Actions Along the Matanikau: 1942, 1970, 2013

Except for scholars of the battle, October 9, 1942 is not a particularly noteworthy day in the history of Guadalcanal. American presence on the island, while not exactly secure, was at least not as tenuous as it had been. The Cactus Air Force was developing a daily routine, and Japanese raids came in like clockwork. The battles of the Tenaru, Savo Island, and Edson’s Ridge were in the past; Battleship Sunday, the attack on Henderson Field, the Matanikau Offensive and the Long Patrol had not yet occurred. The main activities on October 9 were the arrival of the First Battalion, Second Marines from garrison duty on Tulagi, and the successful conclusion of a flanking attack along the far bank of the Matanikau River that removed a thorn in the side of the Marine perimeter. Both of these actions resulted in men killed, wounded, and missing.

The remains of at least twenty-five Marines lost on this date were declared non-recoverable after the war.* This, sadly, is not terribly unusual. What is interesting about October 9, 1942 is how many of the men who went “missing” that day have been recovered.

Read More: Finding the Seventh Marines

Little Dunkirk

In late September, 1942, a series of skirmishes and counterattacks took place on the northern coast of Guadalcanal. This fighting, later referred to as the Second Battle of the Matanikau (or, with later events in October, simply “Actions along the Matanikau”) pitted the First Marine Division against the Japanese Fourth Infantry Regiment, plus scattered units retreating from the recent battles on Bloody Ridge. The Marines believed they faced only 400 disorganized and demoralized enemy; through aggressive action they would “mop up” the Matanikau region to secure and expand their western perimeter. As they quickly discovered, the Japanese were stronger and far better organized than anticipated – and few units realized this better than the First Battalion, Seventh Marines.

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Lewis “Chesty” Puller on Guadalcanal, September 1942.

The leader of this battalion was Lieutenant Colonel Lewis Puller. A notable figure in the Old Corps, “Chesty” Puller was regarded as “a marine’s Marine,” the archetypal hard-charger. He was finally finding an outlet for his legendary aggressiveness, having languished with his regiment in the defense of Samoa while the First and Fifth Marines took the fight to the Japanese. Now, Chesty was making up for lost time. On September 23, 1/7 left the Henderson Field perimeter for a combat patrol that would take them across the Matanikau at a point far upriver; they would follow the river back to the coast, eliminating any Japanese in their path, and meet up with the First Raider Battalion at the village of Kokumbona to establish a permanent patrol base.[1]

Read More: The Dead Man’s Patrol

FOUND ON GUADALCANAL: Harry Morrissey, Albert Bernes, Francis Drake

A reader named Melanie provided a link to this Australian newscast, detailing the finding of PFC Harry Clark Morrissey, PFC Francis E. Drake Jr, and Private Albert Leroy Bernes.

A homeowner in Honiara, Guadalcanal, found the remains of the three men while digging a new foundation in his yard. One set of remains carried a dog tag, naming Francis Drake; the other two were known to be buried beside him.

The three Marines were members of Chesty Puller’s First Battalion, 7th Marines (Morrissey in Company B, Drake in Company C, and Bernes in Company D) and lost their lives fighting along the Matanikau River on October 9, 1942.

News of this discovery comes on the seventy-first anniversary of their burial. If that’s not fate, I don’t know what is.

PFC Francis Drake, of Springfield, Massachusetts, was the first serviceman from his town to lose his life in the war; he was posthumously awarded the Silver Star.

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The President of the United States of America takes pride in presenting the Silver Star (Posthumously) to Private First Class Francis E. Drake, Jr. (MCSN: 299871), United States Marine Corps, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity during action against enemy Japanese forces on Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands, on 9 October 1942. While serving with Company C of the First Battalion, Seventh Marines, FIRST Marine Division, south of Point Cruz and west of the Matanikau River, Private First Class Drake and a comrade, while exposed to vigorous hostile fire, attempted to carry a wounded Marine from the scene of his injury to a protective ridge about one hundred yards distant. When almost within reach of his objective, Private First Class Drake was struck by enemy fire and killed. His heroic spirit of self-sacrifice was in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.

No official announcement has been made by JPAC or the DPMO, but hopefully efforts will soon be made to bring Morrissey, Bernes, and Drake home at last.

First Lieutenant Louis Robert Norman

Louis Norman at Grove City College, 1937.
Louis Norman at Grove City College, 1937.

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Insignia of VMSB-141
Insignia of VMSB-141
NAME:
Louis Robert Norman
NICKNAME: SERVICE NUMBER:
O-007125
HOME OF RECORD:
Natrona, PA
NEXT OF KIN:
Wife, Mrs. Louis R. Norman
DATE OF BIRTH:
September 13, 1917
ENLISTED:
November 14, 1940
DATE OF DEATH:
October 8, 1942
CAMPAIGN UNIT MOS RATE FATE
Guadalcanal VMSB-141 Dive Bomber Pilot 1Lt MIA
CAUSE OF DEATH:
While piloting SBD-3 03255, became lost returning to Henderson Field following mission
INDIVIDUAL DECORATIONS:
Purple Heart
LAST KNOWN RANK:
Captain
STATUS OF REMAINS:
Missing with aircraft
MEMORIAL:
Manila American Cemetery and Memorial

Full Biography

Staff Sergeant William T. Campbell

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Insignia of VMSB-141
Insignia of VMSB-141
NAME:
William T. Campbell
NICKNAME:

SERVICE NUMBER:
400511
HOME OF RECORD:
McKeesport, PA
NEXT OF KIN:
Mother, Mrs. Elvira Campbell
DATE OF BIRTH:
~1919
ENLISTED:
May 7, 1942
DATE OF DEATH:
October 8, 1942
CAMPAIGN UNIT MOS RATE FATE
Guadalcanal VMSB-141 Dive Bomber Gunner Staff Sergeant MIA
CAUSE OF DEATH:
While gunner for SBD-3 03257, shot down while attacking shipping off Guadalcanal
INDIVIDUAL DECORATIONS:
Purple Heart
LAST KNOWN RANK:
Staff Sergeant
STATUS OF REMAINS:
Missing with aircraft
MEMORIAL:
Manila American Cemetery and Memorial

Full Biography

Technical Sergeant Joseph Donald Cook

From an unknown newspaper, 1945.
From an unknown newspaper, 1945.

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Insignia of VMSB-141
Insignia of VMSB-141
NAME:
Joseph Donald Cook
NICKNAME:
Cooky
SERVICE NUMBER:
273952
HOME OF RECORD:
800 Belmont Avene, Charlottesville VA
NEXT OF KIN:
Wife, Mrs. Eloise (Smith) Cook
DATE OF BIRTH:
February 5, 1917
ENLISTED:
November 11, 1939
DATE OF DEATH:
October 8, 1942
CAMPAIGN UNIT MOS RATE FATE
Guadalcanal VMSB-141 Dive Bomber Pilot Technical Sergeant MIA
CAUSE OF DEATH:
While piloting SBD-3 03257, shot down while attacking shipping off Guadalcanal
INDIVIDUAL DECORATIONS:
Purple Heart
LAST KNOWN RANK:
Technical Sergeant
STATUS OF REMAINS:
Missing with aircraft
MEMORIAL:
Manila American Cemetery and Memorial

Full Biography

Gunnery Sergeant Robert Herschel Ballew

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NAME:
Robert Herschel Ballew
NICKNAME: SERVICE NUMBER:
200796
HOME OF RECORD:
Yemassee, SC
NEXT OF KIN:
Mr. Harry M. McAvoy (notified)
DATE OF BIRTH:
September 27, 1908
ENLISTED:
August 12, 1925
DATE OF DEATH:
October 8, 1942
CAMPAIGN UNIT MOS RATE FATE
El Chipote, Nicaragua 45th Company, 5th Marines Private
Guadalcanal F/2/7 Gunnery Sergeant KIA
CAUSE OF DEATH:
Shrapnel wounds
INDIVIDUAL DECORATIONS:
Purple Heart, Good Conduct Medal (2)
LAST KNOWN RANK:
Gunnery Sergeant
STATUS OF REMAINS:
Buried in the field, vicinity of Hill 83, Guadalcanal
MEMORIAL:
Mount Pisgah Cemetery, Fairburn, GA
Manila American Cemetery and Memorial

Full Biography

Private John Howard Brown, Jr.

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NAME:
John Howard Brown, Jr.
NICKNAME:
SERVICE NUMBER:
334312
HOME OF RECORD:
314 Edgewood Street, Paris, TN
NEXT OF KIN:
Mother, Mrs. John Brown Sr.
DATE OF BIRTH:
unknown
ENLISTED:
December 16, 1941
DATE OF DEATH:
October 8, 1942
CAMPAIGN UNIT MOS RATE FATE
Guadalcanal I/3/5 PFC MIA
CAUSE OF DEATH:
Unknown, disappeared in vicinity of Matanikau River
INDIVIDUAL DECORATIONS:
Purple Heart
LAST KNOWN RANK:
Private First Class
STATUS OF REMAINS:
Unknown
MEMORIAL:
Manila American Cemetery and Memorial

Full Biography

PFC Salvatore C. Speciale

Cortland Standard, December 2, 1942
Cortland Standard, December 2, 1942

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NAME:
Salvatore C. Speciale
NICKNAME:
Sammy
SERVICE NUMBER:
340376
HOME OF RECORD:
67 Central Avenue, Cortland, NY
NEXT OF KIN:
Mother, Mrs. Julia Speciale
DATE OF BIRTH:
1923
ENLISTED:
January 5, 1942
DATE OF DEATH:
October 8, 1942
CAMPAIGN UNIT MOS RATE FATE
Guadalcanal I/3/5 Platoon Messenger PFC MIA
CAUSE OF DEATH:
Unknown, disappeared in vicinity of Matanikau River
INDIVIDUAL DECORATIONS:
Purple Heart
LAST KNOWN RANK:
Private First Class
STATUS OF REMAINS:
Unknown
MEMORIAL:
Manila American Cemetery and Memorial

Full Biography

PFC Joseph N. R. Dionne

dionne

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NAME:
Joseph Normand Roger Dionne
NICKNAME:
Normand
SERVICE NUMBER:
321792
HOME OF RECORD:
21 Howe Street, Lewiston, ME
NEXT OF KIN:
Mother, Mrs. Eva Dionne
DATE OF BIRTH:
2/23/1922*
ENLISTED:
September 23, 1941
DATE OF DEATH:
October 8, 1942
CAMPAIGN UNIT MOS RATE FATE
Guadalcanal I/3/5 PFC KIA
CAUSE OF DEATH:
Gunshot wound, head and chest
INDIVIDUAL DECORATIONS:
Purple Heart
LAST KNOWN RANK:
Private First Class
STATUS OF REMAINS:
Body not recovered “due to battle conditions”
MEMORIAL:
Manila American Cemetery and Memorial

* An earlier version of this site gave Dionne’s date of birth as 19 February 1909. This is not correct – see footnote for details.

Full Biography