-424.

[106] Ibid. Morison. History of Naval Operations. p.182. Frank backs this number and Liddle-Hart gives 4000.

[107] Ibid. McMillan. p.135

[108] Ibid. Griffith. p.212-213

[109] Ibid. Frank. pp.495-497.

[110] The 1st Marine Division lost 621 KIA, 1,517 WIA and 5601 Malaria cases. Its Marines earned 5 Congressional Medals of Honor, 113 Navy Crosses and 4 Distinguished Service Medals. (McMillan pp.138-139)

[111] Ibid. Griffith. p.216

[112] Vandegrift would become Commandant of the Marine Corps in 1944.

[113] Johnston, Richard W. Follow Me! The Story of the Second Marine Division in World War II, Copyright 1948 by the 2nd Marine Division Historical Board and published by Random House, New York, NY. 1948. p.69

[114] Ibid. Frank. pp.528-534.

[115] Ibid. Johnston. p.72

[116] Ibid. Toland. pp. 421-426. Generals Sato and Tanaka engaged in a fist-fight ended by Tojo and the Emperor himself probed the High Command about the defeat and personal approved the Japanese withdraw.

[117] Ibid. Spector. p.213

[118] Ibid. Frank. p.557

[119] Ibid. p.560

[120] Ibid. p.566

[121] Ibid. p.567

[122] Bergerud, Eric. Touched With Fire: The Land War in the South Pacific, Penguin Books, New York, NY 1996. p.192

[123] Ibid. p.570

[124] Ibid. p.595 Depending on the source the Japanese withdrew anywhere from 10,000 to 13,000 troops from the island.

[125] Ibid. Griffith. p.244

[126] Ibid.

[127] Ibid. Morison. History of Naval Operations, p.371.

[128] Murray, Williamson and Millett, Allan R. For the Common Defense: Fighting the Second World War, The Belknap Press or Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA 2000. p.215

[129] Ibid. Toland. p.431

Bibliography

Bergerud, Eric. Touched With Fire: The Land War in the South Pacific, Penguin Books, New York, NY 1996

Costello, John. The Pacific War 1941-1945, Quill Publishers, New York, NY. 1981

Frank, Richard B. Guadalcanal: The Definitive Account of the Landmark Battle, Penguin Books, New York, NY 1990

Griffith, Samuel B II. The Battle for Guadalcanal originally published by Lippincott, New York, 1963, University of Illinois Press, Champaign IL, 2000

Johnston, Richard W. Follow Me! The Story of the Second Marine Division in World War II, Copyright 1948 by the 2nd Marine Division Historical Board and published by Random House, New York, NY. 1948

Liddle-Hart, B.H. History of the Second World War G.P. Putnam’s Son’s. New York, NY 1970

McMillan, George. The Old Breed: A History of the First Marine Division in WWII, The Infantry Journal Incorporated, Washington DC. 1949

Morison, Samuel Elliott, The Two Ocean War: A Short History of the United States Navy in the Second World War, Little, Brown and Company, Boston and Toronto, 1963

Murray, Williamson and Millett, Allan R. For the Common Defense: Fighting the Second World War, The Belknap Press or Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA 2000

Spector, Ronald H. Eagle Against the Sun: The American War With Japan, The Free Press, New York, NY

Toland, John. The Rising Sun: The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire 1936-1945, Random House Publishers, New York, 1970

Tregaskis, Richard, Guadalcanal Diary, Originally published by Random House, 1943. Modern Library Paperback edition, Random House Publishers, NY 2000, with an introduction by Mark Bowden

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The Long and Winding Road of 31 Years of Commissioned Service

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Today marks another milestone in my life and career, at least in terms of longevity. Thirty-one years ago today I was with my soon to be wife Judy, as well as my dad and brother at UCLA where I was being commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army. Six days later I married Judy who has over the past 31 years seen me go my down the long and winding road of my military career. Truthfully the long and winding road has been to use the words of Jerry Garcia a “long strange trip” and usually not the Yellow Brink Road.

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Let’s see…service as a Medical Service Corps Officer, platoon, leader, company executive officer, maintenance officer, NBC officer, and company commander, and brigade adjutant. Texas Army National Guard, Armor officer, Chaplain Candidate (Staff Specialist Branch) and Chaplain serving with Combat Engineers, and Chaplain in the Virginia National Guard with the Light Infantry. Army Reserve Chaplain, drilling and mobilized to support Bosnia mission, Installation Chaplain at Fort Indiantown Gap Pennsylvania.

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The Army, Cold War Germany, the Fulda Gap and the Berlin Wall, supporting the Bosnia mission, exercises, and active duty for training, even doing an exchange program with the German Bundeswehr.

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Then the path took a different direction. After 17 1/2 years in the Army Judy was looking forward to the day that I would retire from the reserves and she would have me back. Instead, I took off my rank as an Army Reserve Major and became a Navy Chaplain. Two tours with the Marine Corps, Second Marine Division and Marine Security Forces, Sea Duty on the USS Hue City, a tour with EOD, interspersed with an individual augmentee in Iraq followed by 5 years working in Medical Naval Centers or hospitals and finally serving as Chaplain and doing teaching in military ethics and military history at the Joint Forces Staff College.

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Lots of field exercises and underway periods at sea, travel around the world to support deployed Marines, a Marine Deployment to Okinawa, mainland Japan and Korea including the DMZ. Then along came the 9-11-2001 attacks and war. A deployment to the Horn of Africa, the Gulf of Oman and the Northern Arabian Gulf in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Southern Watch aboard the Hue City, served as a member of a boarding team making 75 missions to detained Iraqi Oil Smugglers and helping keep peace on those miserable ships. Traveling to Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Guantanamo Bay Cuba with the Marine Security Forces, standing at Gitmo’s Northeast Gate, and completing the “Commie Trifeca” of Cold War German, Korea and Cuba.

easterramadi2boarding teamnellieandme

Then there was EOD, serving with some of the most amazing men and women I have ever met, a tour in Iraq with my trusty assistant, bodyguard and friend Nelson Lebron. Of course as any reader of this site knows the time in Iraq changed me forever, the aftereffects of that tour remain with me every day, the battle with PTSD, anxiety, hyper-vigilance, depression and the shattering effect of seeing that my government leaders had lied about the reasons for war and by their actions devastated a country and helped throw a region into chaos. I saw the suffering of Americans as well as Iraqis in Al Anbar Province, death, badly injured Marines, soldiers and Iraqis, poorly treated third world nationals working for Halliburton and other contractors. After coming home dealing with all of my shit while trying to care for others in back to back tours at two different Naval Medical centers or hospitals. The ongoing violence in Iraq and the fact that that unfortunate country and its people are going to suffer more haunts me. I miss Iraq, I would go back not because I love war, but because I care about the Iraqi people.

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Now I minister, celebrate Eucharist in my little chapel, care for people and teach. The highlight of my life is leading our institution’s Gettysburg Staff Ride and being able to research, read, ponder, analyze and write about that campaign, the Civil War and relate it to what we teach at our institution.

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Throughout my career there have been two constants, my long suffering wife Judy who has spent close to ten of the last 17 or 18 years without me and those who I served alongside, many of who I am still in contact with through Facebook. I am amazed at the quality of men and women who have served alongside of me since 1981. The funny thing is that even though I probably still have another five to six years until I finally retire to civilian life, that I am watching men and women who entered the military 10-13 years after me retiring from the military.

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Thankfully I still love what I do and serve in a great place. To those who have served alongside me all these years in any capacity I thank you. You don’t get to where I am in life without a good deal of help, sage advice from men and women not afraid to speak the truth and without a bit of good luck and fortune and maybe a bit of the grace and mercy of God.

Yes it has been a long strange trip down a long and winding road, but it has been more than I could ever imagine.

Have a great night and thanks for reading,

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

 

 

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A Memorial Service as Tragedy Strikes Camp Lejeune on the 10th Anniversary of the Beginning of the Iraq War

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“God didn’t put us here for that pat on the back. He created us so he could be here himself. So he could exist in the lives of those he created, in his image.” Chaplain (Captain) Fr Francis Mulcahy M*A*S*H 

The past week has been difficult at Camp LeJeune. We lost a sailor, a hospital corpsman who died by his own hand last Monday. He was a veteran of Afghanistan and his death came as a surprise to his friends, family and shipmates. Today we conducted his memorial service. It was a full house. His family travelled to be here and his friends, those that served with him while he was assigned to the Marines as well as his current shipmates were there in abundance.

It was a time to grieve. The young man was beloved by his friends, respected and cared for. However something that none of us will ever know or understand overwhelmed him. It may have been the trauma of war, maybe something else, but he maintained a facade that kept his friends, family and shipmates away from whatever despair drove him to take his life.

It was a time for all of us to grieve. It was as William Shakespeare wrote in McBeth a time to “Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak knits up the o’er wrought heart and bids it break.”

But even as we grieved the news filtered to the base that 7 Marines assigned to the Second Marine Division were killed, and a number of others injured when a mishap occurred where they were training in Nevada. Evidently either a mortar round either exploded in the tube or as it was being handled during a live fire exercise. They join the thousands of men and women who have died or been wounded in preparation for, the conduct of or the aftermath of their service in Iraq or Afghanistan. The death of each one leaves a void in the heart of a loved one, friend or shipmate.

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Staff Sergeant Ergin Osman KIA Afghanistan

I have lost friends and shipmates in all phases of both wars and their aftermath. Some have died in combat, others while supporting combat operations of natural causes or accidents, some have committed suicide, including a Priest and Chaplain who served in both Vietnam and Iraq. Still countless others endure injuries or illnesses that will eventually kill them.

Likewise there are far too many more who have sustained terrible injuries to their minds, bodies and spirits that time will never heal. The young men and women that I see every day, those with the physical wounds of war and those with the unseen but sometimes even more disabling injuries such as PTSD, Traumatic Brain Injury or Moral Injury remain in the fight, sometimes with the sole mission of recover or remaining alive.

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Ten years after the war in Iraq began and twelve and a half years after 9-11 and the invasion of Afghanistan the costs continue to build in lives and treasure. In Iraq almost 4500 American and over 300 other coalition casualties, more than 500 contractors and nearly 10,000 Iraqi Soldiers and Police and countless thousands of Iraqi civilians have died. US wounded alone number almost 35,000 in Iraq. In Afghanistan there are over 2100 US dead and about 1100 NATO and Coalition dead, hundreds of contractors, and thousands of Afghans with over 17,000 more American military wounded. Every day nearly 20 veterans take their lives while thousands of others struggle with physical, psychological and spiritual wounds of war, wounds that don’t heal even as they find that they no longer fit in the country that went shopping when they went to war. The costs of both wars now are building into trillions of dollars, costs that will continue to grow even after the wars wind down.

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Two time Congressional Medal of Honor Winner Major General Smedley Butler, US Marine Corps wrote:

“What is the cost of war? what is the bill? Major General Smedley Butler wrote: “This bill renders a horrible accounting. Newly placed gravestones. Mangled bodies. Shattered minds. Broken hearts and homes. Economic instability. Depression and all of its attendant miseries. Back -breaking taxation for generations and generations. For a great many years as a soldier I had a suspicion that war was a racket; not only until I retired to civilian life did I fully realize it….” (See War is a Racket: Remembering Major General Smedley Butler USMC and Why He Matters

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Likewise Lieutenant General (US Army Retired) Hal Moore, who is immortalized in the film We Were Soldiers and book We Were Soldiers Once…and Young told West Point Cadets in 2005:

The war in Iraq, I said, is not worth the life of even one American soldier. As for Secretary Rumsfeld, I told them, I never thought I would live long enough to see someone chosen to preside over the Pentagon who made Vietnam-era Defense Secretary Robert McNamara look good by comparison. The cadets sat in stunned silence; their professors were astonished. Some of these cadets would be leading young soldiers in combat in a matter of a few months. They deserved a straight answer.

The expensive lessons learned in Vietnam have been forgotten and a new generation of young American soldiers and Marines are paying the price today, following the orders of civilian political leaders as they are sworn to do. The soldiers and those who lead them will never fail to do their duty. They never have in our history. This is their burden. But there is another duty, another burden, that rests squarely on the shoulders of the American people. They should, by their vote, always choose a commander in chief who is wise, well read in history, thoughtful, and slow-exceedingly slow-to draw the sword and send young men and women out to fight and die for their country. We should not choose for so powerful an office someone who merely looks good on a television screen, speaks and thinks in sixty-second sound bites, and is adept at raising money for a campaign.

If we can’t get that part right then there will never be an end to the insanity that is war and the unending suffering that follows in war’s wake-and we must get it right if we are to survive and prosper as free Americans in this land a million Americans gave their lives to protect and defend.”

Needless to say, Moore, a West Point graduate has not been asked back.

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Thousands of young Americans, as well as NATO or other Allied nation soldiers, including Iraqi soldiers that I knew and Afghans that I have not worked with have died or been mangled by these wars. Yet too many Americans, Europeans and others that have sent young men and women to these wars have no stake in the game.  Most people continue with the mundane aspects of peacetime life while their political, religious and business leaders plot even more war. Syria, Mali, North Korea, Iran…where will it end?

Today we mourned a shipmate and friend at Camp LeJeune even as we wait to see who else that we know have been killed or injured in this latest training accident. I was honored to be a part of the memorial and happy to be of help to the families and friends of my sailor. At the same time I too grieve and wonder just how many more will have to die before the madness ends.

I left the base after the ceremony, and saw the massed trucks of the local and national news networks parked outside the gate like vultures. When I got home I hugged my dog Molly, I love that little dog, she has helped save my life after my time in Iraq. I then went for a four mile run on the beach and then had a couple of beers with my dinner while at the bar with my friends at my local watering hole.

father

The old regulars there have nicknamed me “Father Mulcahy” a name that some people at the hospital have also given me. Maybe it is that I ear round steel rimmed glasses. Maybe it is because I will join in the occasional poker game , football, basketball or NASCAR pool, which by the way I won the NASCAR pool this week. Or maybe it is just because they didn’t know I was a Chaplain or Priest until a mutual friend and co-worker told one of them. Until then I was just Steve, the guy that wore the Orioles and Giants baseball gear. Now I have become their Priest and Chaplain, funny how that works. Regardless, it is a nickname that I cherish, because when I was growing up Fr Mulcahy symbolized so much of what I thought was good in a Priest and Chaplain. The writers of M*A*S*H made him very human. But I digress…

As we mourned today I was reminded of something that Helen Keller said, something that I think no matter what any of us grieve is true. “We bereaved are not alone. We belong to the largest company in all the world–the company of those who have known suffering.”

Pray for me a sinner.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Remember those that Came in Peace: BLT 1/8 and the Bombing of the Beirut Barracks

In the early hours of October 23rd 1983 I was awake. I could not sleep. I was a new Army 2nd Lieutenant attending the Junior Officer Maintenance Course at Ft Knox Kentucky following the completion of the Medical Service Corps Officer Basic Course enroute to my first assignment in Germany.

 

I had gone out with friends earlier in the evening. Since Ft Knox was located in a dry county we made a trip up to a restaurant in Louisville followed by a trip to a bar and dance club for drinks. All of us that went were either newly married or engaged and none of our wives or soon to be wives were there we were on good behavior. After a dinner and a few drinks we went back to Knox, each to our own quarters.

 

 

It was late and since I couldn’t get to sleep I turned on CNN, which at the time was a rather new thing in news. I think that it was about 2AM that CNN broke in with the news that the Marine Barracks had been bombed. As the day developed the extent of the catastrophe became apparent, the barracks was destroyed and 241 Marines, Sailors and Soldiers were dead, with another 60 wounded. It was the worst single day loss suffered by the Marines since the Battle of Iwo Jima.

Battalion Landing Team 1/8, built around the 1st Battalion 8th Marines had been assigned as part of the UN Peacekeeping Force following the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. The BLT was billeted at the Beirut International Airport and at 0620 a truck driven by a suicide bomber containing explosives equivalent of over 12,000 lbs of explosives blew it up in the lobby of the building. Rules of Engagement prevented the few sentries on duty from engaging the vehicle until it had already crashed through the barbed wire and was lodged in the building.  The explosion blew out the support structure of the building and caused it to pancake upon itself trapping those inside. About 2 minutes after the attack French Paratroopers of the 1st Parachute Chasseur Regiment were hit by a truck bomb at their barracks about 6 km away. 58 French Paras were killed and many more wounded in an attack that caused more casualties in a single day since the French campaign in Algeria.

In the days and weeks following the attack a series of minor American and French airstrikes and Naval gunfire attacks were launched with little effect. President Reagan withdrew the Marines and the UN and French also withdrew their force. The attacks and the limited response gave the Iranian backed Hezbollah militia new swagger and respect. Hezbollah is now one of the most deadly opponents of the United States, Israel and the West.

Fast forward. In January 2000 I am a relatively new Navy Chaplain and get no notice orders transferring me from the Second Combat Engineer Battalion of 2nd Marine Division at Camp LeJeune NC to the 1st Battalion 8th Marine Regiment as a “relief pitcher” when their chaplain was removed from his duties. On a wall of the HQ building at Camp LeJeune was a mural drawn by Marines which honored their predecessors who died in the bombing. In the 5 months that I was with the battalion before going on to  another battalion as a “relief pitcher” I got to appreciate the sacrifice of the Marines, Navy Hospital Corpsmen and 6 attached Army Soldiers. Today I serve at the Naval Hospital Camp LeJeune. The Marines of the Fleet Marine Force are part of who I am. I am proud to have served with both the 1st Battalion and 3rd Battalion of the 8th Marine Regiment.

At Camp LeJeune there is a memorial every year at the Beirut Memorial. Many veterans , survivors of the attacks and relatives of the fallen attend. I was not able to attend this year but remember attending it in 2001, nit long after the 9-11 attacks. There are 241 trees , one for each of the fallen planted along Carolina Highway 24 outside of Camp LeJeune.

The Beirut expedition showed the limitations of military power as well as the wisdom of President Reagan and Secretary of Defense Casper Weinburger not to get even more involved in another country’s civil war. The decision to withdraw was prudent, especially since the Cold War was reaching its apex and the Soviets were deeply involved in Afghanistan and the Iran of Ayatollah Khomeini was becoming more bellicose. The sad thing is that we did not realize those limits before the bombing nor had given the commanders on the ground rules of engagement that might have prevented the bombing. Instead the military chain of command was blamed for the loss and the politicians that orchestrated the intervention got off scott free.

Let us not forget the sacrifice of those 241 American Marines, Sailors and Soldiers and the 58 French troops who died in those attacks 29 years ago.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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An Uneventful Monday on the Eve of War: September 10th 2001

It is hard to imagine that 10 years ago the furthest thing from my mind and probably anyone else’s mind was that a brazen attack would be launched on the United States. We never imagined that by10 AM the following morning that nearly 3000 Americans would be dead, the World Trade Center Twin  Towers would be in ruins, the Pentagon ablaze and a final airliner down in rural Pennsylvania.  It was unimaginable but it happened.

