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Guadalcanal Part 4

10/28/2004:

Today we bring you part four of our series on the role of North Dakota’s 164th Infantry Regiment at Guadalcanal in the fall of 1942. Between October 25th and 29th, the 164th fought alongside the 1st Marine Division to protect a critical airstrip called Henderson Field. After the fierce battle on the night of the 25th, the 3rd Battalion of the 164th took up positions separate from the Marines. The 2nd Battalion took a position on the flank, and the 1st Battalion prepared to meet thousands of enemy troops streaming out of the mountains from the south.

Historian Glenn Smith writes, “At dusk, the Americans could hear the Japanese coming again, and come they did. By this time many of the stragglers of (Japan’s southern) force had reached the front with added mortar and light artillery. As wave after wave attacked the American positions, once again the Japanese depended heavily upon their superior fighting spirit, their bushido. But the men of the 164th now had confidence in themselves... Behind the lines of the 164th, service personnel and others hastily threw up a perimeter close to Henderson Field in case the Japanese broke through, about 175 cooks, messengers, clerks, and others manning positions and waiting for the worst. Band members served the regiment as litter bearers... Every member of the 164th had some role in the battle, the biggest and fiercest of the entire campaign.

“Midst the roar of the battle,” Smith continues, “Sergeant Kevin McCarthy of Jamestown... noticed several Marines at an outpost surrounded by the enemy. Using a Bren gun carrier, a small...open-topped, tracked vehicle, he drove to the beleaguered Marines and (carried) them to the comparative safety of their own lines. The sergeant made three trips and rescued all eighteen Marines, many of them seriously wounded,” Smith says. “For this courageous deed, performed under heavy enemy fire, he received the Distinguished Service Cross.”

By dawn, the 164th had lost 26 men, and 52 were wounded. In stark contrast, an estimated 1700 Japanese troops laid dead in front of the regiment as testimony to their deadly proficiency. Japan had suffered a disastrous defeat.

Back in the States, American citizens had been waiting for almost a year for a victorious retaliation for Pearl Harbor. Instead, Japan dealt the Allies some stunning defeats, especially in the Philippines. In the early days of the Guadalcanal campaign, a combat reporter named Richard Tregaskis wrote Guadalcanal Diary. His account caused a sensation back in the States, and within a year, it became the basis for The Thin Red Line, a movie that was remade in 1998.

Marine commander, General Vandegrift knew the “boy scouts” of the 164th played a major role in the Guadalcanal victory and sent the following message to Colonel Moore and the men of the North Dakota regiment:

Subject: Congratulations

1. The officers and men of the First Marines salute you for a most wonderful piece of work on the night of 25 and 26 October, 1942. Will you please extend our sincere congratulations to all concerned. We are honored to serve with a unit such as yours.

2. Little did we realize when we turned over our “quiet sector” to you that you would bear the brunt of an attack so soon. I’m sure you are very proud of the fighting ability demonstrated by your unit and our hat is off to you.

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Hunting Bits

October 29

Today, we’re bringing you a variety of stories from around the state in the fall of 1914. Here’s a bit of trivia from a Towner County newspaper: “For every five square miles of plowing you travel 2,500 miles. That’s equal to a single furrow all the way around the earth. Getting enough wheat for a loaf of bread requires a furrow fifty feet long.”

Back in the days of plowing with horses, it was said a man could plow a furrow one mile long by noon. Then he’d turn around and plow a furrow next to it in time to be home for supper. And we think we’ve got it bad!

Turning our attention to the 1914 hunting season, the editor of the Milton Globe, E.L. Peterson, also happened to be a Game Warden that year. A newspaper article stated, “Mr. Peterson is a game warden and is taking a respite from his newspaper duties to keep a ‘weather’ eye on ‘sooners’...To make it more hazardous for those who do not obey the law, Mr. Peterson states that he will change territory with other game wardens occasionally so that the sly violator who thinks he has left the neighborhood may be unexpectedly nabbed by a strange warden. Mr. Peterson (states that) those who stop and shoot from an automobile will be arrested and if you have a game bird in your auto you can’t get off with the excuse that you ran over it with your machine...You must hunt on your own land if you have no license and the law does not allow you even the adjoining highway for hunting ground.”

Up in Towner County, a story ran, “Someone stole a coat belonging to Steve Williams which had been left hanging in the barn back of the meat market. Mr. Williams’ hunting license and other papers were in the pocket of the coat and he misses these more than the coat, which was an old one used when hunting.”

A story out of Rock Lake said that George Shireman, an eye doctor from Saskatchewan, traveled to Rock Lake, late in the summer of 1914, to look after his farming interests there. On his way back to his farm in Canada, he decided to go hunting for prairie chickens with a friend – also a doctor. A chicken flew up from some brush and Mr. Shireman’s companion shot at it. He hit the chicken, but he also hit Dr. Shireman, who was on the other side of the bushes. In a tragic ironic twist, the optician lost his right eye in the accident.

Up in Starkweather, Dr. W. J. Brownlee was walking down the street carrying a gun he had loaned to a friend during hunting season, 1914. As a thank-you, the friend had given Brownlee some prairie chickens he shot. Game Warden W.E. McCull spotted Brownlee and demanded to see his hunting license. Brownlee told him the circumstances, but said if the warden would like to accompany him, he had a license at home. McCull refused and told Brownlee to hand over his gun and chickens. Brownlee turned around and asked McCull to show him his credentials, which McCull happened to have left behind at his house, that day, too. In the argument that followed, McCull hit Dr. Brownlee, and the doctor sued the warden for assault and battery.

Also in Towner County, a story came out, reading, “Everett Lawler had an exciting experience while hunting chickens Tuesday. When he pulled the trigger of the gun to bring down a stray hen, the magazine exploded and Everett narrowly escaped without a scratch. The magazine of the gun was full of shells and it is probable that every one of these exploded. The force of the explosion was so great that the magazine has not come down yet.”

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm