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Tell It To The Marines

March 2024
1min read

A PROPOSAL TO RENAME GUADALCANAL’S AIRPORT DOESN’T FLY

Times are tough in the Solomon Islands. With few natural resources, the islands depend on tourism, but their remoteness, often antiquated facilities, and inhospitable environment can make them a tough sell. The government hopes its renovation and expansion of the airport at Honiara (the nation’s capital, on the island of Guadalcanal) will attract more tourists, and earlier this year a Japanese consulting firm supervising the improvement had a helpful suggestion: Give the airport, which has been called Henderson Field since U.S. Marines captured it from Japan in 1942, a more Japanese-friendly name: Chrysanthemum Field.

The idea must have seemed reasonable at the time. The Japanese paid most of the tab for improving the airport, so why shouldn’t they rename it? In Japan the chrysanthemum symbolizes health and happiness. What could be wrong with that?

Plenty. Never mind that Emperor Hirohito occupied what is known as the Chrysanthemum Throne or that a massed Kamikaze attack in World War II was known as a kikusui , or “floating chrysanthemum.” The idea that Maj. Lofton Henderson, the first American pilot to die in the Battle of Midway, might have his name removed from the field to attract a few more Japanese tourists did not sit well at all with Henderson’s fellow Marines—or even with the residents of Honiara. The idea was quickly withdrawn, and the Solomons government learned a lesson about what happens when you listen to consultants. Beyond that, it also learned the importance of choosing one’s enemies: If you have to fight someone, try not to make it the U.S. Marines.

While we’re on the subject of Guadalcanal, this is as good a time as any to correct an article that American Heritage published in 1993. In that piece, Thomas Fleming quoted from a booklet titled Walks on Guadalcanal , whose cheerful tone mixed uneasily with its long and detailed cautions about the island’s potential dangers (scorpions, crocodiles, sudden cliffs, and hostile locals, to name but a few). Fleming imagined the booklet’s author, J. L. O. Tedder, as a struggling freelancer who had accepted the assignment for want of other work and was determined to make the best of it.

We have since learned that Tedder was a longtime British official in the Solomons as well as a distinguished naturalist. Since his retirement, he has been active in environmental organizations and as a farmer in his native Australia. We can only wish him more success in these pursuits than he had in attracting hikers to Guadalcanal.

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