Saturday, January 13, 2007

Blood Is Thicker Than Water: Guadalcanal; The Landing and August Battles (cont'd) *9

FIRST OFFENSIVE: The Marine Campaign for Guadalcanal

by Henry I. Shaw, Jr.

General Vandegrift and His 1st Marine Division Staff

Whenever a work about the Guadalcanal operation is published, one of the pictures always included is that of Major General Alexander A. Vandegrift, 1st Marine Division commanding general, and his staff officers and commanders, who posed for the photograph on 11 August 1942, just four days after the assault landings on the island. Besides General Vandegrift, there are 40 Marines and one naval officer in this picture, and each one deserves a page of his own in Marine Corps history.

Among the Marines, 23 were promoted to general officer rank and three became Commandants of the Marine Corps: General Vandegrift and Colonels Cates and Pate. The naval officer, division surgeon Commander Warwick T. Brown, MC, USN, also made flag officer rank while on active duty and was promoted to vice admiral upon retirement.

Four of the officers in the picture served in three wars. Lieutenant Colonels Gerald C. Thomas, division operations officer, and Randolph McC. Pate, division logistics officer, served in both World Wars I and II, and each commanded the 1st Marine Division in Korea. Colonel William J. Whaling similarly served in World Wars I and II, and was General Thomas' assistant division commander in Korea. Major Henry W. Buse, Jr., assistant operations officer, served in World War II, Korea, and the Vietnam War. Others served in two wars—World Wars I and II, or World War II and Korea. Represented in the photograph is a total of nearly 700 years of cumulative experience on active Marine Corps service.

Three key members of the division—the Assistant Division Commander, Brigadier General William H. Rupertus; the Assistant Chief of Staff, G-1, Colonel Robert C. Kilmartin, Jr.; and the commanding officer of the 1st Raider Battalion, Lieutenant Colonel Merritt A. Edson—were not in this picture for a good reason. They were on Tulagi, where Rupertus headed the Tulagi Command Group with Kilmartin as his chief of staff, and Edson commanded the combat troops. Also notably absent from this photograph was the commander of the 7th Marines, Colonel James C. Webb, who had not joined the division from Samoa, where the regiment had been sent before the division deployed overseas.

In his memoir, Once a Marine, General Vandegrift explained why this photograph was taken. The division's morale was affected by the fact that Vice Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher was forced to withdraw his fleet from the area—with many of his ships not yet fully unloaded and holding more than half of the division's supplies still needed ashore. Adding to the Marines' uneasiness at seeing their naval support disappear below the horizon, was the fact that they had been under almost constant enemy air attacks beginning shortly after their landing on Guadalcanal. In an effort to counter the adverse influence on morale of the day and night air attacks, Vandegrift began making tours of the division perimeter every morning to talk to as many of his Marines as possible, and to keep a personal eye on the command. As he noted:

By August 11, the full impact of the vanished transports was permeating the command, so again I called a conference of my staff and command officers ... I ended the conference by posing with this fine group of officers, a morale device that worked because they thought if I went to the trouble of having the picture taken then I obviously planned to enjoy it in future years.

Recently, General Merill B. "Bill" Twining, on Guadalcanal a lieutenant colonel and assistant D-3, recalled the circumstances of the photograph and philosophized about the men who appeared in it:
The group is lined up on the slope of the coral ridge which provided a degree of protection from naval gunfire coming from the north and was therefore selected as division CP ...

There was no vital reason for the conclave. I think V[andegrift] just wanted to see who was in his outfit. Do you realize these people had never been together before? Some came from as far away as Iceland...

V[andegrift] mainly introduced himself, gave a brief pep talk ... I have often been asked how we could afford to congregate all this talent in the face of the enemy. We didn't believe we (at the moment) faced any threat from the Japanese. The defense area was small and every responsible commander could reach his CP in 5 minutes and after all there were a lot of good people along those lines. Most of the fresh-caught second lieutenants were battalion commanders two years later. We believed in each other and trusted.

—Benis M. Frank

For these officers' names and source of this copy, click here. Photo is shown below.

No comments: