Guadalcanal, Part 4
Today we bring our fourth and final segment in our series on the role of North Dakota’s 164th Infantry Regiment in World War II.
Between October 25th and 29th, 1942, the 164th fought alongside the 1st Marine Division to protect Henderson Field, a critical airstrip on the island of Guadalcanal. 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 were positioned on the flank, and the 1st prepared to meet thousands of enemy troops streaming down 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…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 [saw] 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. Japan had suffered a disastrous defeat. Back in the States, American citizens had been anxiously awaiting retaliation for Pearl Harbor. Since then, Japan had dealt the Allies stunning defeats, especially in the Philippines. A combat reporter named Richard Tregaskis wrote Guadalcanal Diary. His account of the victory caused a sensation back in the States, and quickly became the basis for the movie, The Thin Red Line.
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:
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.
Although victory was sweet, the price was high. The regiment spent nearly 600 days in combat, and of its original 1,723 men, 325 died, and 1,193 were wounded in action.
Cooper, Jerry & Glenn Smith. Citizens as Soldiers: History of North Dakota National Guard. North Dakota Institute for Regional Studies. Fargo: North Dakota State University, 1986.
CMH Pub 72-8. Guadalcanal. The U.S. Army Campaigns in World War II. U.S. Government Printing Office, 1993.
Miller Jr., John. Guadalcanal: The First Offensive. U.S. Army in World War II: The War in the Pacific. Washington DC: CENTER OF MILITARY HISTORY, UNITED STATES ARMY, 1949. P 135-69.
Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm