Ken Beaton: Know the shoulders you stand upon

Ken Beaton

Ken Beaton

Is Sept. 27, 1942, a significant day for the U.S. Marine Corps, the U.S. Coast Guard, the community of Cle Elum, Washington, and Douglas Arthur Munro? Yes, to all four questions. Allow me to weave Munro’s story.

When Munro was born Oct. 11, 1919, in Cle Elum, the population was 2,600. While most boys were playing sports/chasing girls, Munro knew firsthand what it was like growing up during the years of the Great Depression. He knew about a dozen families in Cle Elum that didn’t have the funds to buy coal for the freezing winter months. He cut down trees, cut them into rounds, split the rounds and delivered the split wood to those families as an act of love for his neighbors.

After graduating from high school in 1937, he worked in his community until he enlisted in the USCG on Sept. 18, 1939. His parents had one less mouth to feed. Before World War II the Coast Guard recruits didn’t attend a boot camp to condition and train the new recruits in USCG procedures.

Coastie recruits were assigned to a cutter and under the sapience of an experienced chief, they learned the right way, the wrong way, and the Coast Guard way to do everything including the tying of knots.

By June 1941 Munro and his closest shipmate, Raymond Evans, reported to the USS Hunter Liggett (AP-27). During the summer both trained and passed their small boat training for landing craft. They were assigned to the Transport Division 17.

In July 1942 Munro was transferred to the USS McCawley (APA – 10), but not Evans. This was the first time they were separated with Evans remaining on the Liggett. On Aug. 7, 1942, Munro landed Marines in the third wave on the island of Tulagi. The following day he evacuated casualties to the McCawley. He learned he was being transferred to be reunited with Evans where the two lived in a shack on Guadalcanal. They rescued downed airmen and ferried casualties to ships from August through September.

Lt. Col. Lewis “Chesty” Puller’s 1st Battalion, 7th Marines began an exploratory mission on Sept. 23, 1942. Soon they ran into big trouble. On Sept. 25, 1942, Munro helped land the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines to reinforce 1st Battalion, 7th Marines.

After landing the reinforcements, the Coastie Coxswains were refueling their landing craft when their commanding officer received an emergency call to evacuate the Marines. When Munro was asked if their landing craft were ready to return to rescue the desperate Marines, he responded, “Hell, yeah!”

The numerically superior Japanese forces had the Marines with their backs to the ocean, a soon-to-be-death situation. The 500 Marines were picked up in the water by the Coast Guard coxswains while receiving Japanese rifle and machine gun fire. Munro’s LCP provided cover fire while the Marines were being pulled out of the ocean.

After all the Marines were rescued, a bullet hit Munro at the base of his skull. When he regained consciousness he asked Evans, “Did they get off?” Before Evans could answer, Munro died in Evans’ arms.

The LCP coxswains had rescued Marines to fight “another day.” One was Puller, who rose to the rank of major general and a USMC hero. Puller nominated Munro for the Congressional Medal of Honor. One of the other rescued Marines was Gunnery Sgt. John Basilone. A month later, Basilone was awarded the Medal of Honor for killing hundreds of Japanese soldiers during the Oct. 23-26, 1942 battle to keep Henderson Field in USMC control.

The fierce fighting wasn’t only on the land. The Imperial Japanese Navy sent ships down “The Slot” which was at the southern end of Guadalcanal, Saco and Florida islands. The IJN would attempt to reinforce their troops at night which were intercepted by the U.S. Navy. Both sides lost ships. In fact, there’s a total of 111 American and Japanese ships and 1,450 airplanes lying in 2,500 of “Iron Bottom Sound.”

The last three sentences of Munro’s nomination for the Medal of Honor read “When the perilous task of evacuation was nearly completed, Munro was killed by enemy fire, but his crew, two of whom were wounded, carried on until the last boat had loaded and cleared the beach. By his outstanding leadership, expert planning, and dauntless devotion to duty, he and his courageous comrades undoubtedly saved the lives of many who otherwise would have perished. He gallantly gave his life in defense of his country.”

Puller nominated Munro for the Medal of Honor, which was endorsed by Admiral William Halsey, Jr. and approved by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Of the 3,534 Medal of Honor recipients, Munro remains the only USCG recipient.

Even after Munro was killed, he had a positive effect on those around him. His mom, Edith Munro, was 48 years young when she enlisted in the USCG SPARS. She served as a lieutenant JG until she was discharged in 1946.

A childhood friend of Munro’s, Mike Cooley, returned from being in the Army during the war in Europe and learned about Munro. After visiting his grave in Cle Elum, the next day Cooley replaced Munro’s tattered flag. Every day for 40 years Cooley raised Munro’s flag in the morning and retired the flag before sunset. You can’t find a friend more faithful than Cooley.

Somehow saying, “Thank you for your service, Doug,” doesn’t express enough gratitude to him. He deserves a firm commitment to a long-term positive action. One of the ways I thank our vets is by sharing their story so that more people know the shoulders we stand upon today. If you don’t know your past, what kind of a future will you have?


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