I don’t know whether it’s because of my father’s Scottish heritage or my mom’s literary roots, but storytelling runs in my family. Family stories can only be passed on if they’re preserved, though, so I’ve begun recording some of my parents’ memories from their youth. This is one of my favorites.
A Signalman First Class in the U.S. Coast Guard, Doug was in charge of a detachment of 24 boats that landed some 500 U.S. Marines on Point Cruz, along the Matanikau river on Guadalcanal.
But almost immediately after he dropped off the Marines and returned his boats to their assigned position, he learned that conditions ashore were different from what had been anticipated: The Marines were seriously outnumbered and needed to be extracted.
Doug volunteered for the job. Under heavy enemy fire, he led five boats to shore and began to evacuate the men on the beach. But complications arose when a few Marines still remained, and Doug realized they were in grave danger.
He placed his boat directly in front of the enemy to cover the remaining Marines as they headed for the rescue vessels. His shipmate Ray Evans remembers that
Doug was facing forward, and I was standing up by the coxswain looking back. I saw this line of waterspouts coming across the water, and I yelled at Doug to get down, but he couldn’t hear me over the engine noise, and it hit him. It was one burst of fire. And that’s how he died. That’s how it happened.
Doug’s last words were, “Did they get off?”
When he was told that all of the 500-plus Marines had been safely evacuated, Doug smiled broadly and then died.
I first heard this story during the 2010 [Scottish] Clan Munro Association gathering, where we attended a ceremony at the Washington State Capitol to honor Douglas Munro.
But it wasn’t until later that I learned my family’s connection to Doug.
In late September 1942, the phone rang at my grandparents’ house in San Pedro, California. The caller was a U.S. Navy signalman who said he was shipping out the next day, and wanted to spend the evening with family. But because he couldn’t be with his parents in Washington state, he’d looked up the nearest Munros in the phone book.
My father was only six years old then, but he still remembers the polite and affable fellow who joined my grandparents for dinner. Only many years later did my father learn that this young man would go on to rescue 500 Marines — and to be the only U.S. Coast Guard member ever to receive the Medal of Honor (posthumously).
Doug was only one of untold thousands who selflessly sacrificed their lives to save others, of course. But his story is especially touching to me because of how deep an impression his visit made on my father more than 70 years ago.
Want to know more about Douglas Albert Munro? I recommend this 30-minute video documentary, and the U.S. Coast Guard’s wonderful archive of photos and documents.