Remembering Munro

Official Coast Guard painting of Munro's last moments while evacuating Marines at Guadalcanal.

Official Coast Guard painting of Munro’s last moments while evacuating Marines at Guadalcanal.
“Douglas A. Munro Covers the Withdrawal of the 7th Marines at Guadalcanal” and was painted by artist Bernard D’Andrea for the Coast Guard Bicentennial Celebration.

“Did they get off?”

Those words may not be recognizable to anyone, but to each and every Coast Guard member, they represent a true Coast Guard hero: Signalman 1st Class Douglas Munro

Seventy-three years ago, those were the last words to Munro said prior to his death at the Battle of Guadalcanal.

Munro, alongside other Coast Guardsmen, was responsible for navigating landing craft full of U.S. Marine forces along the coast. The landing craft not only allowed for troop movements during the war effort, but also transferred crucial supplies to and from the troops during the height of battle.

Signalman 1st Class Douglas A. Munro sent his family this snapshot of himself wearing side arms aboard his ship. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Signalman 1st Class Douglas A. Munro sent his family this snapshot of himself wearing side arms aboard his ship. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

A month after the initial landing at Guadalcanal, Munro joined 24 other U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Navy personnel assigned to Lunga Point Base, which served as a staging area for all the landing craft throughout the area. A month into the campaign, U.S. Marine Lt. Col. Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller embarked three companies of U.S. Marines into landing craft in an effort to push past their defensive line and take control of the western region of Guadalcanal.

Munro, just two weeks short of his 23rd birthday, took control of ten landing craft to move Puller’s men from the staging area to the western coast. After successfully landing and moving 500 yards inland, Munro took all but one of the landing craft and returned to the staging area. Just an hour after landing on the western coast of the island, the U.S. Marine forces were overcome by Japanese bombing raids, driving out their gunfire support and causing the situation to quickly deteriorate.

Just two hours later, the plight of the Marine forces was becoming known. The troops were being driven back to the beach, but many did not have access to radios to inform supporting units and request assistance. A single “HELP” spelled out in t-shirts on the ridge near the beach provided a sign of what the Marines needed.

Munro, back at the staging area but knowing of their needs, volunteered to navigate the same landing craft to rescue the Marines from enemy fire. Nearing the beach, the landing craft themselves came under enemy fire, causing many casualties and making the mission more dangerous by the minute. Despite all this, Munro directed the landing craft to push forward, even with Japanese forces gaining ground and nearing the beach.

The Medal of Honor awarded to Signalman 1st Class Douglas A. Munro. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

The Medal of Honor awarded to Signalman 1st Class Douglas A. Munro. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

As the Marines reembarked on the landing craft, Munro recognized the dangerous situation developing as Japanese forces were firing from only 500 yards beyond the beach where Marine forces were retreating. Munro immediately navigated his vessel between the enemy fire and the Marine forces, providing much-needed cover for the Marines. With his efforts, all of the Marines, including the wounded, were safely taken off the island. With this, the landing craft began to return to the staging area when Munro noticed one of the craft, full of Marines, was grounded on the beach and not far from enemy forces. Munro returned and directed a landing tank to pull the craft off the beach, and just 20 minutes later, the craft was free and able to head out to sea.

At this same time, the Japanese forces began firing machine gun rounds at the final craft as they retreated. Though warnings were shouted, Munro was struck with a single bullet. He died before the forces returned to the staging area.

In a letter dated just five days later, the commanding officer of the unit wrote to inform Munro’s parents of their son’s heroism and death.

“Upon regaining consciousness his only question was ‘Did they get off?’, and so died with a smile on his face and the full knowledge that he had successfully accomplished a dangerous mission,” the letter said.

For his efforts, Munro was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, and is the only member of the Coast Guard to be given the honor.

Today, seventy-three years later, Munro’s legacy lives on. He is remembered and honored by every member of the Coast Guard for his selfless devotion to duty and heroism.

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