The Only Medal of Honor Recipient in the Coast Guard's 227 Years of History
Today the United States Coast Guard celebrates its 227th birthday. On August 4, 1790, the first Congress authorized the construction of 10 vessels to enforce tariff and trade laws, prevent smuggling, and protect the collection of federal revenue. Over time, the Coast Guard has gained additional responsibilities such as fulfilling humanitarian duties and helping mariners in distress.
To this date, only one Coast Guardsman has earned the Medal of Honor. On September 27, 1942, Signalman First Class Douglas Munro was killed while saving
hundreds of Marines during the Battle of Guadalcanal. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor by President Franklin D. Roosevelt for his heroic actions.
A portrait of Douglas Munro. (Photo: U.S. Coast Guard)
The Coast Guard served an important role in the Pacific theatre of World War II, acting as operators for transport vessels. Munro wanted the responsibility of being one of these men and he was granted this role by his executive officer. During the Solomon Islands Campaign, he was assigned to transport duty supporting Marine landings at Guadalcanal.
U.S. Marines landing on Guadalcanal in August of 1942. (Photo: Encyclopedia Britannica)
On September 27, 1942, a battalion of Marines were trapped by Japanese forces at Point Cruz, Guadalcanal. Munro led a group of small boats that were tasked with protecting 24 Higgins boats as they extracted the Marines. According to his Medal of Honor citation, "After making preliminary plans for the evacuation of nearly five hundred beleaguered Marines, Munro, under constant strafing by enemy machine guns on the island and at great risk of his life, daringly led five of his small craft toward the shore."
Munro positioned his craft, "as a shield between the beachhead and the Japanese." With only two small guns on his boat, Munro drew the enemy's fire to provide cover for the evacuation. Because of his action, the Marines and their wounded were able to escape.
As Munro's craft was heading away from the shore, he encountered a landing craft filled with Marines that was grounded on the beach. After 20 minutes, Munro and his crew managed to free the landing craft. Before he could get away, Munro was fatally wounded by enemy fire.
Douglas Munro. (Photo: Coast Guard Foundation)
Munro's Medal of Honor citation writes that he was, "instantly killed by enemy fire," but his Official U.S. Coast Guard Biography states that after he was shot, "it was reported that he had remained conscious long enough to utter his final words." Those final words are said to have been, "Did they get off?" Munro must have been referring to the grounded landing craft filled with Marines that his crew had freed. Based on the valor that he had shown that day, it is entirely believable that those would have been Munro's final words.
Douglas Munro. (Photo: history link.org)
Signalman First Class Douglas Munro put himself in harms way to save hundreds of Marines. His courage in the face of such difficult circumstances says everything about his character as a man. In his final action, Munro exemplified the motto of the United States Coast Guard, semper paratus (always ready). His memory will live on forever in the form of our flag.