As far as potential threats to national security I had my eyes on China and North Korea having just returned from a deployment to Okinawa, Mainland Japan and Korea.  During that deployment a Chinese fighter plane forced a Navy P-3C Orion down on Hainan Island and my battalion was alerted for a potential rescue mission.  Thank God that never happened.  If there was any concern about the Middle Eastit was the continual run-ins that we were having with Iraq and terrorism against American forces in the Middle East such as the suicide bombing of the USS Cole.  Despite the atrocities committed by the Taliban and presence of Al Qaeda Afghanistan seemed too remote to be of any real threat to the continental United States.

On September 10th I was the Chaplain for the Headquarters Battalion Second Marine Division at Camp LeJeune North Carolina. I spent that Monday taking care of routine business.   I had the usual counseling appointments for Marines dealing with marriage and financial problems and administrative work punctuated by a meeting or two and a nice run.  I also spent time working with a couple of underperforming chaplains who had been fired from their battalion chaplain jobs and who assigned to me in the hopes that their careers might be salvaged.

The weather that day was wonderful temperature was 86 degrees at Marine Corps Air Station New River just across the water from LeJeune.  That evening Judy and I grabbed a quick bite to eat and hung out with our dogs, our 13 year old fat red Dachshund Greta and our wild child 9 month old Papillion-Dachshund mix Molly. I figure that we spent the evening watching television and or reading and each taking a little time to check e-mail.  I was involved with a couple of theological discussion boards and I was in trouble with my old church for an article I had published in a conservative Catholic theological journal.  It was amazing how spun up people got on that forum re-fighting theological battles between Anglicanism, Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy.

That night we went to bed not expecting anything of importance to occur.  War seemed far off and a terrorist strike on the centers ofUnited Statesfinancial and military power was unimaginable to us.  The thought that the next day would begin a war that would still be going on today was equally unthinkable.

Who knows what tomorrow will bring. I don’t venture to guess except that I pray that no new attackers will succeed in creating any more havoc in our nation or kill anymore of our countrymen.  But I have my doubts. To quote Field Marshal Gerd Von Rundstedt when he received the reports of the German disaster in France in September 1944…. “I am not optimistic.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Veterans Day 2010: Counting the Cost of War

“It is well that war is so terrible, or we should get too fond of it.” General Robert E. Lee

Veterans Day had become a rather somber occasion for me over the past decade and since returning from Iraq in 2008 has taken on added personal significance.  I have noticed that I have become much more reflective about the sacrifices made by our military and the terrible coasts of war on our Soldiers, Marines, Sailors, Airmen and their families in this age of the all volunteer military.  The military which has about 2,225,000 members including the Reserves and National Guard is just 0.7% of the total population, the lowest percentage of military personnel compared to total population during any war in our history.  As a result this force has borne the brunt of a war that no politicians or bureaucrats figured would last half as long as it has.  As a result the “few” have been asked to do more for longer than and military that this nation has ever fielded during a war.

Thus for me Veterans Day has become a rather somber and reflective occasion as I ponder all the sacrifices made by our military and their families. In Afghanistan the U.S. Military has lost 1378 killed and our allies another 825.  In Iraq 4427 U.S. Military personnel have died along with 318 allied soldiers, not including the Iraqi military losses.  For each of the killed there are about 8 more wounded a total of over 38,000 wounded.  Of course the wounded numbers do not include 170,000+ cases of hearing damage; 130,000+ cases of mild traumatic brain injuries; and 200,000+ cases of serious mental health problems, over 30,000 serious disease cases, including a disfiguring, parasitic disease called Leishmaniasis, which results from bites of sand flies; thousands of cases of respiratory disease linked to exposure to toxic burn pit smoke and hundreds of suicides.  Then there are the injuries related to road and aviation accidents not in direct combat.  In my recent assignments in Iraq and Naval Medical facilities I have seen the human cost of the war.  I have friends who suffer as the result of Traumatic Brain Injury, PTSD and Pulmonary diseases as well as those that have been wounded as the result enemy action.  I have a dear friend with a rare and irreversible pulmonary condition from two tours in Iraq. He is 41 his lungs are those of a 70 year old man.  My best friend, a senior Naval Officer is still suffering from the effects of TBI and PTSD incurred while serving with the Marines in Al Anbar Province.

