Leaving Mac Behind:
The Lost Marines of Guadalcanal
by Geoffrey W. Roecker
An in-depth look at the lives, last moments, and legacies
of Guadalcanal’s missing Marines.
To be published by Fonthill Media, 2019
About The BookNearly 400 U. S. Marines who fell in the Guadalcanal campaign have yet to be accounted for. They were the victims of pitched battles and lonely patrols, enemy ambushes and friendly fire, hard fighting and poor planning. Some were buried in makeshift military cemeteries or isolated graves, and others simply vanished. Their remains eluded search parties and confounded expert anthropologists. They were reported as ‘missing’ or ‘not recovered’ or ‘presumed dead’, and their families left to wonder at their ultimate fate. An administrative decision closed the book on their lives.
Now, seventy years later, researchers are writing the next chapter using archival sources, veterans’ accounts, family lore and battlefield archaeology. Leaving Mac Behind examines the lives, last moments and legacies of some of these Guadalcanal Marines – and the history and future of the mission to bring them home.
About The AuthorGeoffrey Roecker is the creator of MissingMarines, an award-winning initiative dedicated to preserving the stories of missing servicemen and supporting efforts for their return. Since 2011, he has provided research support to multiple MIA recovery organizations and scores of families hoping to learn about their military ancestors.
Roecker received his MMH from Norwich University, where his capstone subject “Marine Operational Intelligence on Guadalcanal” was selected for a Residency panel presentation in 2015. He is the recipient of the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation 2019 General Roy S. Geiger Award for the MissingMarines profile of Lt. Elwood R. Bailey, shot down over Guadalcanal in 1942 and repatriated in 2018.
Leaving Mac Behind is Roecker’s first book. He lives in New Jersey with his wife and son.
In his new book Leaving Mac Behind: The Lost Marines of Guadalcanal, Geoff Roecker presents a gripping, two-fold tale. It is one of both harrowing firefights in 1942, where intense battles left soldiers improperly buried or missing in action due to the severity of the combat, and the modern recovery missions to retrieve and identify their remains.
Roecker guides the reader through the final missions of several famous patrols and small Marine elements in page-turning narrative, and returns to update the progress made in recent decades to close the mysteries of long-forgotten men.
This is an important contribution, offering fresh intelligence into America’s first major Pacific offensive and the heroes who helped pave the way to our country’s eventual victory.Stephen L. Moore
author of Hell’s Island: How a Small Band of Carrier Dive Bombers Helped Save Guadalcanal
While death is the natural byproduct of war, few have ever explored the logistics of how we deal with it when the battle is over—until now. Geoffrey Roecker, in his powerful new book Leaving Mac Behind, shines an important spotlight on this grim yet vital task. Using Guadalcanal as his case point, he paints an unflinching portrait of the job faced by American mortuary teams, a job made all the more difficult by the island’s remote location, sweltering heat and swarms of insects. This book is a tribute to the herculean efforts made to bring home our heroes and give peace to their families.James M. Scott
Pulitzer Prize finalist and author of Rampage and Target Tokyo
Excerpt: The Last Day
He awoke early on the patrol’s last day.– from Leaving Mac Behind: The Lost Marines of Guadalcanal
Everything hurt. He had long since stopped counting the blisters, the bites, and the bruises as the march went on; they were merely a collective ache. His skin, lashed by liana vines and sliced by knife-like kunai grass, was pruned and softened from ever-present moisture. When he was not wading a stream, he was pouring with sweat, and the weather cycled between raining, just about to rain, and just finished raining. Yesterday’s punishing climb was the latest exertion of a month-long sojourn through the swamps and thickets, ridges, and valleys of a sweltering, stinking bump on the backside of the world. His officers called it Mount Austen; the native guides called it Mombula—their word for “rotting body.” Whatever you called it, this mountaintop on Guadalcanal was just about as far from Coleraine, Minnesota, as a guy could get.
He lit a cigarette with the dawn, red-rimmed blue eyes staring out of a ruddy face turned jaundice yellow from atabrine. They were all dragging ass. Dysentery was the order of the day; the sudden liquefying of the bowels robbing men of strength and dignity as they scampered for the tree line or simply slit holes in the seat of their pants. Others shivered and sweated in the early stages of malaria, their perspiration irritating the weeping ringworm ulcers that covered their bodies. “Jungle rot,” they said. “Got that creepin’ crud.” Blood ran down their legs and pooled into their boondockers, rotting their socks faster than they could wring them out. More than a quarter of them fell out, and many more should have. Tempers were short, but morale was still high. They were all volunteers.
He raised his hand and signed his name in 1939, two years out of high school and the Civilian Conservation Corps. His mother was dead, and his father was ailing, but his siblings always worked together and now he, the youngest by far, would do his part. In San Diego, he learned the new language of shitbirds and boots, of ’03s and BARs, of pride in traditions dating back to the Revolution. He was intelligent, trustworthy, of good character, and took to the training like a fish to water. They presented him with an emblem, named him Marine, and shipped him to Hawaii. Two months later, he learned that his father had died.
He saw the meatball-marked aircraft swooping low over Ewa Field on one December Sunday in 1941, saw the smoke billowing from stricken ships in Battleship Row, saw the oil-blackened bodies of sailors pulled from the wrecks at Pearl Harbor. He made a personal vow of vengeance, but after the raid, aviation gasoline was more valuable than a PFC’s crusade. So he took eight men to Damon’s Island, posted guards, and watched for saboteurs….
Now he was here on Guadalcanal, one of the “Gung-Ho” Raiders. He had good leaders in Lt. Does and Cpl. Croft, and a trustworthy fire team in Privates Farrar and Van Buren. They called him “Whitey” for his fair hair. He could subsist on bacon and rice, communicate with Melanesian guides, and identify the distinctive prints of Japanese boots on a muddy trail. He had stood security at the base at Binu, walked point on patrols, and fought the Japanese in near total darkness. He knew how Barber from Company “C” was tortured and killed and scattered in pieces, and how his own company moved through a Japanese field hospital, bayonetting the wounded and sick where they lay. They had buried Marines along the way but none from his company; it did not seem to matter that he had left his lucky rabbit’s foot in his bags at Espiritu Santo.
It was almost over, the Old Man said, and they would return to the perimeter as conquerors of the Japanese, of the island, of the base human nature that sought the easy way out. Then Carlson himself led them in their hymn, “from the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli,” and when the native boys joined in for “Onward Christian Soldiers,” the melody blended in “a daring challenge to any enemy soldiers within [the] sound of our voices.” It was the proudest moment in many a young life.
And it was in this spirit that Cpl. Albert Laddce “Whitey” Hermiston was told that he would be the point man for the point squad, leading Carlson’s Raiders down the final trail to safety, to a hero’s welcome, to a hot meal. He had marched and fought for 150 miles. What was one more day?
They buried him beside Farrar and Matelski at noon.