"Did they get off?" - The Sacrifice of Douglas Munro
Happy 231st birthday to the United States Coast Guard, originally established as the United States Revenue Cutter Service on August 4, 1790. One Coast Guardsman in particular will forever rank first in the hearts of his countrymen, Signalman First Class Douglas Albert Munro. During the fight for the island of Guadalcanal in World War II, Munro gave the last full measure of devotion at the age of twenty-two and was posthumously awarded the United States military’s highest decoration for valor under fire, the Medal of Honor. His citation reads:
“For extraordinary heroism and conspicuous gallantry in action above and beyond the call of duty as Officer in Charge of a group of 24 Higgins boats engaged in the evacuation of a battalion of Marines trapped by enemy Japanese Forces at Point Cruz, Guadalcanal on September 27, 1942. 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. As he closed the beach, he signaled the others to land and then in order to draw the enemy’s fire and protect the heavily loaded boats, he valiantly placed his craft, with its two small guns, as a shield between the beachhead and the Japanese. When the perilous task of evacuation was nearly completed, Munro was killed by enemy fire, but his crew, two of whom were wounded, carried on until the last boat had loaded and cleared the beach. By his outstanding leadership, expert planning, and dauntless devotion to duty, he and his courageous comrades undoubtedly saved the lives of many who otherwise would have perished. He gallantly gave up his life in defense of his country.”
Signalman First Class Douglas A. Munro. (Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons)
With his final breath, Munro thought only of his comrades. “Upon regaining consciousness his only question was ‘Did they get off?’, and so died with a smile on his face and the full knowledge that he had successfully accomplished a dangerous mission,” wrote an officer in a letter to Munro’s parents only five days after their son’s supreme sacrifice. Douglas Munro became the first Coast Guardsman to be awarded the Medal of Honor. To this day, he remains the only member of that service with the United States military’s highest decoration for valor under fire to his name.
National Medal of Honor Museum: Medal Monday - Honoring Douglas Munro and the U.S. Coast Guard.
U.S. Naval Institute: The Coast Guard's Medal of Honor Recipient.