My Dad Aviation Storekeeper Chief Carl Dundas aboard USS Hancock CVA-19 off Vietnam circa 1971-72

A year ago on Veterans Day I was at with my parents in Stockton California to visit my mom and my dad who was then in a nursing facility due to the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease.  It was a terrible visit conflict with my mother due to witches’ brew of my PTSD and grief for my dad and my mother’s struggles with my dad’s condition and her own physical condition.  I visited my dad every day when in two and unfortunately he did not know who I was, Alzheimer’s had robbed him of everything that made him my dad.  He died on June 23rd of this year a day after I found out that I had been selected for promotion to Commander.  My dad was a retired Navy Chief Petty Officer who served in Vietnam on a beach detachment manning an emergency airfield in the besieged city of An Loc in 1972.  He never talked about that tour or what happened there except to tell me that he saw the Communists executing civilians in the city from his observation point.  He came home a changed man.  Thankfully he is now out of his suffering and our family is beginning to find its way back from the abyss of his illness.

I have served for over 29 years in the Army and the Navy and have witnessed many things and been blessed to have my life enriched by many veterans.  Unfortunately many of these brave men have since passed away, some having lived many years and others that have died far too young as a result of service connected injuries.

With advisors to the 3rd Bn, 3rd Brigade 7th Iraq Division COP South 2008

In my current work I see many young men that wear the Purple Heart for being wounded in combat. I see those that need assistance to walk, amputees, men with obvious scars from burns and others suffering blindness from their injuries. Our hospital’s Medical Board sees 40-60 Marines and Sailors a day, quite a few of whom that will be medically retired due to their injuries.  There are also those that have died by their own hand suffering from psychological and spiritual injuries too deep to fathom, we had one of our own Corpsman suicide last week.

The cost of war is terrible, as General William Tecumseh Sherman so eloquently put it: “War is Hell.”

Despite this our brave men and women that serve in all branches of the military as well as those that have gone before us in the 235 year history of our military have shouldered the load, for most of that history depending on volunteers who often served in obscurity often derided by their fellow Americans who believed that the military was a place to go if you could not be successful in the civilian world. The pay was low, the duty arduous and benefits few. In the Civil War, the World Wars and up until 1974 the professionals were augmented by draftees who outnumbered the professionals by a huge margin.  Since 1974 the force has been an all volunteer force.

Health and Comfort Board Team USS Hue City, Northern Arabian Gulf May 2002

Regardless of whether our Veterans were draftees or volunteers they have served this country well and on the whole to use the current Navy description are “A Global Force for Good.” The countries liberated from oppressors and helped in humanitarian operations by American Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen are many and varied.  They have represented the spectrum of our society and represent the best the country has to offer.  Unfortunately they have not always been honored by some of their our countrymen and women and sometimes the children and grandchildren of the peoples that they liberated from Nazi, Fascist or Communist oppressors who often use the wrongdoing of a few military personnel or the decisions or actions of American politicians or businessmen to label American military personnel as criminals.

Unfortunately since the military is such a small part of our population and concentrated in a few large bases it is invisible to most Americans as they live their daily lives. Often in isolated from the bulk of America such as Killeen Texas home of the U.S. III Corps and Jacksonville North Carolina the home of the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force and Second Marine Division are quintessential military towns but neither are near major population centers and thus the sacrifice of these Soldiers, Marines and Sailors goes unnoticed by most of the nation.  In a sense the human cost of the war falls inordinately upon these military communities where there are few strangers.

