“The circle of life begins at home midst family, then sometimes it ends away from home, but still in midst of family, now called friends. They were as much my brothers as if we shared the same last name. I couldn’t have loved them more.”
Jerry McConnell — First Marine Division, First Marine Regiment, 3rd Battalion, K Company
It is important that as many Americans as possible wake up to the dire straits we are in, and it is especially important that the young adults of America wake up to how they are being led down a path to servitude, poverty, and mediocrity by the political/banking/corporate elites.
It is equally important that they understand that freedom is not free, and that they will have to fight for their liberty — one way or another. Patriotic Americans who have gone before them have left a long and proud tradition to draw inspiration from.
Readers of Canada Free Press are familiar with the articles of CFP columnist Jerry McConnell. He has been effectively using his pen to defend America, and exposing traitors, thieves, and scoundrels for years.
Many readers may not be aware that Mr. McConnell’s fight to defend America began many years ago — with a gun, not a pen. August 7, 2011, commemorates the 69th anniversary of Jerry McConnell’s arrival on Guadalcanal, and the start of that epic WW II battle. After his initial landing on the beach, it would be over four months before Jerry got to take a deep breath, and step back from the constant strain of battle.
When he departed “the ‘Canal,” he weighed 35 pounds less than when he left the United States . He was weak from dysentery; wracked with malaria, and had seen and done things that he never imagined before Guadalcanal. He was 18 years old.
Before getting any deeper into Mr. McConnell’s experiences on Guadalcanal, I would like to thank Kent Cooper, and the folks at Seacoast Marines. Without their efforts I would not have been able to piece together this article. Link
It was Mr. Cooper who, a few years ago, persuaded Jerry that it was important for future generations that he write down “…a period of my life that had been put behind me to be forgotten. Too ugly to be remembered. Too unimportant to anyone but myself, and the others who went through it.”
The email correspondence between Messrs. Kent and McConnell is posted on the Seacoast Marines website (instructions on how to access it are at the end of this article).
Guadalcanal is part of the Solomon Islands group, and is approximately ninety miles long, by thirty-five miles wide. It’s located to the northeast of Australia, around 600 miles east of Papua New Guinea. Link“>Link
The island was picked as the primary launching point for the beginning of the U.S. “island-hopping” push toward Japan. The invasion of Guadalcanal was arguably the first major land offensive by the U.S. in WW II — preceding the invasion of North Africa by three months. Such discussions are beyond the scope of this article, as are the great sea battles that took place around Guadalcanal. Link
Nor will I be going into detail about the day-to day travails of the Marines on Guadalcanal. That subject has been well covered in the past — most famously in war correspondent Richard Tragaskis’ book “Guadalcanal Diary.” Link
This article’s focus is Mr. McConnell — a foot grunt, in the thick of things. No grand scenarios here — just blood, sweat, fear, misery, bone-deep weariness — and a unit espirit de corps, and camaraderie, to die for.
Following several hours of U.S. bombing and shelling of the invasion area, Jerry landed on the beach with the 1st Marines, on the morning of August 7, 1942. His unit, “…the Third Battalion of the First Marines, was among those given the objective of capturing a large ‘grassy knoll’ [Mt. Austen] just to the south of the airstrip that butted up against the mountains.” The “grassy knoll” overlooked a captured Japanese airstrip (soon named Henderson Field), and its capture was of great importance. Link
Jerry recalls “Those first three days spelled out a lot of the entire story of the Guadalcanal campaign. We experienced large doses of fear, anxiety, near-death thoughts and encounters, punishing damage to our bodies, extreme thirst and hunger, and almost no sleep for the entire time.”
That first night on the island, after an exhausting, adrenaline-pumping day, “…word was passed down the columns that every other man would sleep for two hours, while the others would remain awake and alert – hah!”
After a second day of fighting, “the second night was a sleepless night for all — Japs and Americans. Some of our units continued to move forward up the hill, trying to gain an advantage. The resistance was severe, and the sharp crack of rifle-fire echoed all night long.”
Following the third day of fighting, that night, “after we had secured the knoll, we were able to rest, and as a result, only those whose turn it was to stay awake, saw the naval flashes out on the bay. The rest didn’t even hear the roar of the big naval guns [the Battle of Savo Island].” Link
“Of course, we had no idea who was who, and we naturally thought that our guys were winning. Wrong!”
Sleep became a matter of catch-as-catch-can. Jerry even mastered the trick of “sleeping while awake.” “I became quite adept at sleeping while I was awake. As strange as it sounds, it’s true. I could doze off in seconds and wake just as quickly. Night sleep often proved deadly, so we avoided dropping off, keeping alert as much as we could.”
McConnell throws some light on a little noted, or discussed, aspect of combat on Guadalcanal — or anywhere — personal hygiene. “We were unable to relieve our bowel demands for the entire [first] three days. It was something that was done only when the body would not allow any alternative.”
“There just were no opportunities, or convenient places, for such necessities. You didn’t dare wander off from the main body of troops, for fear of being killed or captured — or worse, mistakenly shot by one of your own men!”
Mr. McConnell explains that “I only mention it here, because over the years, in many stories, I have never seen it addressed. And yet, it was a very serious problem, that had many side effects, and repercussions, that contributed to deteriorated performance. Little did I know at the time, that it would set a pattern of behavior and living, that would become all too familiar to us in the coming months.”
Getting, and keeping, Henderson Field operational, became crucial after the U.S. Navy left — a couple of days into the invasion — taking around half of the Marines’ much-needed supplies with them. The ships wouldn’t return for another two months.
The U.S. Navy had been badly beaten-up in the waters off of Guadalcanal (“… the worst naval defeat ever suffered by the U.S. Navy”) in the early morning hours of August 9th. That, coupled with the fear of Japanese submarine attacks, aerial attacks, and other considerations, prompted the Navy to withdraw their support ships from Guadalcanal. Link
The waters offshore became known as “Iron Bottom Sound” due to the large number of ships and planes laying on the sea floor. All that the Marines on Guadalcanal knew, was that they were stranded, and screwed. Link
The Marines on Guadalcanal were totally cut off from support, and “we controlled about one-half of one percent of the total island, and the Japanese controlled the other ninety-nine and one-half percent.”
It would be two weeks before Henderson Field would be operational, and air support could fly in to Guadalcanal. “We filled the holes, and graded the strip, mostly with our bare hands, mostly during moments when we weren’t engaged in some form of combat, which added to the delay.” Link
“Getting that strip ready to receive our planes was a priority exceeded only by engaging in direct combat with enemy ground forces.” Still, because of the atrocious conditions, and the lack of proper equipment, it was a couple of weeks before planes would, or could, fly into Henderson. In the meantime, the Marines stranded on the island were on their own. Link
McConnell takes the time to explain some of the minutia of his life on “the ‘Canal.” Things you might not think of:
The nights were often “quite chilly.”
Because they had few machetes, they had to use their bayonets to cut through the tall (6′+), razor-sharp kunai grass.
Boot-laces rotted away, and “in a lot of cases were replaced with jungle vines.”
When they ran into colonies of the large (1″) red fire-ants, “we quickly learned to tuck the pant legs down inside our socks and knock them off as they climbed upwards.”
“The sand-flies were about as bad as [those 'damned mosquitoes'], if not worse. They delighted in getting…in your ears, nose, mouth and eyes.”
Speaking of sand, one night Jerry was dug-in with his battalion on the beach, being held in reserve, about 100 yards behind the front lines. Soon enough, rifle shots, machine-gun fire, grenade explosions, screams and yells from the front lines, told them that a serious battle was going on. Link
You might think that being behind the front lines is a piece of cake, “but it’s not knowing what’s going on, when you hear all of the shooting that gets real ‘tough’ — or to be blunt — scary!”
“When the fierce shooting would momentarily cease, the quiet lulls would make you even more tense. You begin to wonder if the Japs had killed all of our men and were sneaking up behind, or all around us ready to pounce at any moment. Even the click of the sand crabs made us jump. You pray awfully hard for daylight.”
