The first American beachhead landing of World War II came in the early fall of 1942 when U.S. Marines stormed ashore at Guadalcanal. It marked the start of America’s painful, inexorable struggle to push Tojo’s Imperial forces back to Tokyo.
The Japanese—taking dead aim at Australia—had been constructing an airfield base on Guadalcanal, at the southern end of the Solomon Islands. Whoever held Guadalcanal held the key to the vital lifeline between the U.S. and Australia, last surviving Allied power in the South Pacific.
The Marines established a shaky perimeter on the island, capturing what later became Henderson Field.
Operating from bases on Bougainville and Rabaul and with heavy naval support, the Japanese furiously and, repeatedly counter-attacked for months on end, in a frenzied attempt to retake the entire island. They threw in heavy troop reinforcements, naval bombardments and waves of fighters and bombers coming down the slot of the Solomons. Exhausted Marine ground troops held on and expanded their perimeter under appalling conditions. And a grim, outnumbered band of weary Marine Corps flyers in their Grummans blasted incoming bombers and outfought Mitsubishi Zeros overhead.
Suffering insurmountable losses, the Japanese military in February of 1943 finally abandoned their efforts to recapture Guadalcanal. Within the Corps, the names of Marine flyers like Robert Galer, John L. Smith, Joe Foss and Oregon’s Marion Carl became the stuff of legends.
The valor of the flyers in the skies over Guadalcanal, the honor and tradition of the Corps, and my brash and youthful eagerness at that time to get into the thick of the fight, led me during advance flight training to try for a transfer into the Marine Corps.
What I didn’t realize was that only the top ten percent of each flight class received, that choice—to stay in the Navy or join the Marines. I had my work cut out for me.
The fierce intensity of advanced flight training at Corpus Christi hit hard. It was total immersion, hour after hour, day after day, week after week.
Could I handle this?
On the ground, we studied aerodynamics, meteorology, VFR and instrument navigation, radio flight procedure, oxygen procedure, leadership principles, military flight