On 7 August 1942, Major General Alexander A. Vandegrift’s 1st Marine Division stormed ashore on the Japanese-held islands of Guadalcanal and Tulagi in the Solomon Islands. The operation, code-named Watchtower, was the first major U.S. offensive of World War II in the Pacific and designed to thwart the Japanese threat to Allied supply and communication routes between the United States, Australia, and New Zealand.
By nightfall on D+1, the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines had overrun one of the division’s major objectives—the nearly finished Japanese airfield on Guadalcanal. Once completed, the renamed Henderson Field would be the focus of the long struggle for Guadalcanal. A hodgepodge collection of Marine, Navy, and Army aircraft and aviators nicknamed the “Cactus Air Force” would defend the airfield against relentless attacks by Japanese bombers, while Marine infantrymen and Raiders, supported by GIs, would turn back Japanese ground offensives intended to capture it.
2. A. A. Vandegrift, with Robert B. Asprey, Once a Marine: The Memoirs of General A.A. Vandegrift, U.S.M.C. (New York, Ballantine Books, 1966), 134.
3. LTGEN Charles H. Hayes, Oral History (Quantico, VA: Marine Corps Oral History Program, 1970), 63.
4. Robert Sherrod, History of Marine Corps Aviation in World War II (Washington, DC: Combat Forces Press, 1952), 78.
5. LTGEN Albert D. Cooley, Oral History (Quantico, VA: Marine Corps Oral History Program, 1969), 19.
6. LTGEN Louis E. Woods, Oral History (Quantico, VA: Marine Corps Oral History Program, 1968), 184.
7. Richard B. Frank, Guadalcanal: The Definitive account of the Landmark Battle (New York: Random House, 1990). 207.
8. LTGEN Richard G. Mangrum, Oral History (Quantico, VA: Marine Corps Oral History Program, 1971), 20.
9. Vandegrift, Once a Marine, 139.
10. Mangrum, Oral History, 22.
11. Herbert C. Merrilat, The Island (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1944), 67, cited in Sherrod, History of Marine Corps Aviation, 79.
12. Dick Camp, Leatherneck Legends: Conversations with the Marine Corps’ Old Breed (Zenith Press, 2006), 91–106.
13. Mangrum, Oral History, 15.
14. Ibid, 15.
15. Thomas G. Miller Jr., The Cactus Air Force (New York: Harper & Row, 1969), 22.
16. Mangrum, Oral History, 31.
17. Miller, Cactus Air Force, 29.
18. Sherrod, History of Marine Corps Aviation, 90.
19. Miller, Cactus Air Force, 209.
20. Ibid, 207.