The Long Blue Line: The “Gold Dust Twins” and the battle of Guadalcanal (Part 2)

This blog is part of a series honoring the long blue line of Coast Guard men and women who served before us. Stay tuned as we highlight the customs, traditions, history and heritage of the Coast Guard.

Written by William H. Thiesen, Coast Guard Atlantic Area historian

An artist’s depiction of the NOB Cactus mission to evacuate Chesty Puller’s ambushed marine battalion at Point Cruz, Guadalcanal. Official recognition for this Coast Guard operation included Munro’s Medal of Honor, three Navy Crosses, a Navy Commendation Medal and a number of Purple Hearts. Coast Guard Collection.

An artist’s depiction of the NOB Cactus mission to evacuate Chesty Puller’s ambushed marine battalion at Point Cruz, Guadalcanal. Official recognition for this Coast Guard operation included Munro’s Medal of Honor, three Navy Crosses, a Navy Commendation Medal and a number of Purple Hearts. Coast Guard Collection.

Today we continue the story of petty officers Douglas Munro and Ray Evans and Lt. Cmdr. Dwight during the battle of Guadalcanal. To read what happened first, read Part One.

To expedite evacuation of the wounded, Evans positioned his boat close to shore and enemy machine gun fire raked the landing craft, striking coxswain Roberts in the neck. With Roberts bleeding badly, Evans sped his damaged boat back to NOB Cactus to seek medical attention. Evans landed Roberts at the NOB waterfront, but the coxswain’s wound proved fatal and he passed away the next day. Roberts would posthumously receive the Navy Cross Medal and become even more famous for his namesake destroyer escort lost at the Battle of Leyte Gulf.

By 3:30 that afternoon, Vandergrift’s First Division command post called Dexter’s NOB headquarters. A numerically superior Japanese force at Point Cruz armed with mortars, machine guns and anti-tank guns had ambushed Puller’s battalion, inflicting heavy casualties. Dexter’s orders were to evacuate the Marines as soon as possible. Dexter stepped out of the headquarters shack and shouted down to Munro and Evans on the waterfront, “Will you two lead these boats to take them off?”

U.S. invasion forces establish a beachhead on Okinawa island, about 350 miles from the Japanese mainland, on April 13. 1945. Pouring out war supplies and military equipment, the landing crafts fill the sea to the horizon, in the distance, battleships of the U.S. fleet. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

U.S. invasion forces establish a beachhead on Okinawa island, about 350 miles from the Japanese mainland, on April 13. 1945. Pouring out war supplies and military equipment, the landing crafts fill the sea to the horizon, in the distance, battleships of the U.S. fleet. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Munro’s rapid response was “Hell, yes!” Evans recalled later, “The three of us had done duty together for a long time, and I’m sure the commander knew the answer before he asked.”

By about 4:00 p.m., Evans, Munro and Navy coxswain Walter Bennett had disembarked an LCP to lead the NOB Cactus flotilla back to Point Cruz with Munro serving as the officer in charge. To locate elements of the beleaguered Marine battalion, Munro and Evans steered their LCP up to the beach under fire. After making contact with the Marines, they maneuvered the boat into an exposed position to provide cover for the evacuation and draw the enemy’s fire. Using their dual .30 caliber equipped LCP as a floating machine gun nest, Munro and his shipmates fought Japanese machine gunners at close range and orchestrated the evacuation of the troops.

In the span of only 30 minutes, all the Marines except the dead were safely loaded into the waiting NOB boats. The flotilla of landing craft began the four-mile return trip to NOB Cactus, but Evans and Munro remained behind to assist one of the Navy Landing Craft, Tanks (LCTs) grounded on the beach. While they helped pull the LCT off the beach, the Japanese set-up a machine gun on the beach and raked Munro’s LCP. The enemy fusillade wounded the entire crew except Evans. Bennett suffered non-fatal wounds from the incoming rounds and later received the Navy Cross Medal for his role in the action. Directing the landing craft and manning his air-cooled .30 caliber Lewis machine gun, Munro suffered a serious neck wound as had Roberts in the initial landings.

Image of SM1 Douglas Munro, hero of Point Cruz and the only Medal of Honor recipient in the Coast Guard history. Coast Guard Collection.

Image of SM1 Douglas Munro, hero of Point Cruz and the only Medal of Honor recipient in the Coast Guard history. Coast Guard Collection.

