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.”

Russell recounted the horrifying sights and sounds of war as if they happened yesterday:

“The sounds—just horrible. The sounds of machine guns and rifle fire and mortars. Just a horrible experience.

When you’re in a battle like that, you’re really there just thinking of survival. Eliminating the Japanese—that’s all we had in mind.

We were on Bloody Ridge with [the] 1st Battalion, and we learned there [was] a bunch of [Japanese] coming from the other direction. We were asked to go, man, this other ridge and left 1st Battalion to man Bloody Ridge by themselves. It was difficult. But we did man the ridge.

After a day or two on there, the Japanese hit F Company and broke through their lines. Our commanding officer gathered a bunch of cooks and whatever he could get, and they went back onto the ridge and eliminated the Japanese. They restored the position.”

The Battle of Guadalcanal had already commenced weeks before the 7th Marine Regiment reached the island, and they were thousands and thousands of lives taken already from both the US and Japanese troops.

Their participation in one of the most epic battles in the Pacific campaign didn’t go unappreciated. They were awarded the Presidential Unit Citation for their “extraordinary heroism in action against an armed enemy.”

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Russell shows off his 1ST MARDIV shoulder patch, who, like him, also witnessed the gruesome battle in the 1940s. (Image source: Sgt. Destiny Dempsey/US Marines)

Russell and his comrades were tasked to stand guard at the claimed Japanese-built airfield, which they named the Henderson Field, before turning it over to the US Army around January 1942.

“I had the opportunity to go back behind the lines. I grabbed three or four canteens from the other guys and was filling them with water and bringing them back,” explained Russell. “When I was down there, I saw a lot of Japanese, all deceased. I had to walk right by them coming back.”

They left the island, boarded ships, and headed to Melbourne, Australia, where they were welcomed as “saviors.” After recuperating, the unit eventually moved on to support another bloody battle in Cape Gloucester against the Japanese.

“We landed on Cape Gloucester on December 26. Our Battalion was charged with establishing the beachhead and protecting it,” Russell recalled.

Unfortunately, Russell got critically wounded nine days into the battle when a mortar landed near him that shattered his knee. He eventually got evacuated and admitted to a hospital away from the battlefield for five months. He received a Purple Heart.

Russell recovered and was reunited with his Division in Guadalcanal, which had already established encampments on the island. But his recovery was insufficient, and he was discharged and sent home.

“I had mixed feelings,” said Russell. “I hated to leave all those guys because I knew where they were going; they were headed to Peleliu. That’s where I lost two of my very good friends.”

Now 100, Russell expressed gratitude for what the Corps has given him, especially for “shaping up his youth,” despite the scarring memories from the Marines’ “bitterest battle” of all time.

“I was part of a very important part of the Marine Corps. It makes me very proud,” Russell expressed. “The Marine Corps taught me everything I know; respect for my superiors… just taught me to be a good man. I have had a good life.”

Edsons Ridge Guadalcanal 1942
A US Marine stands near some of the fighting positions on Hill 123 on “Edson’s” Ridge after the battle, September 1942. (Image source: Wikimedia Commons)

The USMC celebrated the 80th anniversary of the Guadalcanal Battle last week, which several top military officials held on Skyline Ridge, the site of the World War II Guadalcanal American Memorial.

MARFORPAC Commander Steven Rudder emphasized the battle’s significance to the long-standing partnership between the US and the Solomon Islands, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand nations.

“So we’re here to remember those sacrifices that were made; it changed the history of the Solomon Islands, and it changed the history of our nation. I do not want to pass up the opportunity to show my dear appreciation for the Solomon Islanders. They were instrumental in everything we did and they endured hardships that we can’t imagine. But it makes no sense to remember those sacrifices without looking to the future; and we pledge from Indo-PACOM and the United States Marine Corps, that we will look forward.”

Source: USMC