Seventy years after the Aug. 7, 1942, start to what would be a brutal, six-month-long battle over an island in the South Pacific, veterans of Guadalcanal gathered at Arlington National Cemetery to pay respects to their fellow Marines, soldiers, sailors and Coast Guardsmen.
Fifteen members of the Guadalcanal Campaign Veterans Association, or GCVA, gathered in the cemetery’s amphitheater for a roll call of those known and to recognize the unknown battle buddies who had passed away over the last year. In their 80s and 90s now, the veterans were accompanied to the event by wives, sons, daughters, grandchildren and friends.
“We want to honor all participants of Guadalcanal, those who perished in the air, sea and land and those who came home, raised families, started careers and have since passed,” said GCVA’s national secretary, Gerald Mohn Jr., whose father had served with the 1st Marine Division on Guadalcanal. “We think it’s important that these men be honored for their sacrifice, they are the greatest generation.”
Nicholas Schlosser, of the Marine Corps History Division, discussed the significance of the Guadalcanal Campaign to the eventual Allied victory over Imperial Japanese forces in the Pacific.
“I would say Guadalcanal was no less than the turning point of the war in the Pacific theater,” Schlosser said. “There were very few battles in the war that were fought equally on air, land and sea that hang in the balance for so long. The battle was six months, and up until mid-November, if not December, there were still concerns that the Allies might not win.”
Schlosser said it was the determination of Allied forces that made Guadalcanal a decisive battle in the Allie’s favor.
“It was really through the fortitude and courage of all those fighting on the island, at sea and in the air around the island, that enabled the Allies to achieve victory and advance,” he added. “It no longer was a question of will the Allies win the war; it became a matter of when will Japan lose the war and how long until surrender.”
The invasion force to hit the beaches on Aug. 7, 1942, was made up of about 16,000 Marines which would later swell to a force of 60,000 joint service personnel, including Soldiers from the 164th Infantry Regiment of the Americal Division. The participating Allied forces there included forces from Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, the British Solomon Islands, Tonga and Fiji.
A soldier’s story
One of those American soldiers at Guadalcanal included William J. Hanusek, of Mt. Pleasant, Penn. When he turned 21, Hanusek found himself drafted while in the process of enlisting.
He wanted to be a bulldozer or crane operator, but during processing into the Army, he was asked if he’d had any special training under his belt.
Hanusek told the captain processing him that he’d taken a first-aid course when he was with the Civilian Conservation Corps for Youth in 1936. That was enough to get him sent off to medic school after boot camp. Hanusek eventually found himself caring for wounded Soldiers in Guadalcanal … while carrying a carbine.
Hanusek said that in the Pacific theater, unlike in the European theater, Allied medical personnel were routinely shot.
“I had some great friends in Guadalcanal,” he recalled. “In the position you’re in, the guy next to you in the foxhole is your best friend in the world, he’s more than a brother to you. I remember him to this day, Kenny Davis, a young boy from North Carolina. He made it through the war, but died about a year after the war ended.
“At the time it was all really horrible to me. I remember snipers, bullets right next to your ear, your head, friends who were shot in front of you and those next to you who were decimated by artillery fire,” he said. “Seventy years later, I don’t have the nightmares or flashbacks anymore, those things don’t bother me anymore, but what does bother me is trying to walk and move around.”
Hanusek went on to make the Army a career, retiring as a master sergeant in 1964.
Following the tribute in the Arlington amphitheater, the Guadalcanal vets and their families gathered at the Tomb of the Unknowns where Marines and Guadalcanal veterans Elmer Hawkins and Charles Farmer placed a wreath.