Hundreds of Marines left the stateside eight years ago to help defend and fight in the gruesome Battle of Guadalcanal, a thousand miles away from home.

One valiant veteran lives to tell the tale of that fateful day of August 7, 1942, and the months after until ’45. He and dozens of other strong-standing veterans commemorated one of the darkest eras in US military history, remembering the heroism and lives of those who died fighting for peace, solidarity, and freedom—all of which paid off and remain true today.

Richard Harold Russell was 19 when the tragic bombing of Pearl Harbor happened in December 1941. Like many other youths at that time, Russell dropped out of college and left his carefree civilian life to adhere to the call of serving his beloved country.

He signed up in the Marines, endured compressed weeks of intense training, and graduated private first-class rifleman.

“It was a very quick process. I was there probably 30 days at the most,” Russell recalled in an interview days before the commemoration.

Since the armed forces in the Pacific were in dire need of additional troops, Russell and his Division were immediately shipped to Panama Canal on Easter day of ’42. They reached the shore of the Samoa Islands a few days after turning twenty and stayed to defend the region against Japanese occupation.

Map Rabaul Strategic Area
A photo of a then-Rabaul Strategic Area where most of the Pacific campaign took place in the early-to-mid 1940s. (Image source: Wikimedia Commons)

“When we were on Samoa, we would get all the stories from the ships stopping there of what was happening on Guadalcanal. So we were fully prepared for what faced us,” Russell narrated. Through these stories, Russell and the rest of the Easy Company—2nd Battalion, 7th Marines—already knew what to expect once they were deployed to join combat.

The 7th Marine Regiment wasn’t sent to Guadalcanal until a month later. Russell and his comrades reached the shore of the disturbed island in mid-September and “became part of one of the most significant battles in the 1st Marine Division’s history.”