In October 1942, the Americans on Guadalcanal were in a fight for their lives. Henderson Field was riddled with bomb craters, wrecked U.S. aircraft were strewn about, and luxuriant jungle vegetation had been replaced by broken trunks protruding from a tangle of charred undergrowth. The nightly shelling from Japanese warships was so severe that some of the pilots chose to sleep in jungle positions near the infantry's front lines to increase their odds of survival.
Marine Captain Joe Foss arrived at this chaotic scene on 9 October to assume duties as executive officer of fighter squadron VMF-121. Immediately upon joining the fray on the 13th, he got his first kill but was soon pounced on by three Zeros. Barely escaping, he landed back at the field with an aircraft full of bullet holes and leaking oil like a sieve. The near-death encounter had its effect as he was heard to say, "You can call me 'Swivel-Neck Joe' from now on."