Remembering Douglas Albert Munro

Today is Memorial Day in the U.S. — a day to remember and honor those we’ve lost to the senseless tragedy that is war. Here’s one story, about a distant relative, I first published in 2014. May Doug and his sacrifice never be forgotten.

On September 27 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


    • You’ve said it beautifully: It’s a shame our species hasn’t learned from the past. I still dream that maybe one day …

      Thank you for reading, and especially for taking the time to comment.

  1. Wonderful story about your grandfather, really committed to what he was doing..more so than some of the Marines maybe it sounds from the story.
    You highlighted a very good point in your first words, “this sensless tragedy (we) call war.” I like you recognize that, I wish more people did..the world is going to hell because of wars. The wars are started because of corporate greed and imperialism.. but anyway, I’ll stop now.
    I loved your post..keep at it!

    • Thank you for your comment, Justin. I would never dare judge the commitment of the Marines Douglas rescued, though — they probably ended up in their predicament because of someone else’s bad decision, or faulty intel. I also should clarify that Douglas wasn’t my grandfather; he was a distant relative who found himself far from home the night before shipping off, and randomly called my grandfather after finding gramps’ name in the phone book. For me, that desire to be with kin — even if they were kin only by name — is one of the more touching elements of Douglas’ story. Clearly he had a big heart, and family was important to him. As for war itself … well … it makes me despair for our species, as it’s been a constant theme for humans across our entire history. It’s naïve of me to hope that one day we’ll collectively overcome this seemingly innate tendency, I know. But as your encouraging words at the end say, I’ll keep at it! Thank you again for stopping by, and especially for taking the time to comment.

  2. Wow, this is a wonderful story, H. So glad he was honored after his death, and that your stories continue to honor him! Thanks for sharing it.

    • Aww, thank you Pamchenlein. I was sorry to not find anything about him at the World War II museum in New Orleans (not that I saw, anyway) — so getting him included there is my next mission on behalf of Douglas.

    • Thank you, Jeff! I looked for his story in the World War II museum in New Orleans — because like you, I’d never heard of a Coastie earning this award — but didn’t find any mention. So perhaps that will be my next project. Thank you so much for stopping by. It’s always wonderful to hear from you.

      • I’m curious….I assume from the picture he got the Navy version of the medal. But yes, clearly something the WWII museum needs to address. And perhaps for you to get involved in the MoH society !

        • I think you’re right about the Navy version, Jeff — but I’m no expert. Maybe I’ll dig a bit deeper and find out for sure. As for the MoH society: What a fine organization! Sadly I’m a bit short on time these days so I’ll have to bookmark that one for a future, more leisurely period in my life. 😉

    • Thank YOU for taking the time to read this! Although this happened more than 70 years ago, my father still gets tears in his eyes when we talk about the young man who came to dinner that night. For Douglas, the meaning of life was to serve others even to the point of death. It does make one stop and think, doesn’t it? I don’t know if I could be that courageous.

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