Coast Guard Signalman 1st Class Douglas Munro was leading Higgins Boats landing Marines during the 1942 Battle of Guadalcanal. When he was asked if he would go pick up a force of 500 Marines who had been cut off from the main force on the island, his reply was a resounding “Hell yes.”
Douglas Munro led a flotilla of five landing craft into the history books at the behest of perhaps the most legendary Marine of all time, Lewis “Chesty” Puller. Sadly he would not return that day. For his heroism, Munro was awarded the Medal of Honor and remains the only Coast Guardsman to have received it to this day.
He was an American patriot from the very beginning. Douglas Munro spent time living in Canada with his family but returned to the United States in 1922. He was involved in high school sports and the Sons of the American Legion. As war loomed over Europe and Asia, he dropped out of college and enlisted in the Coast Guard.
Raymond Evans, a friend from a young age, enlisted with him. The two men met at the entrance processing station in Seattle, went through Coast Guard training at Port Los Angeles and were shipped to the Pacific together. They were so close and worked so well together, shipmates called them “the Gold Dust Twins.”
Munro was an excellent Coast Guardsman. He liked the mission of saving lives and fully intended to make a career of the service. When war finally broke out with Japan, he volunteered for combat duty, serving alongside the Navy in shallow waters.
As a combat Coast Guardsman, Munro served as a coxswain driving the transport ships that ferried Marines to the beaches they were assaulting. Once ashore, he would facilitate ship-to-shore communications between the Marines and the Navy. Douglas Munro excelled at that part of the job too.
He first landed Marines on beaches in the Solomon Islands. After success in the Solomons, Munro joined the Allied invasions of the Guadalcanal campaign. It would be at Guadalcanal where Douglas Munro would earn his place in history. His Gold Dust Twin, Raymond Evans was by his side every step of the way.
After landing their Marines on Guadalcanal, they returned to their ship, the USS Monssen, a Gleaves-class destroyer that would be sunk later in the campaign. It wasn’t long before they got word that things weren’t going well for the Americans on the beach.
Three companies of United States Marines were cut off from the main force fighting along an island river. Marine Corps leaders thought the men would be annihilated, but one of their officers wasn’t about to leave them for dead. Lt. Col. Lewis “Chesty” Puller wasn’t about to let hundreds of his Marines die if he could do anything about it.
He signaled the Monssen, got transport to the ship, and organized a squadron of Higgins Boats to withdraw the men while the destroyer covered them with the ships’ guns. Douglas Munro led the rescue LCTs.
With 500 Marines completely surrounded, Puller used the Monssen’s signal lamp to order them to return to shore. Using the ship’s 5-inch guns, the destroyer’s gunners cleared a path through the brush and the Japanese defenders. But someone still needed to go get them.
“Hell yes!” said Douglas Munro. Right by his side, as always, was Raymond Evans.
As they approached the island’s landing points, the enemy opened up on them with everything they could. Munro manned his boat’s.30-caliber machine gun to provide cover for his flotilla. With some Marines successfully loaded aboard, the Coast Guardsmen made to leave. But one boat got stuck on a sandbar. Munro positioned his boat between the Japanese and their hail of machine gun and small arms fire and the beached LCT to act as a shield for the helpless Marines it ferried.
As he protected the LCT and its precious cargo, Douglas Munro was shot in the base of his skull. The stricken boat was eventually lifted away, but Munro was down and unconscious. Everyone else on his boat was killed or wounded. His Gold Dust Twin, Raymond Evans, took the wheel and, shooting with one hand and steering the boat with the other, took over. He piloted his boat to distract the Japanese from the Marines as they made their way off the island.
An apocryphal version of the story, Evans later said Munro briefly regained consciousness, asking his fellow Coastie, “Did they get off?”
When Evans nodded, Munro reportedly smiled and was gone. It’s a great story, but taking a large caliber round to the base of the skull makes it unlikely that Douglas Munro ever regained consciousness.
Evans was awarded the Navy Cross for his actions, one of only six Coast Guardsmen to receive it, the nation’s second highest honor. Douglas Munro was awarded the Medal of Honor, and it was Chesty Puller himself who wrote that Medal of Honor recommendation.
Today, Douglas Munro is the only non-Marine in the National Museum of the Marine Corps’ “Wall of Heroes.”