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The Marines on Guadalcanal

JAMES SMITH, 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

On September 27, the 1st Raider Battalion would help launch an attack near the mouth of the Matanikau River. Poor intelligence greatly underestimated the strength of the Japanese defenses facing them, turning the operation into a disaster. The Japanese halted the Raiders and 5th Marines' advance at the mouth of the river and nearly wiped out the amphibious landings by another Marine battalion at Point Cruz. Jim "Horse Collar" Smith recalls the battle.

We were on this narrow trail along the east side of the Matanikau River, a steep cliff on the other side. As we snaked up the side of the trail, a guy named Ed Mertz had a kidney stone. And here we are plastered alongside the trail with Japs on the other side of the river and this guy Mertz goes down screaming, clutching his gut. I remember thinking, "Oh, God, we are going to get it." It was just a little farther along there that C Company was just a little ahead of us. Ken Bailey [the battalion executive officer and Medal of Honor recipient for his actions on Bloody Ridge], with his runner right behind him, was dashing across a log footbridge, caught a Nambu [machine gun] between the eyes and went down.

A little later in the day -- I guess we were still heading south -- Sam Griffith got shot in the shoulder at about 300 meters. That left us with a bunch of young 1st lieutenants (who had just made 1st lieutenant), and there was actually a discussion at the CP as to who was the senior officer. Edson was in a state of shock after Bailey was killed. It affected [Bailey's runner] more than anything else. He had been Major Bob Brown's runner until the ridge, and Brown was killed coming off the ridge. Someone said to him, "You must be a jinx, because this was the second major you lost." The poor kid became unglued. It was a terrible thing to say.

I remember when we pulled Bailey into the aid station in a poncho. Aid station [sigh] -- a couple of guys sitting on logs and doctors treating them. There was a kid by the name of Dobson who had been shot right in the groin. His face was absolutely dead white, you couldn't believe it. He just sat there and held his stomach. Everybody knew he was going to die, and he knew he was going to die. Not a murmur out of him; talk about stoicism. He died shortly after that. He just slid off the log and was dead. A man next to him had a flesh wound and was crying like a baby. Talk about a contrast.

Eventually they pulled us out of there because the Japs were well entrenched on the other side of the footbridge.

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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