The Canal/Starvation Island: A Remembrance

7 August 1942: American marines land on Guadalcanal, thus initiating the first Allied ground offensive in the Pacific theater. For the next four months they would contest the island with their Japanese adversaries under conditions that are almost impossible to describe, let alone believe. To the Americans, the place was simply “The Canal”; to the Japanese, for reasons that became grimly obvious as the conflict continued, it was “Starvation Island.” Both sides performed their duties heroically, and so the men on both sides were heroes.

A brief roll call:
Admirals: Scott and Callaghan, Mikawa and Tanaka
Commanders: Maruyama and Kawaguchi, Vandegrift and Edson
Airmen: Bauer and Foss, Sakai and Nishizawa
War Correspondents: Nishino, Tregaskis

Essentially abandoned by their navy and therefore short of supplies, the Marines suffered egregiously during the early stages of the campaign. However, despite winning several sea battles, the Imperial Navy finally proved unable to adequately provision Japanese troops on the island. By some estimates, at least 30,000 men died during the fight for Guadalcanal, the vast majority of them Japanese. The combatants on both sides were mostly young men from small towns and villages. They, too, deserve a roll call, but it would take several pages and make impossibly painful reading.

Nations memorialize their war dead in monumental ways:

Arlington National Cemetary


Yasukuni Shrine

However, it seems more appropriate in the case of the American dead to ponder the spare eloquence of this cemetery on Guadalcanal:

And in the case of the Japanese dead, to reflect on the haiku-like resonance of this small memorial stone, also on Guadalcanal:

Sotoba: A strip of wood laid as a grave marker and an offering on tombs in Japan. Sotoba are usually placed shortly after someone’s death, but a new one may be added at a memorial service – such as the one you are now reading. This brief posting is my Sotoba, offered in respect and admiration for all the men who fought on Guadalcanal, both the living – and the dead.

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