In spite of this the current men and women of the American Military train, deploy, fight and return every day as they have since the 9-11-2001 attacks, many if not most have made multiple combat tours.  I have been pleased to see more support of the military in the media, especially sports media and leagues.  Many businesses are taking time to offer things of value to servicemen and women and those businesses should be commended and patronized.  I was touched by many stories that I saw about our veterans on ESPN over the past few days.  http://www.espnmediazone3.com/us/2010/11/espn%E2%80%99s-weeklong-salute-to-veterans-day/

Many of our Reserve component personnel give up civilian employment and chances for promotion to serve in the military, particularly when they are mobilized for service. When they return home most return to towns and cities that have little of the support afforded to active duty members when they return.  I pray that our political leaders in the future will exercise discernment and wisdom before committing us to another war. Otto Von Bismarck said: “Anyone who has ever looked into the glazed eyes of a soldier dying on the battlefield will think hard before starting a war.” Unfortunately the current members of the House, Senate and Executive branch have little connection to the military as very few have served and I wonder if any really comprehend this maxim.  In the 111th Congress 120 members had some form of military service.  The number of veterans in the 111th Congress reflects the trend of a steady decline in the number of Members who have served in the military. For example, there were 298 veterans (240 Representatives, 58 Senators) in the 96th Congress (1979-1981); and 398 veterans (329Representatives, 69 Senators) in the 91st Congress (1969-1971).  Those who have served a full military career are far fewer; the number of congressmen with military careers will remain relatively constant for the 112th Congress. In the Senate there will be one (as compared with two in 2006 and one in 2008) and in the House there will be eight (as compared with four in 2006 and six in 2008).  Some of these Congressional Veterans have been vilified by some broadcasters and pundits of the extreme right wing media most of whom who have never served in the military.  On the positive side nine members of the new Congress will have served in the current wars which hopefully will help promote the sacrifice of our current Veterans and help with programs that will help returning Veterans.

I have seen the cost of war up close and personal in Iraq and back here in the States. I suffer some the afflictions described as a result of my service and see the young men and women many of whom were not yet born when I enlisted in the Army, or when I was commissioned as an Army Officer, when I was a Company Commander or when I was a senior Captain in the Army. These young men and women are heroes.

Please take a moment to thank a Veteran.  If you have time volunteers are always welcome at organizations such as the USO and American Red Cross working with our troops, join or support organizations which promote the causes of Veterans including the Iraq Afghanistan Veteran’s Association www.iava.org the Veterans of Foreign Wars http://www.vfw.org/, American Legion http://www.legion.org/ , Marine Corps League http://www.mcleague.org/, the Fleet Reserve Association http://www.fra.org/, the Association of the U.S. Army http://www.ausa.org and the Disabled American Veterans http://www.dav.org/. There are also many charitable organizations that provide assistance to Veterans and their families’ one of the best being the Fisher House Foundation http://www.fisherhouse.org/ which provides comfortable and free lodging to the families of wounded, injured or sick military personnel on bases adjacent to military hospitals. I found these ten ways that you can help on Yahoo.com:

1. At 11 a.m., observe a moment of silence for those who’ve fought and died while in service to the country

2. Display an American flag

3. Attend a Veterans Day parade

4. Thank a vet for his/her service

5. Send a letter to troops through the U.S. Department of Defense Website

6. Work in a homeless shelter or soup kitchen

7. Visit a veteran’s grave or pick up trash at a veterans cemetery

8. Visit with the family of a veteran who’s serving overseas

9. Visit with a wounded vet at a local VA facility

10. Donate to the USO, the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars USA or other organizations that honor and assist vets

Keep us all in your prayers and please when Veterans Day is past do not forget those of us that serve and our families, especially those men and women serving in harm’s way.  To my friends and comrades I echo the words of the German commander to his troops in captivity at the end of the Band of Brother’s mini-series:

“Men, it’s been a long war, it’s been a tough war. You’ve fought bravely, proudly for your country. You’re a special group. You’ve found in one another a bond that exists only in combat, among brothers. You’ve shared foxholes, held each other in dire moments. You’ve seen death and suffered together. I’m proud to have served with each and every one of you. You all deserve long and happy lives in peace.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under iraq,afghanistan, Military, PTSD, shipmates and veterans