"Guadalcanal Marine" is an unpretentious account of a North Carolina farm boy's early days as a U.S. Marine during World War II.
Kerry L. Lane, familiar with the drudgery of farm life, joined the armed forces, seeking a steady occupation with steady pay and, perhaps, a chance to see the world.
When Lane joined at 16 in 1940, it was the beginning of a 32-year military career. He advanced through the ranks and retired as a lieutenant colonel, having served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam.
This memoir covers only the years up to 1944, during which he served in the Solomon Islands' Guadalcanal campaign and in New Guinea.
The story of those first American amphibious land offensives been frequently told by historians and participants alike. But what makes Lane's book so appealing is his immediacy and closeness to the facts and details of the everyday life of a Marine, in and out of combat situations. This gives the reader vivid images of what really happened.
Lane tells how difficult it was to exist and survive in the unhealthful tropical jungles of Guadalcanal. Although the Japanese didn't strongly oppose the Marines' surprise landing on Aug. 7, 1942, they soon launched vigorous efforts to dislodge the Americans.
Guadalcanal was a six-month meat-grinder, fought intensely at sea, in the air and on the ground. Lane describes the initial lack of essential supplies and the difficulties in keeping the local airstrip operating through daily aerial and naval bombings.
He describes the hair-raising nighttime attacks by Japanese infantry against the Americans' sparsely manned defensive positions, and how the Marines held on and inflicted enormous casualties on their attackers. But the Marines, too, were losing men, not only through enemy action but malaria, dysentery and other tropical maladies.
Lane's unit was relieved in December, after having been in combat since August. It was sent to Australia for rest, recuperation, re-equipment and reinforcement. Lane was hospitalized with a severe case of malaria, and he writes warmly of the kindness Australian civilians showed toward the Americans.
Lane was later promoted to sergeant and had become an expert in explosives. His unit shipped out for New Guinea and landed at Cape Gloucester in December 1943.
Fighting in this new theater differed little from that on Guadalcanal. If anything, it was harsher, as Lane recalls the unrelenting rain in the tropical jungle.
In the chapter "The Battle of Suicide Creek," Lane tells of the Japanese sharpshooters who took a deadly toll of Marines from their camouflaged hideouts high in the trees.
The Marines moved tanks up though the jungle but could not get them across a high-banked creek - until Lane manned a bulldozer and, under intense fire and totally exposed to the enemy, dumped enough landfill into the surging stream to allow the tanks to cross. Lane was shot in the shoulder, but refused to leave the battlefield. Using a telephone, he directed the driver of the lead tank around obstacles as it moved forward. The Japanese eventually retreated.
Lane earned a Purple Heart, a Silver Star, five combat stars, a presidential citation for gallantry, and the rank of staff sergeant.
In the book, Lane also underscores that American civilians tolerated many severe shortages and inconveniences in their support of the war effort, a fact that many historians often overlook.
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