Veterans Voices: Guadalcanal, the first stepping stone to V-J Day

Veterans Voices

FREDERICKSBURG, Va. (WDVM) — Eight months after Japan attacked the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor on the Hawaiian island of Oahu on December 7th, 1941 U.S. Marines stormed ashore on Guadalcanal, a tiny island in the Solomons below New Guinea where Japanese troops were putting the finishing touches on a strategic airfield from which they hoped to cut the American supply line to Australia, a staging point in the South Pacific for allied forces.

Corporal Leonard Turner, an 18-year-old rifleman, joined the Second Raider Battalion, better known as “Carlson’s Raiders” on Guadalcanal after the fighting had subsided, but the elite intelligence-gathering unit still conducted daily patrols.

On the way back to camp from one of those patrols, Turner saw an LST, a landing ship tank that bore the number 767, on it. “My brother is on that boat,” said Turner, as he dropped out of the ranks and located his brother on the fantail shooting craps.

“Hey, how’re you doing? asked Turner. “Whoa! Am I glad to see you,” said his brother, a cook, who filled Leonard’s field pack with some food and invited him to come back that night and shoot the breeze.

From Guadalcanal, the Second Raider Battalion turned its attention to Bougainville, the largest island in the Solomon Archipelago south of New Guinea in Melanesia.

Bougainville is also where Admiral Isoroku Yamato, the brains behind the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, was killed when U.S. Army Air Corps P-38 Lightnings intercepted a Betty Bomber that was taking Yamato on a tour of Japanese airfields and shot it down.

Corporal Turner was ambushed on Bougainville, but lived to tell the story.

“We walked into a trap, the whole platoon,” said Turner, who remembers the air filled with whistles as Japanese officers signaled their men to take no prisoners and shoot the wounded on the battlefield.

“I was on the ground with bullets digging up the dirt next to my right leg,” said Turner as he made sounds of the machine gun and bullets buzzing past him, “But he never hit me.”

“We escaped by spraying the trees with everything we had,” said Turner who had nightmares about that close call with death for months after he returned to his home.

“My mother used to say, Leonard, you were fighting again last night.” Turner was one of seven men who attended the 50th and Final Reunion of the Sixth Marine Division in Fredericksburg, Virginia on September 18th.

A bell was rung as the names of almost 200 Marines who have died since the last reunion was held. On the eve of the moving ceremony, a bottle of 80-year-old Scotch Whiskey was opened and served to the “Magnificent Seven,” the last men standing.

As our interview ended, Leonard Turner said, “We had to give up our tomorrows so folks back home could have their todays. But the aging warrior has no complaints. He said he’d do it all over again if necessary.

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