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The Marines on Guadalcanal

TOM LYONS, 1st Parachute Battalion

Converted for the Web from "Into The Rising Sun: In Their Own Words, World War II's Pacific Veterans Reveal the Heart of Combat" by Patrick K. O'Donnell

Outnumbered and running out of ammunition, Edson's three hundred defenders faced their gravest threat when a large element of the Japanese III Battalion, 124th Infantry seemed poised to overrun the left side of the knoll. Edson ordered the Marine parachutists holding that side of the knoll to counterattack immediately. But the parachute battalion's commanding officer was nowhere to be found. He was relieved on the spot by Edson, and Captain Harry Torgerson was placed in command. Torgerson assembled two companies of parachutists and launched them in a desperate counterattack, saving the left flank of the line. After the Marines regained the line, the fighting became hand-to-hand, as parachutist Tom Lyons vividly remembers.

When they started raking us with a machine gun, that pissed me off, so I got up and crawled through the grass. The grass was about a foot and a half tall off the side of that hill, and I crawled up and around to the side of the machine gun. Bullets were flying everywhere, but the grass was high enough that it would partially hide you. I got almost to the machine gun before I was detected. They didn't see me until I stood up. There were so many people running around you couldn't shoot anybody. I stood up and threw a hand grenade, and just as I threw the grenade, they swung the gun around and ripped me up through the middle. I took several bullets; most of them went all the way through, and one missed my heart by about a half an inch. It knocked me ass over tin cup down the hill. The first one stung like hell. It really hurt. But the others after that didn't hurt at all. It seemed like I just left my body and was floating up in the air looking down at everything going on.

I saw a Jap come out, and he stepped on my stomach and he stabbed me in the throat with his bayonet. It went through the side of my neck and into the ground behind me but it didn't hurt. Jesse Youngdeer [Robert Youngdeer's brother] was coming up the trail with a box of hand grenades, and this Jap stepped off me and instead of finishing me off, he made a thrust at Youngdeer. [Youngdeer] stopped it with the box of hand grenades, and then he grabbed the Jap's rifle and was trying to wrestle it out of his hands. The Jap had stabbed him just above the knee. Another Marine ran up with his bayonet, and he tried to stab the Jap, and he got confused and stabbed Youngdeer right in the leg.

My eyes were wide open. I could see everything that was going on. I thought I was seeing it from fifty feet above. When they started firing the 105s [artillery] right in my area, I got some shrapnel in the right side of my chest. The bullets and shells were passing right over where I was floating around up there, and I was afraid they were going to hit me.

Morning came, and they came around, and all the Japs were gone. There were dead Japs all around me. They were picking out the Marines and throwing all the bodies on a truck, and they cut all our dog tags off. They hauled us down to the cemetery in the coconut grove, and they dumped our bodies out. I ended up at the top of the pile. The driver came around close to the tailgate and thought I was coming alive, so he started running into the jungle screaming, and he didn't come back.

An hour or so later, two corpsmen came by in a jeep, and they put me on a stretcher and hauled me to the hospital. They put me under a palm tree. From the stretcher, doctors told them to take this one out and bring in someone they can save. So I was there under a palm tree, and fresh troops started coming up the road. A ship came in with reinforcements, and an officer came over and said, "Take all the people out of the field hospital and put them on my ship and I'll take them back to Buttons [Base Buttons in Espíritu Santo]." And he said, "And that one under the palm tree, put him in my cabin and call the ship surgeon." He said, "You're going to be on the bridge all the way back to Buttons." I was conscious but couldn't talk. My mouth was full of caked blood. I was wearing the same clothes for almost two months.

This ship surgeon got my lung uncollapsed, and he pumped all the blood out of it and had me all cleaned up. After we made port, they put me on a plane to New Zealand. My mother got a check from my insurance saying I was dead the same day she got a letter from me written by a nurse at hospital in New Zealand.

Copyright © 2002 by Patrick O'Donnell. All rights reserved. Converted for the Web with the permission of Simon & Schuster.

Click to Amazon to buy "Into The Rising Sun: In Their Own Words, World War II's Pacific Veterans Reveal the Heart of Combat."

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