"Did they get off?" - Signalman First Class Douglas A. Munro, U.S. Coast Guard, Medal of Honor, WWII, Guadalcanal (1919-1942)
BY DUANE A. VACHON, PH.D. Douglas Albert Munro was born on October 11, 1919. His father was an American and his mother was English. He was born in Vancouver, Canada, and ironically whilst still very young, the family moved to Vancouver, Washington, where his dad, an electrician, worked for Warren Construction Company.
In 1922, when Munro was three years old, he along with his sister became a naturalized U.S. citizen. He grew up in South Cle Elum, Washington and was educated at South Cle Elum Grade School. After graduating from Cle Elum High School in 1937, he attended Central Washington College of Education (now known as Central Washington University) for a year before leaving to enlist in the United States Coast Guard in 1939.
Since there was no training station in the Coast Guard in 1939, Munro along with a dozen other enlistees was put on a bus and sent to the Coast Guard Air Station at Port Angeles.
Arriving there as raw boots they were put to work mowing lawns, cleaning up and servicing aircraft.
Seven days into this routine and announcement was made asking for volunteers to fill seven vacancies aboard USCGC Spencer, then enroute on permanent change of station orders from Valdez, Alaska to Staten Island CG Base, New York. The Spencer was just three years old and a smart ship. Munro was quick to volunteer and served aboard Spencer until early 1941, earning the Signalman 3rd Class rating during this time.
His career in the Coast Guard was outstanding. He rose quickly through the ranks and became a Signalman, first class.
In 1941, the Coast Guard was ordered to man three attack transports: the Hunter Leggett, American Legion, and Joseph T. Dickman which had been U.S. Army Transports. The word came out that signalmen were needed on the Hunter Leggett. After badgering CDR Harold S. Berdine, the Executive Officer of the USCGC Spencer, for days Munro was released to join the Hunter Leggett. On arrival aboard Leggett at the Brooklyn Army Base, Munro found he was actually attached to the staff of Commander Transport Division 7, Commodore G.B. Ashe. The officers of the staff were Navy except for CDR Dwight Dexter, Personnel Officer, who was Coast Guard. The Navy apparently felt that the Coast Guard did not have officers trained in handling vessels in convoy or in multiple ship groups so the Division Commander was Navy. All other personnel on the vessels, both officers and men, were Coast Guard.
In September 1942 Munro, then aged 22, was to find himself and the Hunter Leggett in the Second Battle of the Matanikau, part of the Guadalcanal Campaign. Munro was in charge of a detachment of ten boats which landed U.S. Marines at the scene. After successfully taking them ashore, he returned his boats to their previously assigned position and almost immediately learned that conditions ashore were different than had been anticipated and that it was necessary to evacuate the Marines immediately. Munro volunteered for the job and brought the boats to shore under heavy enemy fire, then proceeded to evacuate the men on the beach. When most of them were in the boats, complications arose in evacuating the last men, whom Munro realized would be in the greatest danger. He accordingly placed himself and his boats such that they would serve as cover for the last men to leave. It was thus that he was fatally wounded—protecting the men after he had evacuated them. He remained conscious sufficiently long only to say four words: "Did they get off?”
The Medal of Honor was [posthumously] presented to Munro in May 1943 by President Roosevelt at the White House.
The President of the United States
in the name of The Congress
takes pleasure in presenting the
Medal of Honor
*MUNRO, DOUGLAS ALBERT
Rank and organization: Signalman First Class, U.S. Coast Guard Born: 11 October 1919, Vancouver, British Columbia. Accredited to Washington.
For extraordinary heroism and conspicuous gallantry m action above and beyond the call of duty as Petty Officer in Charge of a group of 24 Higgins boats, engaged in the evacuation of a battalion of marines trapped by enemy Japanese forces at Point Cruz Guadalcanal, on 27 September 1942. After making preliminary plans for the evacuation of nearly 500 beleaguered marines, Munro, under constant strafing by enemy machineguns on the island, and at great risk of his life, daringly led 5 of his small craft toward the shore. As he closed the beach, he signaled the others to land, and then in order to draw the enemy's fire and protect the heavily loaded boats, he valiantly placed his craft with its 2 small guns as a shield between the beachhead and the Japanese. When the perilous task of evacuation was nearly completed, Munro was instantly killed by enemy fire, but his crew, 2 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 for his country.
Munro's Medal of Honor is on display at the United States Coast Guard
Training Center Cape May in Cape May, New Jersey. He received the Navy
version of the Medal of Honor because, at the time, the Coast Guard
was operating under the Department of the Navy and no separate Coast
Guard version of the medal existed. A Medal of Honor version for Coast
Guard personnel has since been approved, but has never been designed
This month (September) marks the 70th anniversary of Munro’s brave actions at Guadalcanal. Only heaven knows how many children, grandchildren and great grandchildren there are today because of Munro’s actions on September 26th, 1942 that saved 250 Marines from certain death.
Signalman First Class Douglas Albert Munro is buried at Laurel Hill Memorial Park in Cle Elum, Washington.
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