This Coastie smiled as he died because he knew he saved Marines

While there is satisfaction to be had in a job well done, one can only imagine that satisfaction being the last thing a person ever feels.

Such was the case for Douglas Munro, who died smiling after completing his mission evacuating Marines off Guadalcanal- an action that would earn him the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Born in Canada to American parents, Munro spent most of his life in a small Washington town that sat on the banks of the Yakima River. After graduating high school in 1937, Munro spent a year in college before joint the US Coast Guard in 1938. He was considered an exceptional sailor and quickly rose through the ranks.

As World War II saw the US enter the war, many Coast Guard units had been sent to the Pacific to assist getting Marines around as they embarked on “island hopping” campaigns. Since many of the Coast Guard coxswains had come duty stations that focused on rescues their experience with small boats made them the most seasoned small boat and landing craft handlers in wartime conditions.

During the Guadalcanal campaign, Munro was tasked with getting Marines ashore, eventually returning his boats to their previously assigned position once his job was complete. Almost immediately after they returned, they learned that the Marines -including the legendary “Chesty” Puller- had encountered unexpected conditions and needed immediate evacuation to avoid annihilation.

Never one to shirk from duty, Munro volunteered for the job and brought the boats to shore under heavy enemy fire, evacuating the men on the beach.

After getting the bulk of the Marines onto the boats, several events and complications arose in evacuating the last group of Marines, whom Munro realized would be wiped out if not rescued in time

Springing into action, he laid down suppressing fire and maneuvered his boats into position to act as a shield for the beleaguered Marines.

Unfortunately, Munro paid for this action with his life. As the Americans withdrew, the Japanese set up machine gun positions, opening up on the boats with heavy fire. Though he was warned by a crew member, Munro could not hear over the roar of the engines and was shot in the base of his skull.

Though unconscious, Munro came to once they were behind American lines.

At the time it was reported that he had remained conscious long enough to utter his final words:

“Did they get off”?

When he was informed that the Marines did indeed get off the island he smiled- then died.

For his actions on that fateful day, Douglas A. Munro was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

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  • Andy Wolf

    Andy Wolf is an Appalachian native who spent much of his youth and young adulthood overseas in search of combat, riches, and adventure- accruing decades of experience in military, corporate, first responder, journalistic and advisory roles. He resides in North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains with his K9 companion, Kiki.

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