Friday, I had the honor of attending the annual memorial ceremony for Signalman 1st Class Douglas Munro, held at his gravesite in Cle Elum, Wash. Saturday marked the 72nd anniversary of his untimely death – his heroic sacrifice – at Guadalcanal.
The story of Douglas Munro is a part of our service’s legacy. His sacrifice is a part of our history.
He is our icon … our hero.
And we need to do our part to remember that every day – not just on Aug. 4, on our service’s birthday, and not just on Sept. 27, on the anniversary of his untimely death.
Douglas Munro is more than a service-wide exam study topic.
You see, my dad was a Coast Guard chief back in the 70’s. Back then, with people serving only a few decades after the end of World War II, they were much more connected to that part of our history.
But, it seems that that’s something we have largely let go of. Granted, there are some history buffs out there and many leaders who pass along that desire to preserve our heritage.
So, that’s my call to action to leaders at all levels: if you aren’t doing so already, talk to members of your crew, your office or your unit about our service’s heroes.
Whether you graduated from boot camp or from the academy, you learned Munro’s story. I challenge you to build upon that foundation of knowledge.
However, remember that Douglas Munro is only one of our Coast Guard heroes. Between Ray Evans, Dorothy Stratton, Charles Sexton, Jack Rittichier, Ida Lewis, William Flores, Nathan Bruckenthal, and so many other Coast Guard heroes … we have enough to celebrate every single day of the year.
“It is fitting that we take time to remember and recognize national heroes such as Douglas Munro – an American citizen who went above and beyond the call of duty,” said Marine Lt. Col. Stephen Keane, commanding officer of Marine Corps Security Forces Battalion Bangor, Wash., who was the keynote speaker at the memorial ceremony. “It is fitting because Douglas Munro is still inspiring others to action. He continues to lead citizens to answer the call of duty, to be courageous, selfless and mission-first … He represents the best of America, the best of American courage, the best of honor, respect and devotion to duty.”
The story of Signalman 1st Class Douglas Munro at Guadalcanal
On Sept. 27, 1942, a Coast Guardsman from Cle Elum, Wa., volunteered to lead 10 boats transporting three companies of Marines from Lunga Point Base, on the northern coast of Guadalcanal, to a small cove west of Point Cruz.
The Marines, a component of Lt. Col. Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller’s 7th Marines, planned to land west of the Matanikau River and drive out the Japanese forces there. The Marines, numbering about 500, made their beach landing without incident, with the aid of covering fire supplied by a nearby destroyer. After that, all but one of the landing craft returned to Lunga Point Base.
Soon after, a wave of 17 Japanese bombers forced the destroyer to withdraw, and a Japanese machine gun burst damaged the remaining landing craft, critically wounding one of the crewmen.
As word got back to Lunga Point Base that the Marines were cut off and pinned down, the young man from Washington state again volunteered to lead the transport vessels.
Once on scene, he led the boats ashore, despite heavy enemy fire. At one point, he and a shipmate provided covering fire from an exposed position on the beach.
As the Marines safely re-embarked the landing craft, the Japanese forces continued to press them, so the young man returned to his vessel and maneuvered it between the Marines and the enemy fire. Only after every Marine and landing craft crewman departed, the young man turned his craft to depart the scene. This was when he was cut down by enemy fire.
Signalman 1st Class Douglas A. Munro died that day – exactly two weeks before his 23rd birthday.
His final words: “Did they get off?”