Guadalcanal is the first campaign we follow. The American beach landings started on August 7, 1942. American forces had been killed in the Pacific since Pearl Harbour, December 7, 1941, with little effective resistance & no counter-offensives. Great naval battles were fought before American forces started their first offensive. The job fell to the Marine Corps. Americans moved into the jungles of the South Pacific to fight an enemy of whom they knew nothing.
The first, best-trained troops arrive on Guadalcanal without much opposition. They settle into defense as their Navy withdraws. American troops fight attacks night after night, sleeping little, if at all, always in fear, surrounded by the jungle & the enemy. They see the nighttime naval battles & they know they are losing. They know the enemy is sending in supplies night after night, unopposed. They know they must defend the airfield which is their only daytime defense against enemy ships. At night, they suffer bombardments.
It is hard to say whether these American boys are more surprised at the slaughter they commit or the determination of the enemy that keeps on coming. The six months of the campaign are more than enough to take the life out of the Marines. They are fighting an enemy that would not surrender. Killing everyone becomes a matter of necessity. Survival, a matter of chance.
The campaign preparation had been hurried, the landings as well, so the Americans fought with dwindling supplies & uncertainty about replacement troops, additional supplies, food & ammunition. The constant bombardment, the rough terrain, the rains & the mud made the campaign a deadening experience. Death could come as a surprise though the facts of war were obvious to all. We see one of the heroes of the campaign & we are astounded by what he did as much as by his reasons. We begin to suspect that some of the boys knew war long before they put on the uniform.
The man who told the story of his brothers-in-arms & their fight was asked by another Marine, when they shipped out, why they’re fighting the war. His answer came from Homer’s Iliad: Patriotism. The country that raised these boys to be patriotic had nothing to fear when war came, because the boys, gentle as all must be who are brought forth in times of peace, nevertheless volunteered to kill & to die for their country.
Before battle, we get to see the greatest Marine, ‘Chesty’ Puller. He tells his men honestly that fighting Japan is fighting slavery. That men are only fit to live in freedom. & they must therefore kill everyone they find in their campaign. Japan, these men would learn, was injustice herself.
A story about Marines who fought the Japanese in the islands of the Pacific.