Munro’s boats had evacuated all survivors of Puller’s battalion, including 25 wounded. Unfortunately, Munro had taken a bullet to the neck at the base of his skull. Evans failed to realize his friend’s dire situation until another man motioned him forward to the bow, where Munro lay slumped down in his forward gun position.

Evans knelt down beside Munro, who asked, “Did we get them all off?”

Evans later recounted Munro’s final moment: “And seeing my affirmative nod, he smiled with that smile I knew and liked so well, and then he was gone.”

Doug Munro had laid down his life to ensure the survival of Puller’s battalion. On the recommendation of Vice Admiral William “Bull” Halsey, Munro posthumously received the Medal of Honor, the only one ever awarded to a Coast Guardsman. In the condolence letter to Munro’s parents, Dexter referred to his fallen friend as “one of my boys.” Later in the letter, he wrote that “[Munro’s] loss has left a very decided space in which I feel will never be filled .”

By November 1942, the first wave of Marines and Coast Guardsmen had served on Guadalcanal for three months. Hundreds of Americans had made the ultimate sacrifice, including Munro and several other Coast Guardsmen. Thousands were also lost to disease and those who managed to survive were mere shadows of their former selves. Men who had arrived on the Canal at an average weight had lost 30 or more pounds due to sleep deprivation, overexertion, a steady diet of C-rations and mosquito-borne illnesses, such as malaria. They were no longer fit for duty and rotated off the line or back to the states for rehabilitation.

Among the NOB men coming off the island were Dexter and Evans. Dexter had earned the respect and admiration of those who served under him at NOB Cactus. Some of his men broke down and cried when he informed the crew he was heading home. He received a promotion in rank and the Navy awarded him the Silver Star Medal for his command of NOB Cactus. His medal citation aptly states, “By his courage in the face of great hardship and danger, he set an example which was an inspiration to all who served with him.” Dexter later completed a career in the Coast Guard and retired as a rear admiral.

Ray Evans receiving his Navy Cross Medal for action seen at Point Cruz. Evans had already received a battlefield advancement and later received an officer’s commission. Coast Guard Collection.

Ray Evans receiving his Navy Cross Medal for action seen at Point Cruz. Evans had already received a battlefield advancement and later received an officer’s commission. Coast Guard Collection.

Before rotating back to the states, Evans flew from Guadalcanal to Noumea, New Caledonia, for an audience with Vice Adm. Halsey. While aboard Halsey’s flagship, USS Argonne, Evans received a field promotion from signalman first class to chief petty officer. In early 1943, he received the Navy Cross Medal for the Point Cruz evacuation and he later received an officer’s commission. His Navy Cross citation concludes, “By his great personal valor, skill and outstanding devotion to duty in the face of grave danger, he contributed directly to the success of his mission by saving the lives of many who otherwise might have perished.”

Before redeploying, both he and Dexter paid their respects to Munro at Guadalcanal’s military cemetery, hallowed ground the Americans had cleared of the jungle and the Japanese.

By December 1942, the defeat of Japanese forces on the Canal appeared likely. U.S. Army Gen. Alexander Patch relieved Marine Gen. Vandergrift and President Franklin Roosevelt awarded the Presidential Unit Citation (PUC) to the battered First Marine Division. The “First Marine Division, Reinforced” received the award and the word “Reinforced” honored support units, such as NOB Cactus and its men. In addition to the PUC, which equates to the Navy Cross Medal on an individual basis, various NOB Cactus crewmembers received further honors and recognitions. These included the Purple Heart Medal, Navy Commendation Medal, Silver Star Medal, Navy Cross Medal, as well as Munro’s posthumous Medal of Honor. Like Roberts, Evans and Munro would become namesakes for U.S. military vessels and Coast Guard installations, including the Douglas A. Munro Coast Guard Headquarters Building in Washington, D.C.

Coast Guard personnel serving on Guadalcanal received dozens of medals for heroism, making the campaign one of the most honored Coast Guard combat operations in service history.

In February 1943, Army Gen. Patch declared Guadalcanal secured of all Japanese military forces. After that, the Allies remained on the offensive for the rest of the Pacific War and the Japanese fought a lengthy retreat back to their home islands. Doug Munro, Ray Evans, Dwight Dexter and their NOB Cactus shipmates were all members of the long blue line and lived up to the Service’s core values of honor, respect and devotion to duty.

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