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“I’ve Served My Time In Hell”
So thought many a weary Marine after the bloody, interminable battle for Guadalcanal. It was only a dot in the ocean, but upon its possession turned the entire course of the Pacific war
February 1966 | Volume 17, Issue 2
Some Japs would sneak through our lines and behind us. I’d have to stop firing every once in a while and shoot behind me with my pistol. By dawn, when the fight was over, our guns were just burnt out. Somebody figured we got rid of 26,000 rounds.
For what he did, Basilone got the Medal of Honor. He was later killed at Iwo Jima.
It was obvious to Puller that his men were taking the brunt of the Japanese October attack, and he asked for help. Division headquarters sent him a battalion from the 164th Infantry. There was no use trying to put them in as a unit while the Japanese were attacking. Instead, Chesty ordered his NCO’s to come out of the line and lead the reinforcements in by squads. Shoulder to shoulder, Marines and soldiers fought on together until the Japanese firing died away at 0330.
The next day, Sunday, October 25, is remembered in Marine annals as “Dugout Sunday.” Japanese warships stood offshore in broad daylight and shelled Henderson Field and the Marine perimeter. Dodging in and out of their foxholes, Seabees worked away at the airfield, like ants. Soon Marine fighter planes were rising from the field, holding off some of the incoming enemy bombers.
At 2200 that night the Japanese struck again at the ridge near where they had struck the night before and the month before that . But they got no place this time.
At another point on the perimeter, upstream on the Matanikau, along the front held by the 2nd and 3rd Battalions, Seventh Marines, it was a different story. The Japanese kept charging there, up the steep escarpment which the Marines were defending, until they made a penetration. But here, as at the ridge, individual bravery did much to save the position at the crucial moment. The hero was Marine Platoon Sergeant Mitchell Paige, who won the Medal of Honor for what he did; that was, in his own words: I would fire a burst and move. Right off the nose, in the grass, thirty Japs stood up. One of them was looking at me through field glasses. I let them have it with a full burst and they peeled off like they had been mowed.
After that, I was so wound up I couldn’t stop. I rounded up the skirmish line, told them I was going to charge off the nose and I wanted them to be right behind me. I picked up the machine gun, and without hardly noticing the burning hot jacket, cradled it in my arms and threw two belts of ammo over my shoulder. Behind me the skirmish line came whooping like a bunch of wild Indians. We fired on until we reached the edge of the clearing and then there was nothing left to fire at.
I was soaked and steam was rising from my gun. My hand felt funny. I looked down and saw a blister running from my fingertips to my forearm.
That was the end of the October battle.
To the men who had been there since August, Guadalcanal had begun to seem infinite, almost eternal—a tragic and wearisome existence so profoundly felt that any other was difficult to remember.
“The weight loss averaged about 20 pounds per man,” said a medical report. “Examination revealed marked dehydration as shown by dry skin and sunken eyes. Many of these patients reported being buried in foxholes, blown out of trees, blown through the air, or knocked out.”
The single most seriously debilitating factor was the anopheles mosquito. There were 173 new cases of malaria in the first week of October; in the second week, 273; in the third, 655; and in the fourth, 840—the October total was 1,941. Chills and fever had grown so common that men didn’t bother to turn into the hospital: they simply sweated it out in their own bivouac areas.
The essential tactical truth about Guadalcanal was evident now: it was a battle of attrition. The point had come when both sides had to ask themselves just how much the pestilential island was worth.
For the Americans, the decision was appropriately made by the Commander in Chief, President Franklin D. Roosevelt. On October 24, the President sent individual messages to each member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff calling on them to do whatever needed to be done to insure the capture of Guadalcanal.
Indecision, hesitation about committing men and materials to the battle, disappeared. The campaign might—and still very well could—be lost. But if it was, it would not be because the U.S. high command did not send every man, gun, and plane it could get there.
History’s insights into Japanese high-command thinking are cloudy, but apparently the Japanese now also decided to pour more into Guadalcanal.
They were going to follow the well-established pattern they had laid down in August, September, and October. With one difference: this time the Imperial Japanese Navy insisted on being overall boss. Its ships and planes were going to shell Henderson Field out of commission on the nights of November 12–13 and November 13–14. The troop transports were to arrive on the morning of the fifteenth.