3 Gavutu and Tanambogo Islands

What were the Solomon Islands? I had always enjoyed reading about the South Seas, but that name did not mean anything. We had briefings, but the officer conducting them didn't know much more. It seemed the Japanese had been advancing rapidly southward across the Pacific, with their ultimate goal being Australia and New Zealand. As the Solomon Islands had been undefended, they were easily seized from the British, and the Japanese were building an airfield on Guadalcanal, the largest island in the southern Solomons. This airfield would make it possible to take the remaining islands southward and effectively isolate both Australia and New Zealand from any outside assistance. It was imperative, we were told, to stop the Japanese at this point.

On August 7, 1942, we arrived at our destination. The First Marine Division was assigned to take Guadalcanal where the airfield was, and which was supposed to be the most heavily defended. The regiment I was in, the Second, was assigned to take a number of islands about 20 miles from Guadalcanal across Sealark Channel. The First and Second Battalions of the Second Regiment, plus the Raider Battalion, were to take Florida Island and Tulagi, the capital of the British Solomon Islands. Tulagi also had one of the best harbors in the South Pacific. The First Paratroop Battalion, landing from Higgins boats, was to take the lightly defended islands of Gavutu and Tanambogo. Smaller islands in this area had the strange sounding names of Makambo, Mbangui, Kakomtambu and Songonangong. The Third Battalion, my unit, was to be in reserve.

Intelligence had made a serious error. Guadalcanal was very lightly defended and the Japanese troops that were there dropped back into the jungle. Tulagi had good defenses and the three battalions there saw a lot of action. But it was on the small islands of Gavutu and Tanambogo where the Japanese troops were concentrated. Gavutu was a submarine base and Tanambogo was a seaplane base. The Paratroop Battalion got a foothold on Gavutu, but even with help was unable to land anyone on Tanambogo. Meanwhile, I spent D-day aboard ship, watching our Navy bombard shore installations, until a Japanese dive bomber attack drove me below decks. We then came under a torpedo attack, with the bridge keeping us posted via the public address system. Several torpedoes were fired, but we maneuvered first to starboard and then to port, dodging all of them until the PA announced, "Here comes another one, dead amidships. Standby to take torpedo." The next word was, "Torpedo set too low, it went underneath." You could hear a huge sigh from a whole shipload of men!

I found that being in reserve had its drawbacks because reserves were always sent to where the worst fighting occurred and, sure enough, early the next morning we boarded our Higgins boats and left for Gavutu. We neared the beach, the boat grounded, and I went over the side with the rest of my squad into waist-deep water. I surged forward through the water as fast as possible because there was considerable rifle and machine gun fire. Upon reaching the beach I hit the deck, half in and half out of the water, alongside another Marine already lying there. Keeping my eyes to the front I asked him, "What's the scoop?" hoping he might have seen something I hadn't. When he didn't answer I looked at him and saw he was dead. I rose and ran a zigzag course on inland.

Gavutu is a very small island, just over one-third of a mile long. Adjacent Tanambogo is even smaller. Both consist of a low hill, with some flat land comprising about half of each island. We were ordered up the hill which was full of caves, both natural and those dug by the Japanese. Most of the remaining Japanese on Gavutu were holed up in the caves. I reached the top of the hill which had a low, open structure on it made out of corrugated iron. Over this shelter flew the Japanese flag. We set up a machine gun, aiming it at Tanambogo, which was giving us heavy fire. I took up a prone position a few feet from the machine gun where I could also bring my rifle to bear on Tanambogo.

Figure 6. Intelligence map of Gavutu and Tanambogo Islands, July 1942. Photo# NH 97748 from the Navy Historical Center.

Figure 7. This tiny beach on Gavutu is where we waded ashore from our Higgins boats. Photo taken in 1988.

The noise of machine gun, rifle, and mortar fire was very loud and continuous. Suddenly there was even a louder roar and instantaneous explosion, then all went black and quiet. Although I did not know it at the time, an American dive bomber from one of our carriers was ordered to bomb Tanambogo. The pilot became confused and, seeing the Japanese flag flying over us, dive bombed Gavutu instead and dropped a 500-pound fragmentation bomb square on our machine gun. The gun crew was killed and several other Marines were killed or wounded. I was blown about half way down the hill.

I don't know how long I was unconscious, but it was a little while. As I started coming to I realized something had happened. As everything was black and completely silent, I thought I must be dead. I remember that I wasn't frightened, but was curious as to what would happen next as people often wondered about what took place after death, but no one had ever been able to report it. As I waited to discover this, gradually things started to get light and focused until I realized I was still on Gavutu and lying flat on my back. I knew then I was alive, but as everything was still completely quiet I decided I was deaf. Gradually, however, my hearing started to return so I knew that function still worked all right. I still had no idea what happened but realized I was hit somewhere. As reasoning returned, I knew I had to find out how bad it was. The most difficult thing I ever did was to raise my head and look toward my lower extremities as I was afraid what I would find. As it was, I could see I was completely covered with blood, but both legs looked intact and I could see two feet pointing skyward. I immediately started to feel better as I mentally cleared one serious injury after another. At this time I realized my upper left arm was numb and knew that must be where I was hit. I was still flat on my back, but turning my head sideways I could observe that the sleeve looked full. I then reached around with my right hand and felt the rear portion of my left arm and discovered there were no big holes there either. My morale was improving by leaps and bounds.

Figure 8. Gavutu Island. Only 515 yards long and 255 yards wide. Photo taken in 1988.

About that time two Navy Corpsmen arrived with a stretcher and placed me on it, then carried me down the remainder of the hill where the former store was located and which was now battalion aid. Keeping me on the stretcher, they carried me to the second floor of this building and placed me on two supports. Doctor Eisenberg rushed over and unbuttoned my jacket. As he removed the jacket, which was absolutely soaked in blood, both he and I stared in amazement at my nice white skin underneath. The blood belonged to some other poor Marine and was not mine at all. The examination showed I had been hit several times by small pieces of shrapnel and other debris, but as they were hot from exploding they cauterized their own entry and I had not bled at all.

As none of my injuries were so serious that they required immediate attention, the doctor told me to just rest where I was for awhile. This was good advice, but it might have proved fatal in this instance. As it was, I was anxious to get back to my unit and the stability of companions in this strange and unfriendly land, so I took my rifle, which I had retained the whole time, and went back to what was left of my squad.

About 1600 hours, just shortly after I left battalion aid, the USS Buchanan came in and fired point blank at the concrete bunker on Tanambogo. Unfortunately, shell fragments from a short fused round ripped through the second floor of the former store near where I had been lying. M Company Sgt. Robert E. Bradley, who was operating a mortar observation post at that location, was not so fortunate as I, and a piece of shrapnel hit him in the throat taking out his larynx and severing his trachea and esophagus. Sgt. Bradley would live, but he spent the next year and a half in naval hospitals before receiving a medical discharge. When the official history of the Second Marine Division during World War 2 was published, under the title of "Follow Me," the opening paragraph tells of this incident and the courage of this man. What an honor, but at what a price as his voice was never restored. Bob Bradley still lives with his wife in Magalia, California, and thanks to this story on the web we have met via e-mail and correspond on a regular basis.

Incidentally, it was over three years later at the Long Beach Naval Hospital that I had an irritating piece of the bomb that had injured me removed from my left hand. The hospital was in need of an excuse to have a parade and review so it did so at that time and I was presented wth a Purple Heart medal. I still have one small piece of shrapnel in my upper left arm.

Shortly after rejoining my unit we were ordered down to the beach facing Tanambogo. Some small structures were located there which were built over the water on pilings. I could see a Japanese battle flag in one of the buildings. In spite of small arms fire I managed to reach this flag and claim it. It is very possible that this was the first Japanese battle flag captured during the war. I kept the flag for over 62 years before returning it to Gavutu for display. I felt that by returning the flag I was honoring both myself as well as the former owner who had lost his life there. Incidentally, the flag that flew over the hill on Gavutu was eventually recovered and put on display in the museum at the Marine Corps Base in San Diego.

Figure 9. Buildings stood on these pilings during the assault in 1942.

Figure 10. This Japanese flag flew over those buildings.

Our position on the beach was near the end of a causeway that connected Gavutu and Tanambogo. The causeway was about six feet wide at the top, three to four feet above the water, and about 400 feet long. The reason for our position was explained to us. I Company was to land from Higgins boats near the far end of Tanambogo, and two light tanks were to land about in the middle. Our unit, the First Platoon of K Company was to attack Tanambogo via the causeway.

At 1620 we fixed bayonets and charged, single file, across the causeway. Enemy machine gun fire started sweeping back and forth, frequently finding its mark. I remembered lectures from boot camp that said in such a situation a person was to run in a zigzag manner, frequently hitting the deck and rolling to a new position before raising up to run again. The narrow causeway prevented any zig-zagging, and the completely exposed conditions (there was not even a blade of grass on the causeway) made the other instructions impractical. A slight curve in the length of the causeway, however, did place Tanambogo to the left side, giving some cover on the right below the pathway on top. Only small Gaomi Island was nearby on the right side. About halfway across I dived to the ground and rolled over the side to break up my long exposure to the Japanese gunners. It was then I discovered another machine gun was located on Gaomi Island, and this gun was sweeping the causeway from its vantage point. I immediately was back up and continuing the charge.

Figure 11. Photo taken from the top of the hill on Gavutu, July 1943. The view shows the causeway to Tanambogo, and just the tip of Tanambogo Island. The little island at right center is Gaomi. Photo is from the US Marine Corps Official Collection, National Archives, via Archaehistoria.

My best friend at the time, Willie E. Smith, of Brookhaven, Mississippi, was running directly in front of me. Suddenly he made a complete somersault backward, landing flat on his back. I could see blood shooting straight up in the air from a bullet wound through his throat. Under such conditions, all I could do was just jump over him and continue on. Upon reaching Tanambogo I ran another fifty feet or so and jumped into a shell hole for cover. This hole would become my home for the next several hours.

Meanwhile, Willie was able to get up and run back to Gavutu, holding one hand each over the entry and exit wound to his neck. I felt good being able to see him reach safety. Willie was very lucky. He was treated at battalion aid and returned to the transport where he was eventually evacuated to New Zealand. He rejoined our platoon about four months later on Tulagi, having missed most of the fighting for the Southern Solomons except for the one day. Willie survived the war and lived until 2003.

This bayonet charge is described in a recent 2008 book titled Hell's Islands: The Untold Story of Guadalcanal. The book was written by Stanley Coleman Jersey and is part of the Texas A&M University Military History Series (Book 11). I was fortunate to be mentioned by name in pages 177 and 178.

I Company had several casualties but managed to hang on to their position. The next day we would join up with them. The two tanks had worse luck. We could see both of them just overwhelmed by Japanese troops who used pipes to jam the tracks, then dumped gasoline over them and set them on fire. Miraculously, a couple of men did get out and escape.

Figure 12. Japanese facilities on Tanambogo Island burning on 7 August 1942. Photo# 80-G-19223 from the Navy Historical Center.

Figure 13. Burning Japanese facilities on Tanambogo Island, August 1942. Photo# 80-G-11899 from the Navy Historical Center.

Figure 14. Tanambogo Island. Adjoining Gavutu, but even smaller. These two islands were so important during the campaign that they cost the Marines seventy lives in the assault, and the Japanese lost hundreds of men defending them. They were completely deserted in 1988 when this photo was taken.

Shell craters were sufficiently frequent that all of our platoon found enough to take shelter in and fire on the enemy. We retained the position all through the night. The password that night was yellow, picked because the Japanese have difficulty saying the letter "L." Our sergeant was an old-time career Marine named Brogan. He checked on all of us several times during the night, always staying in one shell crater and using the password, his name, and being acknowledged before crawling to the next one. Another good friend, Curly Graham of Minnesota, shared the shell hole with me. Both of us were awake most of the night, but we made certain one of us at least was awake all the time. Just as the first faint light of predawn arrived I was looking out toward Gaomi Island, mentioned earlier, when I detected a movement in the water near the shore. Suddenly, a man's body materialized coming out of the water only a few feet in front of me. I knew it had to be Japanese, of course, and at first I thought I would just be quiet and use my bayonet. I knew he would obviously be armed with a rifle and bayonet too, and while I had confidence in my skill, I also was aware we were fighting Japanese Imperial Marines who had prior experience in China. It crossed my mind that perhaps he would prove the more skillful. I chose to use the rifle.

Figure 15. Wrecked Japanese landing craft.

Figure 16. The same beach as it was in 1988. The causeway formerly lead to Tanambogo Island, left center, but it is almost washed out today. Florida Island is in the background.

Just after daybreak I was again watching Gaomi Island when I could see a man in a camouflaged uniform slowly moving through jungle growth in waist deep water at the shore. Remembering my training at the rifle range, and because I had plenty of time, I estimated the range, set my sights, and slowly squeezed off a round. On the rifle range the shot would have been called a bull's-eye.

Interestingly, in three more years in combat the two previous incidents would never be repeated. Usually, one never saw the enemy. You would fire at likely places, and later, after you advanced, sometimes you might see a body there. There was no way in ever knowing if other, or how many, Marines had fired a round there on the same presumption.

During the night we could see a fierce sea battle taking place in the direction of Savo Island. Flashes of gunfire lighted the horizon and the noise of battle rolled across Tanambogo. We had no idea who was winning. When the sun rose, the entire area was completely void of all ships. We later were to learn it was the Japanese who won. The U.S. Navy suffered the worst defeat in its history. Three of our heavy cruisers were sunk and one badly damaged. Also lost was the cruiser HMAS Canberra, pride of the Australian Navy. What remained of our Navy headed south at full speed.

About the same time that I was making the bayonet charge onto Tanambogo Island, an interesting development was taking place a couple of miles away in Tulagi Harbor. A man unknown to me at the time, but who would become a very close friend after the war, was a sailor aboard one of the transports. His assignment was as coxswain (operator) of a motor whaleboat, one of the small boats carried aboard the transports. He was ordered to contact the other naval vessels in the harbor and collect their used brass, which is the collective name for all the empty shell cases from the guns that had been fired during the last couple of days. Brass was in short supply and these would be transported back to the States for re-use.

This man, whose name was Mike Elkins, was maneuvering his small boat around the harbor when a radio message was given all ships that the Japanese Imperial Fleet had been observed heading south toward the southern Solomon Islands. All ships were ordered to proceed south to the New Hebrides at once! There was no such radio aboard the motor whaleboat, of course, so Mike had no inkling that anything unusual was afoot until abruptly all ships upped anchor and steamed full speed out of the harbor. Suddenly Mike found himself all alone in a little boat in the middle of one of the best, and largest, anchorages in the South Pacific. As Mike was to say in later years, it was eight thousand miles to the States, but only one mile to the Tulagi dock, and as he did not have gasoline enough for the first option, he had to choose Tulagi.

Upon reaching the beach, Mike was met by a grizzled Marine Gunnery Sergeant who greeted him with, "Hi, Marine, here's your rifle." Mike was to remain on Tulagi for a couple of months until he was able to get a ride on one of our infrequent ships that was going south, where he was finally able to rejoin his assigned vessel.

By the time the sun had well risen we moved out, using rifle fire, automatic rifle fire, and hand grenades to clean out nearby warehouses. We were assisted in this by mortar and machine gun fire from Gavutu. Around noon we met up with I Company and Tanambogo was pronounced secure.

We then returned to Gavutu and set up beach defense. Our platoon was stationed on the far side of the island facing Florida Island, with Guadalcanal fully visible to the west. I dug my foxhole with a field of fire facing the channel, then covered it with a large piece of tin, leaving a crawl hole in the back so I could enter. I then camouflaged everything with dirt, grass, and palm fronds. I would live here for the next five and one-half weeks.