During the night, many of the dead Japanese soldiers were washed out to sea via the creek they had been crossing, and their bodies, carried by an incoming tide, lay half-buried along the beach. “Imagine our surprise in the morning to see all the dead bodies in front of us.”
The battle that Jerry is referring to, is shown in Part 1 of HBO’s series, “The Pacific.” It’s known by several names, including: Battle of the Tenaru, Battle of the Ilu River, and Battle of Alligator Creek. Link
Jerry and his mates “were elated that our fellow regimental battalion Marines had stood the test, and held out on their own, and, of course, the situation was reversed at times, when we were the ones under siege, while our reserve battalion was heaving a sigh of relief, and giving thanks to our stalwartness.”
One of the times that Jerry’s unit was in the front lines involved an engagement at the Matanikau river. “The 3rd Battalion and my Company (K), was on the eastern side of a sand bar when ten tanks tried to come across in October. The noise of the tanks was bad enough, but the insane screaming of the charging Jap soldiers who came alongside, and behind the tanks, was mind-bending and nerve wracking. I often wondered how we survived that night. There were times that…I wished the earth would swallow me up whole and protect me.” Link Link
“[One] memorable-forever occasion, occurred when two Japs were charging at me at the same time. From somewhere behind I heard a loud scream, ‘Drop, Mac!’ which I did without delay. In less than a second, I heard the rapid ‘burp-burp-burp’ of a BAR [Browning Automatic Rifle] cutting down the two Japs, one of whom landed almost on top of me. But such actions were common that night.” Link
It’s time to start wrapping up this article. As I mentioned earlier, if you would like to read Mr. McConnell’s story in its entirety, the directions on how to access it immediately follow this article’s conclusion.
When Jerry left Guadalcanal in December, there was still a battle going on for control of the island, but with an influx of fresh troops (both Marines, and U.S. Army), the island was under Allied control by early February. Link
Wikipedia notes that “after Guadalcanal the Japanese were clearly on the defensive in the Pacific. The constant pressure to reinforce Guadalcanal had weakened Japanese efforts in other theaters… The Allies had gained a strategic initiative which they never relinquished.” Link
It seems fitting to me, that Jerry conclude this article in his own words:
“All of those men were like my brothers. We all cared for, looked out for, and protected each other, like family members do. Being in a depressed state didn’t always mean that you were worried about yourself. Often I would think to myself, ‘God, I hope John, or Elmer, or Gary, doesn’t get hurt.’ I was unable to use the word ‘killed,’ it was just unthinkable.
Whenever there was a serious wound or injury, it hurt nearly as much as if it had been ourselves. The death of a very close buddy was like a knife in the heart. You just didn’t want to believe it, even if you actually saw, and knew that it was true.
I mean those guys were like a part of you. You had been with them twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, for many, many months. And now they were gone. And it felt like a big hole was right in the middle of your heart.
But, oh my God, what a wonderful feeling when you looked around and saw everyone that mattered still there, still grinning at you with a wink and a nod, that showed their happiness at making the same discovery. Man, family doesn’t get any closer than that.
It was feelings like those that drove us to excel under the vilest of conditions.
The circle of life begins at home midst family, then sometimes it ends away from home, but still in midst of family, now called friends. They were as much my brothers as if we shared the same last name. I couldn’t have loved them more.”
Semper fi, Jerry.
These are his directions to access Mr. McConnell’s story in full.
Here’s how to get to my story:
1. Go to www.seacoastmarines.com
2. Click on the eagle, flag or emblem on opening screen
3. Scroll down to bottom of screen, click on WWII emblem
4. Scroll down to bottom of screen, click on blue title, “Open to the Gravest …
5. You are now at the opening screen of my book. Scroll down past the pictures and click on the words, “Chapters 1 – 2 – 3” Then begin reading, continuing on to the subsequent chapters.
It’s not a very long story, as I recall when I typed out the manuscript, there were about 180 pages total.