When the United States Marine Corps landed on Guadalcanal in 1942 there was a very high expectation of failure. No one had stopped the Imperial Japanese Army. No one had taken one square meter of land away from them that they had occupied. No one had been able to find a way to even so much as slow them down for very long, except the doomed Marines at Wake Island, early in the war. Privately, British officials worried that if the Marines landed on Guadalcanal they might well be wiped out and along with them any sort of support aircraft, ships, and material. This would leave the South Pacific and Australia undefended and open to invasion. The idea that a bunch of very young, very inexperienced, and very exposed Marines could take on the very best army, navy, and air force in the Pacific was foolish, at the very best.
Yet there were members of the American military that thought that someone, somehow, somewhere, had to make a stand and fight. They appointed Archer Vandergrift as the commander of the invasion force then proceeded to strip away men, aircraft, support ships, and all manner of resources from that force. On an island where there was very little intelligence on what might be there or what sort of resistance might be met, the United States Marine Corp landed, and meant to stay.
These were men who did not yet have the modern M-1 Garand rifles. They were instead armed with World War One bolt action rifles. There were men who were without heavy artillery support. These were men right out of basic training with just a couple of weeks of training in New Zealand and they were going against some of the very best troops the Imperial Japanese Army had to offer.
For six long months the United States Marine Corp and the Imperial Japanese Army locked into a death struggle that would ultimately decide the fate of the war in the Pacific. Men died of tropical diseases, starvation, madness, suicide, and they also died in combat by the thousands. Ships and aircraft went down in flames. Aircraft carriers were lost and Vandergrift actually gave orders at one point that all secret documents be destroyed because he was convinced they could not hold out against the Japanese.
But they did.
Time and time and time again, the Marines held their ground, beat back an attack, fought with bare fists and bayonets, slipped in blood, mud, gore and the remains of men who had died months ago, and they held. And then they started pushing the Imperial Japanese Army off the island of Guadalcanal and ultimately out of the Pacific.
On this 4th of July, I would ask that you remember Guadalcanal. I ask that you look up that battle, or any other battle in any other of the long hard wars this country has fought, and find the name of just one man, just one, who died in the jungle, or the air, or under the water, and remember that name for just one day. Carry that name with you to a party or a movie or to a fireworks display, and while you are there say out loud, “Thank you…” and meant it.
Our freedom was paid for in blood. We are allowed to be who we are because very brave and sometimes, very foolish men, took up arms against what seemed to be undefeatable foes and somehow, someway, proved victorious.
Thank you, Lofton Henderson, for being very brave, and very foolish, and for daring to face certain death, unimaginable odds, and helping one of the most impossible victories in human history. Your example in battle sets a standard that few can achieve yet all can stand in awe of for all time.
Everything I have, everything I am, all I will ever become, I owe.
Mike writes regularly at his site: The Hickory Head Hermit
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