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The Marines on Guadalcanal

JOHN MIELKE, 1st Raider 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

About three hundred Marines gripped the side of the small knoll, Hill 120. The horseshoe-shaped line was the last defensive position before Henderson Field. John Mielke recalls their last stand.

We got together and were holding a position on the reverse slope of the ridge. At that time, there was a moment of panic. Around the base of the ridge, some paratroopers were retiring from their position because they knew we were there. They were calling out the password. One of the things you fear more than anything else is panic. We were cussing them out and giving them a real hard time. As they moved along, I felt sorry for them. I wasn't afraid. Fortunately, they were turned around [by the officers], and many of these men returned to their holes and died there.

Then they [the officers] said, "Fix bayonets! And move up." We were going to cover the spot they were evacuating. I was the low man on the squad. I was an ammunition man, so I followed the men up the ridge. The squad leader set up his position, and the other ammunition man who was a bit older than me said, "John, I'll take care of you." That wasn't the case. We left together, but I saw him for just a few moments, and we lost each other in the darkness making it up the ridge. I got up there and had this rifle with no sling on it, and this was awkward.

Most people were down in a prone position facing the ridge, throwing grenades as fast as they could throw them. As I came up there, I saw two men struggling. One was a big guy and the other was a small guy. I tackled the small guy. Like a bag of newspapers, I threw him down the ridge, and he went tumbling off into the darkness. The guy that was on top was a paratrooper. He had been bayoneted by the Japanese.

We were bringing in cases of grenades. I spent the night bringing grenades to the men and throwing them. It was like a bad dream: men firing BARs, Springfields; there were cases of empty grenades all over the place. There weren't many of us left standing. By daylight there were wounded and dead all over the ridge.

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

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