In Honor of 4th of July

In Honor of 4th of July here is a military, World War II short story that I wrote a while ago in history class. It’s based on a true story about a Coast Guardsmen who died in Guadalcanal. I didn’t spend a ton of time writing it so I apologize in advance for any misspellings or weird things. The character Micheal completely made up, but everyone else are actually people. The ships and cutters are the actually ones as well. Most of my information came from the official Coast Guard website. Enjoy.

Munro and I had been assigned to the same unit in the Pacific theatre at
the beginning of the year 1942. Munro had been in the Coast Guard since 1938
whereas I joined in 1940. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, all of us
Coasties were assigned to various naval units. It was then that I met Munro,
Douglas Munro. We crossed the Pacific together on the USS Hunter Liggett,
commanded by Captain Perkins. When we reached Guadalcanal, both of us were
assigned to the USS McCawley. On 7 August, we anchored off of Guadalcanal.

Most of the men were eager to be fighting, but some of the officers’ faces
showed their trepidation at what would be coming. Looking back now, I wish that
we had all known the bloodshed and horrors that awaited us.

Munro and I were part of the small boat force that landed the initial units
of Marines. We took part in what became known as the Midnight Raid on
Guadalcanal. Our fighters flew overhead, lighting up the night sky with bursts of
reds and yellows in the distance. It was by the grace of God that we made the
landing. As my LCVP landed and the sound of the Marines’ boots splashing in the
water echoed in my ears, I was grateful to not be one of the men going ashore. I
could see Munro’s LCVP in the distance, now empty of men.

The next day we received word that we had seized the airfield from the
Japanese. Relief flooded through me and I could almost relax, knowing that
perhaps this would not be as bloodied as expected. What horrors still awaited us
before we could get out of here?

By this time, Munro and I were stationed on Guadalcanal at Lunga Point
Base. Our numbers were small, only 24 of us total. Some of the men, I recognized
from basic training, others were strangers. Our commander was Commander Dwight
H. Dexter, USCG. Our base consisted of an old abandoned coconut plantation. We
had a small house and a signal tower. Munro and I spent most of our time here
as signalmen. Troops moved in and out, preparing for heading inland.

A month passed and our troops were moving forward with little resistance.
Part of our initial movements was setting up a defensive perimeter and up until
this point our men had stayed inside of it. If only they had remained. I could tell
some of the men were getting restless and anxious. The Japanese had been too
quiet and had not attempted to regain the airfield for a while.

Munro and I passed the time at the base by talking about home. Imagine
my surprise when I found out we were from the same state and same county. I
showed him the picture of my girl, Jenny. With a grin on his lips, he said, “You’ll
get back to her no doubt.”
“You have a girl back home, Munro?”
“Nope. Maybe when we get back the girls will want a soldier,” he replied jokingly.

In early September, a new batch of Marines arrived reinforcing our men. We
remained in constant contact with those on the front, waiting for our next move.
Commander Dexter kept us in shape and prepared. At least two times a week we
took out the Higgins boats to practice. Commander Dexter drilled us on what to do
in the occasion of heavy fire and I prayed that we would never have to do what
we practiced. The night of the initial landing was still fresh in my mind.

Towards the end of September, our boys pushed past their defensive
boundaries in an attempt to cross the Matanikau River. We received word that
their attempt to cross failed several times and they were met with fierce
opposition, but those waiting Japanese. My earlier question on why they were so
quiet was answered. I feared what else they had planned for us.

That fateful day dawned bright and early. It was a Sunday and my
thoughts drifted to my family back home. So they would be awake and headed to
church. Munro sat on his bed, furiously scribbling down on a piece of paper.
Dressing in my uniform, I questioned what he was doing.
“Writing to my folks,” was his answer.

The mood on base was tense as we ate our breakfast. Rumors flew about
three companies of Marines being transported to the Matanikau vicinity. Our table
was quiet, each of us lost in thoughts of home. The doors in the dining hall
opened and every head turned towards it. Commander Dexter walked in followed by
Marine Lieutenant Colonel Puller.
“Munro!” Commander Dexter shouted and Munro jumped to his feet.
“Gather up your men and head to the landing crafts. The Marines you’ll be
transporting will be there soon.”

Munro saluted both men and half of the group stood, as well as myself.
This was it. We were going to where the fighting was. Our movements were solemn
as we prepared our small boats. A knot of dread appeared in my stomach as I
went over the final check. Three companies of Marines appeared and began filling
up the LCVPs. I nodded to Munro as we pulled out. The ride over to the drop point
was smooth compared to the first landing.

13:00: the beach and ridge loomed in front of us. The destroyer USS
Monssen provided cover for the Marines as they charged the beach. After all fifty
of the men left my LCVP, I pulled away from the beach. Munro’s craft waited for
the rest of us to regroup. Nine of the ten crafts returned to base. Evans and
Robert stayed behind to help with wounded.

13:50: the radios crackled to life with the news of Major Rogers’ death.
Lunga Point was quiet as we waited with baited breath for our next move. At that
moment, I knew something was seriously wrong. The radios had been silent except
for the news that the USS Monssen had to pull back after a heavy Japanese
bombing raid. No one spoke as we silently prepared for what we thought would
come.

From around the cove, we heard the familiar noise of one of our LCPs.
Evans’ and Robert’s craft came into view with Evans frantically trying to stop the
craft. It slammed into the beach at 20 mph and Evans’ story spilled rapidly from
his lips as Robert was taken into the makeshift medic tent. The Japanese had cut
off our boys from the Monssen and now they were in serious trouble. Commander
Dexter asked for volunteers to prepare a extraction team and without much
thought Munro and I both volunteered. Walking towards the makeshift dock, Munro
pressed a letter into my hand.
“In case I don’t make it back.” I nodded solemnly and pulled out my own letter.
“Don’t. You’ll make it home. Jenny is waiting for you.” Munro shoved it back into
my hand.

16:00: The base was still as we waited for the command. Only minutes ago,
Lt. Colonel Puller embarked to the Monssen to provide cover to the extraction.
Death was staring our boys in the face and we geared up to prepare to face it
beside them.

Our boats sped off to the extraction point at full throttle. We had to be
there now and rescue our boys. I tried to ignore the fact that we would be
outmatched. Each of us Coasties had a Navy Coxswain paired with us who manned
our two Lewis machine guns. I could feel the plywood hull under my feet and
realized that if we got hit we would be unprotected. We rounded the corner and
the beach came into view.

The Monssen shot rapidly at the hidden Japanese troops who fired at our
Marines. That familiar knot in my stomach appeared. Only hours ago we had
dropped these men off thinking that we would be able to secure our position.
Bullets whizzed past our heads as the Japanese began aiming their fire at us. Our
first craft made it ashore and the Marines piled on eager to get away from this
death.

I glanced to my side and could see Munro drawing close to the beach. By
the time I felt my boat hit the sand the majority of the Marines were off. The
rear guard and the wounded were all that were left. Twenty-five wounded men
were piled onto my Higgins boat as we battled the heavy fire from the ridge
above us. Another boat got the remaining men off. I tapped my foot anxiously as
the men were loaded onto my boat. Someone cried out and I felt pain in my leg.

Everything seemed to happen in slow motion. Bullets splashed into the water
around my boat and I pulled away from the beach. I piloted the boat the best I
could, avoiding the rapid spray of bullets. I heard another man cry out and a
shout. I turned my head to see Munro’s boat angling itself sideways, taking the
enemy gun fire and protecting the rest of the extraction team. Munro shouted
something and I jammed the throttle forward anxious to get my boat to safety.

Adrenaline raced through me as I took a corner to fast. My hands attempted
to pull back the throttle, but then we were aground. I desperately tried to get us
back into the water. Two LCVP rounded the corner and I recognized Munro’s boat.
Under his direction the men were transferred to another LCVP and I joined him and
Evans on their LCVP. I glanced up at the ridge in time to see the sun glint off the
metal barrel of a machine gun. I shouted a warning to both boats and watched
the LCVP full of Marines pull away in time.

Evans shouted over the roar of our motor and we pulled away from the
boat, but I heard the sound of the shell whizzing past my ear. I turned my head
to see Munro collapse. Evans took over the control and I scrambled over to him.
Water sprayed into the boat as we raced back to base. Munro’s lips curled up in a
half smile and he grasped my hand.
“Did they get off?” he asked and I nodded numbly. The red blood pooled around
my knees as I watched him die.

The base was silent as we disembarked from our Higgins boat. Two other
Coasties helped us lift Munro’s still body out of the boat and into the medic tent.
At some point, I ended up on a cot as well with people moving around me. Pain
radiated up my spine for a moment and I relished the moment as a reminder that
I was alive.

By the first week of October, I was on my way back home to the states.
Munro’s letter burned a hole in my pocket as I stared out of the window at the
endless blue underneath me. I kept my eyes from the coffin only feet away from
me. Because of my injury, Commander Dexter appointed me to accompany Munro’s
body home. I was eager to be home and away from death, but I always imagined
coming home with my friend alive.

The cool October breeze greeted me as I stepped off of the plane, shielding
my eyes from the sunlight.
“Michael!” I turned in time to capture Jenny in my arms. I inhaled her sweet
smell, so refreshing from the endless smell of decay. The haunting melody of Taps
reached my ears and I turned, snapping to attention as Munro’s coffin was
unloaded from the plane. I watched a woman walk forward and pressed her hand
against the wood. After a moment, I quietly approached, removing the letter from
my pocket.
“Ma’am, it was an honoring serving with your son.” I pressed the smooth envelope
into her hand and began to step away, when her arms wrapped tightly around my
neck. Startled, I brought my arms around her, letting this mother weep for her
son.
“He died saving my life,” I murmured as she pulled away.

The funeral was a silent affair and I stared at the mahogany coffin. A
Coast Guard commander presented his mother with the Medal of Honor and a folded
flag. People filtered away from the coffin, but I stayed standing beside the coffin.
His mother approached me and hugged me in the same fashion she had at the
airport.
“Come around, Michael. Don’t stay away.”
“I won’t, ma’am,” I promised. It was the least I could do for the family of the
man who died saving me. That man should be alive and joking with his family. He
was suppose to come back a war hero, not dead.
“Michael, are you okay?” Jenny’s hand touched my elbow and I looked over at
her, nodding slowly.

Clutching her hand tightly, we walked away from the coffin holding my best
friend. I would have died there, but his actions kept me alive. He told me I would
come back to Jenny and I did. I had a second chance and I would honor the
sacrifice made.

Standing at the edge of the grass, I turned and saluted my friend. Semper
Paratus. We would always be ready.

*Douglas Munro was a Signalmen First Class. He died in 1942 to save the lives of a battalion of Marines during the Guadalcanal campaign. He was the only Coast Guardsmen to receive the Medal of Honor. In memory of his sacrifice, the USCGC Munro was commissioned in 1971 as part of the Hero class. The USCGC Munro’s motto is “Honoring the Past by Serving the Present”.*

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2 thoughts on “In Honor of 4th of July”

  1. I really liked your story. I had to remind myself I wasn’t reading about a real person. Great school assignment.

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