GUADALCANAL, SOLOMON ISLANDS --
“We struck at Guadalcanal to halt the advance of the Japanese. We did not know how strong he was, nor did we know his plans. We knew only that he was moving down the island chain and that he had to be stopped. We were as well trained and as well armed as time and our peacetime experience allowed us to be. We needed combat to tell us how effective our training, our doctrines, and our weapons had been. We tested them against the enemy, and we found that they worked. From the movement in 1942, the tide turned, and the Japanese never again advanced.” – U.S. Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Alexander A. Vandergrift.
Heavy clouds and severe storms covered the movement of the Allied invasion fleet whilst a Japanese patrol aircraft from Tulagi Island, a province of the Solomon Islands, searched the general area. The inclement weather allowed the Allied forces to arrive on the nearby shores of Guadalcanal unseen by the Japanese on the night of August 6, 1942.
The following morning, the U.S. forces took the defenders by surprise; U.S. Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Alexander Vandegrift, commander of 1st Marine Division, and 11,000 U.S. Marines came ashore on Guadalcanal and within the first 36 hours had secured the main objective, a tiny airstrip on the North coast of the island. That airstrip, later renamed Henderson Field, would go on to be a major launching point for Allied air attacks during the Pacific island-hopping campaign.
While most battles are fought in one domain, Guadalcanal was fought in the air, on land and at sea. It was total war. The service members also battled disease, heat, mosquitoes and unfamiliar terrain with dense vegetation. It is estimated that in total, the Battle of Guadalcanal resulted in more than 27,000 service members being killed between the two sides. Overall, there were three major land battles, seven naval battles and constant aerial battles. The campaign also brought to light incredible stories of bravery including Master Gunnery Sgt. Leland Diamond who drove off a Japanese cruiser with a mortar and Capt. Joe Foss who personally shot down 23 Japanese aircraft.
The seven-month campaign, also known as Operation Watchtower, marked the first Allied land offensive in the Pacific theater and was the first vital step in driving the Japanese back.
81 years later, overlooking the town of Honiara, service members and heads of state from the United States and its partner nations gathered to honor those who fought in the battle during an anniversary ceremony at the Guadalcanal American Memorial in Honiara, Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands, August 7, 2023.
“We all owe it to all who paid the ultimate sacrifice here 81 years ago to keep relationships strong to face tomorrow’s challenges." Lt. Col. Robert J. Hillery, commanding officer of Task Force Koa Moana 23
According to Francisco Ocegueda, the American Battle Monuments Commission Deputy Director of Cemetery Operations for the Pacific Region, the ceremony hosted nearly 200 visitors including military personnel, government officials and veteran groups.
“It was very special to see such a diverse group come and participate,” said Ocegueda. “It tells me were doing the right thing by having the monument here and continuing to celebrate every year, August 7, the landings and beginning of the Battle of Guadalcanal.”
The sunrise ceremony included guest speakers, wreath layings and a moment of silence for the fallen.
“On August 7, 1942, 81 years ago today, men from around the world arrived on these shores to being a series of battles that would become some of the harshest fighting of the Pacific campaign during World War II,” said Lt. Col. Robert J. Hillery, commanding officer of Task Force Koa Moana 23. “Thousands of courageous men gave their lives so that you and I could enjoy the freedom we share. Today, as we do every year, we gather to remember.”
According to Hillery, it is also important to recognize the contributions of the Solomon Islanders.
“This campaign impacted the lives of the men and women who had not choice but to face a war brought to their shores. The sacrifices the Islanders made will never be forgotten,” said Hillery. “Their efforts in Guadalcanal included disrupting Japanese operations, rescuing downed pilots, and informing Allied forces through coast-watching and scouting.”
During the ceremony, Hillery also reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to fostering a strong relationship with the Solomon Islands and other nations to ensure peace in the Indo-Pacific region.
“We all owe it to all who paid the ultimate sacrifice here 81 years ago to keep relationships strong to face tomorrow’s challenges,” said Hillery. “There is no greater friend and no worse enemy than the United States Marines. We have and always will be faithful to our allies.”