The Long Blue Line: Fred Mann, Silver Star Medal hero of Guadalcanal

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

Fred Mann, U.S. Coast Guard retired, celebrates his 97th birthday at Station South Padre Island in 2016. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Fred Mann, U.S. Coast Guard retired, celebrates his 97th birthday at Station South Padre Island in 2016. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

For conspicuous gallantry while attached to the USS George Elliott in action against Japanese forces off Guadalcanal August 8, 1942.
Silver Star Medal Citation, Boatswain’s Mate 2nd Class Frederick Mann

Senior enlisted service member Frederick Mann in dress blues. (Courtesy of the Mann Family)

Senior enlisted service member Frederick Mann in dress blues. (Courtesy of the Mann Family)

Coast Guard hero Frederick “Fred” Dean Mann was a career service member. He was born Oct. 14, 1918, in Atlee, Virginia. After completing two years of junior college and one quarter at the University of Georgia, he enlisted on Aug. 27., 1939, in Atlanta. As was common at the time, he did not attend boot camp and reported directly to the cutter Saranac.

It was in World War II’s Pacific theater of operations that Fred Mann earned the Silver Star Medal for gallantry. In the spring and summer of 1942, the Japanese military juggernaut had seemed unstoppable in the Pacific. By July, the enemy had occupied Guam, Wake Island, Hong Kong, Singapore, vast areas of China, the Philippines, Southeast Asia, the Dutch East Indies as well as the Solomon Islands.

In April, Allied naval strategists had decided to make a stand in the Solomons at Tulagi Island. After the Japanese began building an airfield there, Allied planners changed their assault plan to include the island of Guadalcanal located 20 miles west of Tulagi. Enemy aircraft flying from Guadalcanal could cut off Allied supply lines to Australia and New Zealand.

USS George Elliott freshly painted in camouflage in January 1942, eight months before its loss. (U.S. Navy)

USS George Elliott freshly painted in camouflage in January 1942, eight months before its loss. (U.S. Navy)

The Allies code named the Guadalcanal campaign “Operation Watchtower.” Throughout mid-summer 1942, the port of Wellington, New Zealand, became a hive of activity for assembling marines, ships and supplies for Watchtower. On Wednesday, July 22, the combined fleet for the operation, Task Force 62, departed Wellington under sealed orders and followed a circuitous route to its destination. As a result, enemy units stationed at Guadalcanal had no forewarning from their command about a possible attack. Task Force 62’s transports anchored off the beaches of Guadalcanal and prepared to land 11,000 marines. Early in the morning of Friday, August 7, Mann’s ship, USS George F. Elliott, approached the landing area and the first U.S. offensive of World War II was set to begin.

Chart showing Guadalcanal invasion forces as they entered Iron Bottom Sound separating Guadalcanal and smaller Tulagi Island. (Wikipedia)

Chart showing Guadalcanal invasion forces as they entered Iron Bottom Sound separating Guadalcanal and smaller Tulagi Island. (Wikipedia)

Mann’s transport participated in the initial Guadalcanal landings on the August 7. The following day, Japanese bombers attacked the Allied landing fleet. Hit by anti-aircraft fire, one of the bombers crashed into the Elliott spilling fuel across the decks and transformed the ship into a blazing torch. Mann went into action carrying a fire hose into the burning troop ammunition magazine and pumped water into the compartment. Despite lack of oxygen, suffocating smoke and super-heated bulkheads, Mann re-entered the compartment to ensure the hose was dousing the fire and filling the compartment with water. His actions prevented the magazine from detonating, causing more carnage and sinking the vessel. Even though Mann’s efforts prevented a catastrophic explosion, Elliott continued to burn into the night. After all troops and crew, including Mann, had safely evacuated the ship, an American destroyer sent the burning hulk to the bottom of Iron Bottom Sound.

Landing craft from American transports unloading cargo on Beach Red, Guadalcanal. (U.S. Navy)

Landing craft from American transports unloading cargo on Beach Red, Guadalcanal. (U.S. Navy)

Mann was transferred to another transport and then to the boat pool on Guadalcanal. Officially termed the Naval Local Defense Force and Anti-Submarine Patrol, the base came to be known as Naval Operating Base “Cactus” (Cactus being the code name for Guadalcanal), or NOB Cactus. This base was the first and only known Naval Operating Base manned and run by the Coast Guard. At its peak, NOB Cactus supported a fleet of about 50 landing craft, including Higgins Boats, tank lighters and LCPs. The number of NOB Cactus personnel would grow to about 50 men, including Mann.

Aerial photo of Japanese aircraft bombing American transports at Guadalcanal. (U.S. Navy)

Aerial photo of Japanese aircraft bombing American transports at Guadalcanal. (U.S. Navy)

By the end of 1942, the defeat of Japanese forces on Guadalcanal was imminent. President Franklin Roosevelt awarded the Presidential Unit Citation to the “First Marine Division, Reinforced” 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 crew members, like Mann, received further honors and recognitions. Various Coast Guardsmen serving on Guadalcanal received the Navy Cross, Silver Star, Bronze Star, Purple Heart and Medal of Honor in addition to the PUC, making the Guadalcanal Campaign the most honored Coast Guard combat operation in service history.

The George Elliott on fire after a Japanese aircraft crashed into the vessel. (Navsource.org)

The George Elliott on fire after a Japanese aircraft crashed into the vessel. (Navsource.org)

After seeing combat during World War II, Mann returned stateside. He served ashore at a variety of stations, including captain-of-the-port (COPT) stations and lifeboat stations on the Great Lakes, East Coast and Gulf Coast. During this time, he met his future wife, the former Winnie Knox, who served as a SPAR at COTP Miami at the same time as Mann. They were married for 54 years. He also served aboard the cutters Bibb and General Greene, and buoy tenders Myrtle, Oak, White Pine, and Narcissus, which he commanded. During the course of his 31-year career, Mann rose through the ranks to become a chief warrant officer. Fred and Winnie retired to Bayview, Texas, near his last duty station at Port Isabel.

Chief Warrant Officer Fred Mann, officer-in-charge of the Norfolk-based 165-foot cutter Narcissus. (Courtesy of the Mann family)

Chief Warrant Officer Fred Mann, officer-in-charge of the Norfolk-based 165-foot cutter Narcissus. (Courtesy of the Mann family)

On Jan. 9, 2017, Coast Guard veteran and war hero Chief Warrant Officer Frederick Dean Mann crossed the bar at the age of 98. For his distinguished service in World War II, he received the Silver Star and Purple Heart medals and the Presidential Unit Citation. Mann was a member of the long blue line who served in the Coast Guard with distinction during wartime and peacetime

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