Those of us who survive war represent those who donít. Thatís why I have such great appreciation of our veterans, regardless of their branch of service, because theyíre all part of the team that defends our nation from foreign enemies. Whatever you do in life, youíll succeed if you work as a team. Thatís what I learned on Guadalcanal.
When VMF-121 landed there in October 1942, Iím not sure that I knew what all the medals were. But I do know that medals were as far from our minds as the far side of the moon. We were outnumbered and outgunned, short of just about everything. What we had going for us was great leadership, the kind youíll read about in these pages. We had genuine heroes, and I donít mean the blue-haired sports figures that some kids look up to today. I mean real leaders like Joe Bauer, John L. Smith, and Bob Galer, to name a few. Oh, we had some ticket punchers among the regular officers who thought they were too valuable to get shot at, but those birds were weeded out pretty fast and we got on with the war, thanks to the young reservists who filled most of our squadrons.
At Guadalcanal I felt that all you had to do was shot up: the rest was provided. Free gas and ammo, all the shooting you could want, and no bag limit. But I felt then and feel today that too much is made of the hero business, or what I called ďthe dancing bear act,Ē involving countless speeches and appearances. At ďCactusĒ we were simply doing what was expected of us, whether it was flying airplanes, keeping them flying, cooking Japanese rice, or manning a Browning machine gun up on the ridge.
I learned pretty quick that combat is a dangerous occupation. Thereís no way to make war safe so the thing to do is make it dangerous for the other side. In the Solomons the enemy was mighty dangerous, too. Whatever we thought of the Japanese after Pearl Harbor, you didnít take them for granted.
Having been in the Congressional Medal of Honor Society for so many years, Iíve been privileged to know some of the finest men and greatest fliers this country ever produced. They ranged from Eddie Rickenbacker to Jimmy Doolittle and Charlie Lindbergh, and included, of course, my fellow marines, among them Jeff DeBlanc, Kenny Walsh, and Jim Swett. For my money, the greatest fighter pilot I ever knew was Marion Carl. Why he didnít get the Medal of Honor is something Iíll never figure out. But whether a man was awarded a medal of not, he was the only one who really knew the score, because he set his own standards.
Standards are important, especially for youngsters who have so many bad influences these days. Thatís why Iím big on history and museums. Some folks as if I was in World War I, and I tell them, ďNo, I missed that one,Ē but I try to point them in the right direction. If we lose our history, we lose out national identity, and I donít ever want that to happen. Thatís why Iím so glad that Barrett Tillman has written this bookóitís part of our history that needs to be studied for generations to come.
Joe died January 1, 2003, about three months after the book was published.
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