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June 23, 2000

My two weeks on Guadalcanal in August 1945 came long after the war had passed by that South Pacific island. When I left there, I never expected to hear of it again. Today it's back in the news as the potential scene of a civil war as rebels attempt to topple a democratically elected government. This brings back memories of the brief time I spent there as a feature writer for the Army newspaper, The Stars & Stripes. It was not a wonderful place to be, even then. Three years earlier, in 1942, it had sufficient strategic value that America sacrificed the lives of many young men in a bloody jungle battle to take it back from the Japanese. We won that fight and it proved to be the first step to an ultimate victory in the Pacific when World War II ended.

The other day, after reading about the current controversy on Guadalcanal, I dug out some notes in a kind of journal that I kept on that trip 55 years ago. "Guadalcanal is an island of cold showers and warm beer, thatch roof barracks and pyramidal tents," I wrote then. "When I told some GI's that I would be there only two weeks, they told me I would find that was thirteen and a half days too many. They call this place 'the forgotten rock.' On the plus side, there are no military parades, no evening retreat formations, and a uniform is whatever you want to wear.

"Beer and cigarettes are rationed. Cigarettes usually are handed out eight packs at a time one week, then nine packs the next. Beer is issued at the rate of one or two cases per man, once a month. For those who don't drink beer, a case can be traded to the Navy for a mattress. By now, everyone has a mattress. In addition to the beer and cigarettes, troops on the island eat 1,000 gallons of ice cream weekly and drink fifty-nine gallons of Coke daily. GI's have established a Masonic lodge that meets each Tuesday at 1900 hours (7 p.m.) and an Elks lodge that meets at 1900 each Monday. The library has more than 400 V-discs featuring big bands, plus 400 conventional recordings and 500 radio transcriptions. Tokyo Rose has been replaced on the Japanese airwaves by a girl DJ who calls herself 'Enemy Ann.' She plays good American music.

"The natives seem to be bright, and many of them speak some English. They are docile and once were used to help kill Japs hiding in the hills. We now occupy about one-half of the island and there are no more Japs here. The last hangers-on were finally starved out. Some Americans who actually took part in the (1942) assault on Guadalcanal are just now being sent home after 40 or 41 months here."

This could go on and on but I suspect it is of limited general interest. Guadalcanal, to me, was a dismal place even for such a short time as I spent there. Still I'll remember it while reading news service stories about the current turmoil there, and I'll keep in mind that some of our finest young men paid a high price to clear the landscape of the Imperial Japanese army. America dropped two atomic bombs on Japan while I was still on Guadalcanal and the war then was obviously over. I went on to the much nicer island of New Caledonia for a short stay, and ran into fellow Perryan Willard Andrews, who was stationed there. But I'll save that story for another time.