The following day we were all assigned burial detail. Seventy Marines had been killed on the two islands, and all were brought near the old Lever Brothers store that had been battalion aid and was now battalion headquarters. All bodies were identified, if possible, and given as good a burial as we could provide. The Japanese had lost at least 476 men, many of whom had been sealed off in the caves and tunnels on both islands by dynamiting the entrances closed. The others were all placed in a large, common grave.

After returning to my foxhole I suddenly realized that in all of the excitement I had not eaten since leaving the transport three days earlier. I had carried three days' combat rations in my pack. The C-rations consisted of six small cans, three of which were called wet and three dry. The wet rations were in a variety of three; meat and vegetable hash, meat and vegetable stew, and meat and beans. The dry rations were all the same consisting of hard crackers, hard candy, a pack of five cigarettes, and toilet paper. In practice maneuvers we ate a can of both wet and dry for each meal, or a total of six cans a day. Combat rations, however, were only a third as much. Our bayonet was always a handy can opener.

Later in the afternoon we saw a destroyer steaming in our direction. Scuttlebutt (rumor) had it that the Army was supposed to arrive from New Caledonia to relieve us. This must be the vanguard we thought, so we ran down on the beach and waved to it. I saw a white line painted around the destroyer's stack, which was unfamiliar and meant nothing to me. The destroyer slowly came around about a mile offshore and fired a broadside. That was how I learned that all Japanese destroyers had a white line painted around their stack. I also realized who had won the sea battle we had witnessed earlier.

The days moved by slowly. Sanitary conditions on the island were terrible and everyone had dysentery, many of whom were so weakened they could not even rise from the ground. Had the Japanese known it, they could have recaptured the island with hardly having to fire a shot. Of special concern was lack of supplies. We had carried three days' worth of food, ammo, and medical supplies ashore and there was no way to replenish them without a Navy. A limited supply of Japanese material had been captured, but mostly it was up to each individual to find what he could. Coconuts and local fruit were limited and quickly consumed. We scoured the ocean and if anything moved, or looked like it may have at one time, we ate it. Our water supply was not much better. The sole source was a shallow well which was very brinish. Iodine, when available, was added in an attempt to purify it and made it taste horrible. Even then we were limited to one canteen a day, in spite of the extremely hot weather being so near the equator. We then made a lucky discovery. Near the base of the hill a short distance behind my foxhole, we found a wet spot. By digging into it we increased the flow of water to a slow drip. A canteen cup placed under it would fill in a couple of hours. A small number of us guarded this treasure and kept changing the cups day and night so not a drop was wasted.

Today when watches are so cheap and reliable, one tends to forget that was not true in the 1940`s. When I graduated from High School, my folks had given me a wrist watch, which was the only thing I now owned from my previous civilian life. After securing Gavutu, it was soon noted that watches were not designed for the rigors of war. Repeated dunking in the ocean, plus occasional tropical rain showers, disclosed that "water resistant" was not the same as "waterproof." One by one, the watches ceased to function.

A large number of men were always on guard duty at night in the company area. As we stood two-hour tours, not knowing the time created a problem. When it was found that my watch had proven reliable, it was used every night to notify the men on guard when it was time to awaken their relief. This developed into a procedure that sounded as if it were taken right out of medieval times. Every hour the man with my watch would call out the appropriate hour, such as, "Post number one, three o'clock and all's well." This would be taken up by the next guard with "Post number two, etc." and this call would go almost all the way around the island, with the calls gradually fading from hearing.

Although there was nothing very pleasurable about Gavutu, I did enjoy the ocean and went in every day. The water was very warm and clear and it felt good to take off my uniform, wade out to where it was about waist deep, then just sit on the sandy bottom. There were never any waves here, being completely sheltered, and I would slowly rock back and forth in the gentle swells. One day while so seated and about half asleep, I experienced an extremely sharp pain in a very sensitive area that brought me straight up out of the water. I was skinny-dipping, of course, and attached to me was some type of hairy South Sea crab with the biggest pincers I had ever seen. He had mistaken me for dinner. In the future I was very careful where I sat.

Just about seventy or eighty feet offshore, directly in front of my foxhole, rested a huge Kawanishi seaplane. This was a Japanese long-range reconnaissance plane that had been based at Gavutu, but was sunk by our aircraft on D-day. It was still quite shallow at that location and most of the plane was above water. On the first night in my foxhole, a Japanese soldier had gone out to the plane and turned its machine guns on us. We replied with return fire and the following day we removed the guns so such an incident could not happen again. I removed the two aluminum specification plates from the plane for a souvenir, and also cut a section out of the red rising sun painted on the fabric-covered wings.

Figures 17 (above) and 18 (below). Specification plates from the 1941 Kawanishi seaplane, also known as the MAVIS. A translation of the plate indicates that it was manufactured by the Kawanishi Aircraft Company and that the aircraft was a Type 97 No. 2 Flying Boat Model 3 with the serial number Kawanishi 2120. The verified date was October 1, 1941.

Credits for the translation of the specification plates above and the picture of the aircraft below go to Ewan M. Stevenson (Archaehistoria).

Figure 19. The illustration of the MAVIS (above) is from Japanese Aircraft of the Pacific War by Rene J. Francillon (page 301).

A physical description of my part of the island is necessary to appreciate the next story. My foxhole was just inside an area covered by coconut and other trees. To the west was a small, white, sandy beach completely exposed and devoid of any vegetation. Directly behind the beach rose the hill, which was bare and almost cliff-like in this location. In the center of the little beach was a wooden box, perhaps two feet high and six feet long. We were told not to do anything to change the appearance of the island so the Japanese would not know if we were still there or not. In accordance with those instructions we dug a latrine under the box, cut a hole in the box top, and we now had a reasonably comfortable toilet. Although this location did not provide any privacy, it did offer a wonderful view of Sealark Channel and Florida Island.

One night a very good friend of mine, Jim McCrory, from Lemoore, California, needed to use the toilet. I happened to be on guard duty at the time. Jim called out softly and identified himself, as no one moved from his foxhole after dark without the sentry on duty in the squad knowing it first. I acknowledged him and Jim moved out. It was pitch black with no moon or other lights visible. Jim found the box and was utilizing its purpose when suddenly a bright light came on. A Japanese destroyer had silently moved in about a hundred yards offshore and then switched on its searchlight which happened to be centered on Jim sitting on the box. The ship was so close the beam of light was still quite small in circumference; it just covered Jim like a spotlight on a stage illuminates a performer. Jim froze, imagining all of those five-inch guns pointed at him, enough firepower to blow a warship out of the water! I was likewise frozen with fear as I knew a salvo fired at Jim would eliminate me too. The light held unwaveringly for what seemed like an eternity (it must have been a full minute) before swinging on down the beach. Although I could not hear anything, I could imagine both the unbelief and laughter aboard the ship. As soon as the light moved, Jim did too! Jim and I have remained very good friends over the years and keep in frequent contact via e-mail. We can now laugh over this incident.

The following day we were told to prepare to make Gavutu a second Corregidor, which was not very pleasant news as Corregidor had just fallen to the Japanese and all military personnel had been either killed or captured. Being abandoned and without supplies, we knew we would not have much chance of a different outcome. It may be of interest to some that never once did I hear a Marine discuss the possibility of surrender. We knew all too well the fate of prisoners held by the Japanese and no one planned to be one.

The night following the visit by the destroyer it returned again, continuing to use its searchlight but not firing any shots. On the third night it was back again, apparently just keeping an eye on things. The next day we were ordered to open fire with everything from thirty-caliber machine guns on up if it showed again. I didn't really appreciate this reasoning, as up to now no one had fired a shot and no one had been injured. The biggest gun we had on the island was a captured three-inch cannon mounted on the hill. The crew of that gun estimated they could get off three rounds before being knocked out. Other than that, we had a couple of 75 MM howitzers, a couple of 37 MM anti-tank guns, two or three .50-caliber machine guns, and our .30-caliber machine guns. None of these were any match for a destroyer that could just lie offshore and blow our whole island out of the water. Fortunately, the destroyer never returned.

We had one man in our platoon who had a fascination with high explosives. He was always carrying artillery shells and such items back to his foxhole, where he would proceed to dismantle them in order to see how they worked. As he had never had any training in this very dangerous pastime, we seriously questioned his IQ and made certain he had a foxhole by himself and some distance away from the rest of us.

In the early part of the war, American torpedoes were notorious for failing to explode due to defective fuses. This high failure rate was contributing greatly to severe losses among our submarines. As Gavutu had been a Japanese submarine base, a number of Japanese torpedoes were stacked near the causeway leading to Tanambogo. As opposed to American, Japanese torpedoes were famous for their reliability. Our curious private had spotted them, of course, and at his first opportunity he had taken one completely apart and studied it.

Two munitions personnel on Tulagi heard about our torpedoes so they came over to acquire a couple of them so they could be sent back to the States for study. These experts carefully stood at a distance contemplating how they were going to render these highly explosive items inert for shipping, especially as little was known about their assembly. Someone informed them of our man, so they came seeking him. He happily agreed to show them how things were done. Several of us accompanied these three people back to the torpedoes as we were now suddenly very proud of our resident expert. Upon arrival at the scene, we of little faith remained at a considerable distance and watched. Our man confidently sat astraddle the torpedo, bent over and removed the detonator. The real experts watched, but remained almost as far away as we were. They were so impressed, however, that they arranged to have him transferred to their unit. I never saw him again, and it is possible he ended his career with a real bang.

Shortly before our five and one-half weeks on Gavutu were over, a World War I four-stack destroyer arrived. This was the first American ship we had seen since the big sea battle. Our government figured this ship was expendable and we were told the crew had all volunteered. The ship had supplies for us as well as for our two battalions still stationed on Tulagi. A destroyer does not have much space to store supplies, and sharing among so many men meant that we would not receive much and starvation would continue, but at least we appreciated the thought. As the destroyer left across the channel, we were told it was sunk by Japanese aircraft.

We received orders to go to Guadalcanal to reinforce the First Division. The fighting there had started out slow but had become very ferocious as Japan was successfully reinforcing its troops. We had an old YP boat at Tulagi that would transport us. The YP was a converted fishing trawler with a wooden hull and slow speed, but it was all we had as our Navy still had not returned. On September 15, we left Gavutu, which was starting to feel like home, and departed for the 'Canal.'

Forty-six years later Joyce and I returned to Gavutu and Tanambogo. The islands that were so important and that cost at least 546 lives were completely deserted, with not a soul living on either. Gaomi Island had a native Melanesian family living there. The islands have completely recovered and were cloaked with jungle growth. I walked right to my foxhole site and pointed it out to Joyce. Both islands are beautiful and peaceful. One would never guess the horror that occurred there. Joyce could not believe how small the islands were.

Figure 20. The Japanese battle flag taken by the author on Gavutu on August 8th, 1942.

Figure 21. Steve Goodhew (on right) holds one side of the flag. Steve attempted to build a resort on the island, but the venture was unsuccessful. I had returned the flag for permanent display on Gavutu. John Innes, a Solomon Islands historian from Guadalcanal, stands on the far right. The other two men are veterans visting the island. The photo was taken at the Gavutu end of the causeway that connects Tanambogo and Gavutu (also pictured in Figure 11). Gaomi and Florida islands can be seen in the background.

Figure 22. John Innes holds the flag on top of a small hill on Gavutu. This hill is the same one mentioned in the text that was accidentally bombed by an American aircraft. The other man is an American veteran visiting the island.

Last Modified: 01/01/2023
One Man's View by Leonard E. Skinner (2001)