PACIFIC OCEAN --
In the fading daylight, Marines and Sailors of the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit aboard the USS Green Bay (LPD-20), stare out onto a jungle island. Sixty-nine years ago they would have beheld a different sight; bombers strafing fixed positions, naval warships sinking one another and the flashes of machineguns firing between the trees.
This island called Guadalcanal was where Marines and Sailors from 1st Marine Division fought in their first major offensive against Imperial Japan during World War II. Marines and Sailors from the 13th MEU and crew of the USS Green Bay held a ceremony Sept. 10, to honor those who fought and died there.
“It is hallowed ground where the Marines turned in one of the most incredibly heroic performances in military history,” said Lt. Col. Craig R. Wonson, commanding officer of Battalion Landing Team 1/1, 13th MEU. “No battle exemplifies what it means to be a Marine more than Guadalcanal.”
Marines from BLT 1/1, 13th MEU’s ground combat element, are descendants of the Leathernecks who fought on the Island for six months. Wonson spoke during the ceremony, reminding the Marines of their heritage and the significance of that Campaign.
The Battalion came ashore early in the Guadalcanal Campaign and helped secure the critically important Henderson Airfield explained Wonson. The Battalion also played a key role in the Battle of the Tenaru, delivering a decisive blow against a Japanese regiment that was sent to dislodge the Marine defenses.
Assigned to guarding the airfield from the Lunga perimeter, approximately 3,000 Marines of 1st Marine Division spent the night of August 21, 1942, repelling attacks from Japan’s 28th Infantry Regiment, First Element. In the morning, 1/1 counterattacked, crossing a river upstream from the battle area and through fire and maneuver enveloped the Japanese soldiers. This trapped and compressed the troops into a small area on the east bank of the river. The cut off Japanese Regiment was further decimated by strafing aircraft and rolling tanks. At the battle’s conclusion, only 128 of the 917 Japanese soldiers from the Regimental Element remained.
More than 69 years later, Marines and Sailors of BLT 1/1 stood on the flight deck, remembering their warrior ancestor’s sacrifices.
“The ceremony was good,” said Sgt. Melvin H. Fields, 2nd Squad leader, 3rd Platoon, Alpha Company, BLT 1/1, 13th MEU. “Everyone’s mood was silent and it was a solemn event. The impact of this battle was evident. Even to this day we discuss the same fire and maneuver tactics used by Marines on Guadalcanal.”
A moment of silence was followed by “Taps” in honor of those who gave their lives during the campaign. Sgt. Christopher M. Brandle, a food service specialist with Headquarters and Service Company, BLT 1/1, concluded the ceremony tossing a challenge coin into the ocean.
“I thought it was a really emotional experience,” said Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Spencer Elliott, a corpsman with Personal Security Detachment, Headquarters and Service Company, BLT 1/1, 13th MEU. “Not very often do you get a chance to see a battlefield, where generations ago, Marines and Sailors fought [there] in the same unit as yourself. Considering how remote this island is, I consider myself fortunate to have been able to see it.”
Allies took the Island from Imperial Japan after six months of bloody fighting. With Guadalcanal firmly in the Allies’ hands, Imperial Japan was denied a means to cut off the convoy route between Australia, New Zealand and the United States. This Battle marked a turning point in the Pacific Campaign of WWII. First Battalion, 1st Marines would go on to fight on Peleliu and Okinawa further distinguishing themselves as the “First of the First.” Through the valor and heroism of 1/1 predecessors, the BLT continues to serve on sea and land.
The 13th MEU is deployed with Boxer Amphibious Ready Group, also providing support for maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of responsibility. Historical battle information provided by PacificWrecks.com and Guadalcanal veteran Sgt. George Dennis, D Company, 1/1, 1st Marine Division.