*Compiler's Note: The following is a direct transcription from my father's World War II diary along with some additional material he wrote in November of 1995. Portion's in italics and quotation marks are from taped conversations we had over the succeeding months. Some historical footnotes are taken from World War II Almanac 1931-1945 by Robert Goralski as well as George McMillan's The Old Breed. "Details" are taken from Henry I. Shaw's excellent Marines in World War II Commemorative Series. Photos are both personal and archival. Be advised some pictures depict the brutal reality of war. - Jim Garrett
A MARINE DIARY: MY EXPERIENCES ON GUADALCANAL by J. R. Garrett
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My name is James R. "Rube" Garrett. I was a Corporal, ammo chief for I Battery, 3rd Battalion, 11th Regiment and a charter member of the 1st Marine Division, formed in Cuba in 1940. The following are my diary entries for the Battle of Guadalcanal. A glance through the pages shows while we were there, 59 enemy air raids flew in. That doesn't include many false alarms and numerous shellings from Japanese battleships, destroyers and cruisers. It seemed like about an air raid or shelling every day for three and a half months. I remember a lot of diving into ditches and ducking in and out of bomb shelters, or whatever we could find to hide under.
The entry for August 28, 1942, just three weeks after the landing, reads "...to date, have seen 133 Jap planes fall and some 20 odd ships sunk." Many more would follow.
These figures are by no means complete. Some pages of my diary were blank because we were just too busy shooting or being shot at. We were scared a lot of the time. The weeks and months of anxiety and tension...long days of tedious work, night watches at the edge of the jungle suddenly punctuated by sheer terror are only hinted at - if you can read between the lines. What is there are the impressions of a young 20 year old Marine just as they were written 53 years ago. They detail the war in the Solomons as I lived it...one day at a time.
Rube Garrett at Paris Island, September 28, 1941 * * *
We sailed from San Francisco on June 22, 1942. I had just turned 20, and the South Pacific was a long way from Edinburg, Texas, where I had grown up. Twenty-two days later we landed in Wellington, New Zealand. It was July 12. We stayed there for a couple of weeks where we, along with 10 or 12 thousand other Marines unloaded our ship, the Erickson, and loaded onto the Marine Transport USS McCauley.
Preparing for combat, we made several long hikes in New Zealand to keep us conditioned for what lay ahead. We left New Zealand on the 21st of July, sailed around the Pacific and made practice landings on the Fiji Islands. We would disembark from the ship, climb down the nets, onto the Higgins Boats and go in toward the beach. But we never actually landed. We would then turn around and return to the ship. We were informed on August 3rd at a non-commissioned officers conference there, by Lt. Bradbury (later to become Captain), I Battery Commander, that we were to land on Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands. We were going into battle. Ammunition was issued to all and we spent the rest of the time loading ammunition belts and getting prepared for combat. On August 6, we were ready.
August 7, 1942
August 8, 1942
Hauled ammunition from battery to ammo dump and had an air raid at noon. The USS Elliot, a Marine Transport, was hit by suicide dive bomber. It was very damaged and was beached to keep it from sinking in the harbor. A destroyer was damaged also. There was one Jap plane and prisoners taken during the battle. Wild shooting during the night.
August 9, 1942
August 10, 1942
We had machine gun attacks from the rear. Returned fire for 1500 rounds. Today, drew and belted 50 cal. and issued more 30 cal. ammunition.
August 11, 1942
Machine gunned again. Sgt. Windish, our Instrument Section sergeant, was killed accidentally by one of our officers. Went on two hour patrol with Sgt. Voelker. To river to bathe and saw two prisoners. A friend of mine, Casey from Headquarters' Battery, was killed in the night, I think by friendly fire.
"Sgt. Windish was killed accidentally by his own officer, who was the Instrument Section Commander, with whom he was bunking. He had left the bunker and, on returning, frightened the man inside who shot him two times with a 45 caliber pistol. Both men were gone before daylight - we never saw nor heard of the officer again."
August 12, 1942
Infantry reinforcements at night. We were attacked again about dawn. Also, naval shelling by subs. Burned off the airfield. Snipers at dark. Bombers flew over again.
"We had to burn off all the tall Johnson type grass on Henderson Field - Japanese snipers were using it to slip in amongst us at night. They would strap a light machine gun to one man's back. He would run and lay down -- they would fire a few rounds then he would jump up and the gun would move to another position."
Japanese Knee Mortar
August 13, 1942
Snipers again. Infantry in field. No casualties. Working parties and our first hot chow in several days.
August 14, 1942
Snipers again. The infantry was firing all night. Working party for Lt. Williams at Regimental ammo dump. Air raid and the first anti-aircraft fire. Got sub with 105 Howitzer!
* Our anti-aircraft guns had just been set up. A submarine had surfaced and began firing on transports. 11th Regiment Howitzers on the beach opened up on the sub.
90mm anti-aircraft gun
* * *
After the first week on Guadalcanal, the 3rd Battalion, 11th Marines were finally settled around the edge of Henderson Field.
The "Pagoda" at Henderson Field
In the daytime we were under the protection of the edge of the jungle. The trees sheltered us from 'Pistol Pete' which was a Japanese Naval artillery piece that was on tracks in the hills. It would fire two or three rounds - firing at random all hours of the day - and then would be rolled back into a cave where it was well camouflaged. It was eventually located and destroyed a few months later.
At dusk, where we were protected by darkness, we would move our Howitzers onto the open airfield and point in the direction of the hills - towards Grassy Knoll, Bloody Ridge and Kukombona. In the open we could fire in any direction. Then, before daylight, we would pull back under the trees
The big disadvantage of living on the airfield as we did was that it made us a part of the main target - which was the airfield and aircraft - so that every enemy plane or ship that got within range either shot at us or dropped bombs on us. We were very fortunate not to have had lots more casualties than we did.
"I was acting section chief throughout the whole Guadalcanal engagement...one of the largest sections in the battery. I had twenty-one or twenty-two guys in my section. Each battery had ten or twelve or fifteen trucks and jeeps. Take those jeeps and tie a 75 Howitzer behind the jeep and carry a gun crew on it...a lot of times the gun crew would have to get off the jeep to help cross a stream; you'd have to break the gun down and carry it across piece by piece. I imagine those Howitzers weighed a couple of thousand pounds. It would take three or four men to carry the barrell and the main block and so on.
Each battery had four Howitzers, four gun crews and a machine gun section to protect the guns...and that was my section: machine guns and ammo. I had to keep the guns supplied. My boys had to haul...they'd be called for ammunition during a mission and we had to deliver ammunition. Anybody got short of ammunition they'd holler "Garrett!" (laughs).
We had one ton trucks...early on I was a driver, a Private; it took me eight months to make Pfc. and eighteen months to make Corporal at Camp Lejeune. As section chief I should have been a Sergeant, but for some reason advancement in the Marines was slow. Just before we left Camp Lejeune they were going around asking us if we wanted to apply for officer's school, but a lot of us 'tough guys' said "Hell no, I don't want to be an officer."
* * *
August 15, 1942
Quiet except for infantry. Have been hearing firing from the front lines. Rained from 4am till dawn. Wrote letter. A B-17 from Australia flew overhead and were we glad to see it! We had a working party at the beach. And cards.
B-17 Flying Fortress on Reconnaisance Patrol
August 16, 1942
Card playing. Church held by C.O. Van Orman. Went to river for bath. Pretty quiet during the day.
Marines and native scouts at the fallen tree in the Lunga River
"We always went to the river to bathe - the Lunga River - it was only knee deep...fresh running water. We'd go in there and strip off. There was a big old tree, it was laying down in the river. We would wash our clothes in there and all, lay them on a limb while we swam. And one time I come back in to the battery and a bomb had fell into I Battery. Five of our guys were hit but none were killed and they all returned to duty. But every now and then we'd see a dead Jap floating in the river. That's the river we fished with hand grenades."
August 17, 1942
Night was quiet. Working party at Regimental ammo dump. River for bath. Saw three prisoners and three natives. One Jap plane was overhead all day.
August 18, 1942
Rained all night, not a shot fired. Sgt. Corrigan slept in our bunker with Kidd and myself. We were the only dry ones in battery. We registered on a Jap village in the hills. Eight bombers flew over. Bombs fell on the air field and got some of our boys. Like to have got us. Raining again.
Typical shelter built from scavenged wood
"The Japanese pre-fabbed a three foot by six foot board arrangement framed with two by twos and planks on the top which we could lay on top of the ground or in our holes and make a bed. They also had a sand bag that was woven grass bags of some kind or other and we'd cut them open and spread them on top and use them for padding on top of these boards which we used for beds. The boards really helped...we made good use of whatever the Japanese left behind.We had all of these three by sixes put together about as big as our tent covers. So we had a wooden floor under our tent. When somebody would walk across the floor in those boondockers, with those steel plated heels, sound like a horse walking across a wooden deck."
August 19, 1942
August 22, 1942
Firing from infantry. 5,000 yards away. Today moved 400 rounds to Regimental ammo dump.
Supplies being landed and hauled from beaches
August 24, 1942
Our 105 Howitzers fired at a submarine that had fired at our supply ship, but missed and torpedo came up on beach. Air raid. We shot down 21 Jap planes and lost three.
August 25, 1942
Shelling again during night by sub or cruiser. Went to river for bath and visited my friend Wilcox, who was in special weapons battery. Air raid and close call in Willie's foxhole. Went swimming and saw one of our planes crash.
August 26, 1942
Quiet at night. Air raid at breakfast. Dogfights and six planes fell. Bombs fell on airfield and in coconut grove. Seven Zero's - we lost one. Bombs fell on G Battery - got three men.
August 27, 1942
Pfc. Bonnano from my section in hospital. False air raid alarm.
August 28, 1942
All quiet. Army supposed to show up but didn't. Up to date, have seen 133 Jap planes fall and some 20 odd ships sunk.
August 29, 1942
First night bombing that we have had. Two before dawn. Killed two men in H & S* Battery and wounded Spernack. Killed Zagury of HQ Battery. Air raid at noon. We shot down eight planes.
*Headquarters and Services Battery
August 30, 1942
False alarm at one o'clock. They come at noon though and dropped bombs at edge of field. I had the 10 to 12 watch.
This is Henderson Field as seen from above. Note bomb craters around the runway.
August 31, 1942
On 12 to 2 watch. Two air raids and one destroyer of ours was hit by dive bomber. Humphrey.
*The ship was the Navy Destroyer USS Humphrey.