A World War II hero comes home

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.

On today’s date in 1942, Douglas Albert Munro sacrificed his life in the Second Battle of the Matanikau on Guadalcanal.


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.

Douglas Munro 1120796 BLOG

Douglas Munro 1120823 BLOG

Douglas Munro 1120848 BLOG

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).

Douglas Munro Medal of Honor BLOG
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.

MunroDougLadder BLOG

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.

U.S. Navy Press Release Regarding the Combat Death of Douglas Mu


    • Thanks for your note, Tom! I’m sure that — as a Secret Service agent — you faced the possibility of having to sacrifice your life every time you walked next to the President in public. But to the rest of us mere mortals, Doug’s example is very humbling indeed.

  1. Hello dear, what a sad but heroic story. Hope you are doing fine. Is Paris on your checklist for the coming months? Or will we have to see you suffer in loads of snow… 😀 Un abrazote. Rosa

    • Hello, dear Rosa! It’s wonderful to hear from you — and sorry I’ve been a bit of a stranger in these parts lately. But yes, I am doing great, thank you for asking. And yes, Paris is on my checklist … soon! Although I’ll still probably subject you to my usual whining about the snow this winter. 🙂 Un abrazote desde Minnesota, Rosa preciosa.

  2. That is a wonderful and moving story of heroism! Do you know if he ever came to New Zealand? The Guadalcanal campaign used Wellington as its logistic base – we had several divisions of US servicemen here for the purpose. There’s a plaque today on the Wellington waterfront marking their departure point. My late mother in law used to talk about it – one day the harbour was filled with ships and town filled with GI’s. Next day – they were gone to parts unknown. It was only later the story came out as to where they’d gone.

    • I thought you might enjoy reading this story!

      I was curious, too, about whether Doug Munro had passed through New Zealand, but I couldn’t find any mention of it in the brief biographical pieces I read. Rest assured that you’ll be the first to know if I do uncover anything, though.

      And my condolences on your mother-in-law. I bet she loved having a son-in-law who appreciated her stories — like her recollection about the GI’s. It must have been surreal to see so much activity one day and then see the men all gone the next.

  3. What a wonderful tale of heroism, be it sad though. It also made me think about how hospitable people were years ago. How wonderful that he could spend an evening with your family, at a time when he was in need of warm and friendly company.

    • Thank you, DB! In researching the details, it was wonderful to see that so many other people had worked hard to keep Douglas’ memory alive, too. May we never forget the *true* cost of war …

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