The US Coast Guard is the smallest branch of our military (only about 45,000 active duty and 15,000 reservists), but it played a major role in World War II. Coast Guardsmen were the ones who manned the landing craft that ferried the Marines to the various islands to fight. On September 27, 1942, Signalman First Class Douglas Munro and others ferried some 500 Marines to an area of Guadalcanal known as Point Cruz. The idea was for these Marines to do an “end around” on the Japanese.

Munro and his men landed the Marines, turned around and went back to their ships. However, no sooner had they made it back to their ships that they heard that those same Marines were being attacked by a much larger force of Japanese. If they were not rescued immediately they would be wiped out. Munro quickly devised a plan and led five boats back to the beaches. Four boats loaded up with the Marines, but then they were hit by a hail of fire from the Japanese.

Douglas moved his boat in a blocking maneuver to act as a shield between the Marines and the Japanese. With his machine gun he kept up a steady stream of fire while the last of the Marines got on board. (One of the rescued Marines was none other than Lt. Col. Lewis “Chesty” Puller– probably the greatest Marine who ever lived).

As they were about to pull away, Douglas was mortally wounded. His friends laid him down in the boat and with his final breath he said, “Did they get off?” All he wanted to know was if they got all the Marines off the island. Yes. Yes they did.

He died at the age of 22.

For his heroic actions, above and beyond the call of duty, he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor– the only member of the US Coast Guard to be awarded our nation’s highest honor for courage.