Seventy-four years ago today, on October 9,1942, the Seventh Marines were at the tail end of a successful drive to push the Japanese off of the west bank of Guadalcanal’s Matanikau River. When the fighting ended and casualties were counted, 1/7th Marines counted 27 wounded (two mortally) and three killed outright. With orders to withdraw to the Lunga perimeter with all speed, the battalion had its hands full evacuating the wounded, and the three dead men – PFC Harry Clark Morrissey (Company B), PFC Francis E. Drake, Jr (Company C) and Private Albert LeRoy Bernes (Company D) were given a proper, yet hasty, burial in the field. The location of the three graves was mapped; they were on a grassy ridge near a small clump of trees, and 1/7 hoped that Graves Registration troops would be able to locate the site based on this information.
Unfortunately, this was not the case.
Despite repeated efforts (some of which uncovered the graves of other Marines from the regiment who died in the vicinity), Morrissey, Drake, and Bernes were not found. Their families received formal letters from the government; they received little bundles of personal belongings – a cigarette case, some reading glasses, a rosary chain, snapshots, letters, a lava lava obtained from a Guadalcanal native, a pencil – Drake’s mother was presented with the Silver Star he earned for saving a wounded comrade at the cost of his life. No remains were returned.
In 2013, a Guadalcanal homeowner making some renovations unearthed a few bones on Skyline Ridge. Two more bodies were found nearby; with them was a tarnished dog tag belonging to one DRAKE, F. E. Jr. On October 10 of that year – almost to the day after the three men were killed – battlefield historian John Innes stated in an interview that he believed that Francis Drake, Harry Morrissey, and Albert Bernes had been found.
This case has been handed over to JPAC, who has yet to release an official statement on the recovery. With luck, these three Marines are coming a step closer to home with every passing day.
A similar chance find in 1970 led to the recovery and identification of five individuals from E/7th Marines – all of whom were also killed on October 9, 1942. Corporal John Suggs, PFC Godfrey E. Hunter, Jr., PFC David W. Johns, Private Eugene Johnston and Private Paul E. Gagnon were buried together in Arlington National Cemetery in 1972.
Currently, three more October 9 casualties from the 7th Marines remain unaccounted for: Sergeant William Cusack, PFC Robert Eberle, and PFC Hugh Strickland.