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American raid on Munda

Here we see Munda airfield during an American air raid, with bombs bursting on the runway.

New Details of the Raid to Kill Osama bin Laden: Rosary Beads, Card Games and 'So Many Pizza Boxes'

While the raid on Osama bin Laden was years in the making, requiring months of top-level meetings with those in the highest echelons of government, it also required that the daily ongoings at the White House not change too much — so word wouldn&apost get out before the government was ready to announce what it had done.

A sprawling new oral history by Politico, marking the 10th anniversary of the raid, details the months and days leading up to the SEAL Team Six operation that led to the death of the notorious mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The new reporting includes first-person accounts from many of the government officials who were part of the decision-making process or worked in the White House when the news first broke.

The high level of secrecy surrounding the raid meant that President Barack Obama&aposs schedule had to remain largely unchanged, so as not to offer any clues that it was underway.

That also meant his scheduled appearance at the 2011 White House Correspondents&apos Dinner, was necessary, even under the stress of the pending military operation — which took place just one night later, on May 1, 2011.

Former deputy director of the CIA Mike Morell told Politico he remembered then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton saying, "F--- the White House Correspondents&apos Dinner — if we ever let a political event get in the way of a military operational decision, shame on us."

The show went on, though the forthcoming raid did have an impact on jokes delivered by the president.

Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau told Politico that he was worried when he and colleague Jon Lovett tried out some of the material they had written before a White House security official — to no laughter.

"I was like, &aposOh, I guess you didn&apost have a great sense of humor.&apos Little did I know at the time he had a few other things on his mind," Favreau said.

But when they showed the jokes to Obama, Favreau said, the president loved them.

"Then we go into the Oval and go over all the jokes. And the president&aposs very excited. He loves the jokes. He&aposs laughing and in great spirits," Favreau remembered. "You would not know that anything else was going on — the compartmentalization you do as president of the United States."

Still, Favreau was confused when Obama suggested that the speechwriters make one tweak to a punchline before the dinner.

"We get into the speech, he says, &aposThere&aposs one joke that I want to change.&apos The joke is about all of the Republicans mocking Obama&aposs middle name," Favreau told Politico. "The joke was about how, &aposYou wouldn&apost know it, but a lot of these potential Republican candidates in 2012 also have some interesting middle names.&apos And one of them was like &aposTim bin Laden Pawlenty.&apos "

Favreau continued: "And he&aposs like, &aposWhy don&apost we say his middle name is Hosni, like Hosni Mubarak?&apos I remember just being like, &aposThat&aposs not as funny.&apos And Obama is like, &aposTrust me on this. I really think Hosni will be much funnier.&apos "

Not long before the correspondents&apos dinner, Favreau got a call from the president with a request that he said was "weird."

"It was like an hour before the dinner started — I was in my tux getting ready to go to the Hilton — and I get a call from Obama. And he&aposs like, &aposI&aposll probably remember to say this, but just in case, could you please put in the script, &aposMay God bless our troops, may God keep our troops safe.&apos " I thought that that was weird and unusual for him to want to add in there," Favreau said.

As former White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer recounted, most of the press staffers and members of the media "stayed out way too late" after the dinner "and woke up like any normal correspondents&apos dinner Sunday morning, which is always theoretically the quietest day in all of politics."

"This was not one of those Sundays," Pfeiffer told Politico

Back at the White House, the raid was taking shape, with all of the major players beginning to huddle to watch the situation unfold. (Obama, meanwhile, was holed up in the residence, playing cards to distract himself as the SEAL team made their way to bin Laden.)

As more military and government officials began to make their way to the White House, there was one problem: a lack of space in a small anteroom outside the main Situation Room conference room, where a Joint Special Operation Command general had set up a TV streaming the operation.

Mike Leiter, former director of the National Counterterrorism Center, told Politico that the lack of space in the conference room ultimately added to what would become one of the most famous White House photos in history: Obama, then-Vice President Joe Biden and other officials crowded together, watching the raid.

"That&aposs how you end up with this rather clown car-like image of everyone trying to cram into the small room, because no one can quite figure out how to move the video over to the big room," Leiter said.

Former White House photographer Pete Souza told Politico that the lack of space made taking photos particularly uncomfortable — though he still managed to get several.

"I went as far back into the corner of the room as I could — I could see everybody&aposs faces — and I had my butt up against a printer," he said. "I was there for the entirety of the raid, which was around 40 minutes. I shot about a hundred photos."

Though the image has since been widely shared, Souza also told Politico it contained one thing not visible to those who weren&apost there: "Both Biden and [Adm. Mike] Mullen had rosary beads wrapped around their fingers."

Though the raid was complicated by a hard helicopter landing, SEAL Team Six managed to make their way into bin Laden&aposs compound, ultimately relaying the news that they had captured and killed the al-Qaeda founder.

Still, the military officials back in the states wanted to be sure the body was indeed that of the terrorist leader and they took unusual steps to make that determination.

"The SEALs landed — they have the body in a rubberized body bag. They put it on the floor of the hangar. I got down on the floor and I unzipped the body bag . I knew that bin Laden was about 6-foot-4," retired Adm. William McRaven told Politico. "I saw some young SEALs standing nearby and I said: &aposHey son, how tall are you?&apos He said, &aposSir, I&aposm 6&apos 2.&apos I say, &aposI need you to lie down here.&apos He immediately understood what I was trying to do. The remains were a couple of inches longer."

When Obama learned of McRaven&aposs tactics, the latter said Obama injected "a little bit of levity" into what had up to that point been a tense evening by joking, "You just blew up a $65 million helicopter and you don&apost have enough money to buy a tape measure?"

Hours later, the White House prepared to tell the world of bin Laden&aposs death.

The situation, while somber, was also startling to those who were called in to work very suddenly on a Sunday as Obama readied a speech to the nation.

"That evening, the Situation Room looked like a college fraternity house, so many pizza boxes stacked up," CIA Director of Public Affairs George Little told Politico.

Pfeiffer, the communications director, was at a movie theater, an hour into a film from the Fast and Furious franchise when he got an email to come in right away for a meeting.

"I went directly to the White House, wearing basically jeans and a sweatshirt," he said. "As I walked in, [former Assistant Press Secretary] Nick Shapiro was outside the back gate, with the cast of True Blood, trying to get in."

As Shapiro told Politico, the actors from the hit HBO series were ultimately turned away from a tour and instead could only go to the lower press office while the rest of the White House prepared for Obama&aposs speech.

According to Pfeiffer, the secrecy meant that there was a clear delineation between those who were called in to work last-minute, and those who had been privy to the discussions for months.

"You had two groups of people — the people who knew in advance, who had been there all day, and were in formal White House weekend, slacks with a blazer, and then the people who were told to come to the White House on no notice on a Sunday in which they were most likely hungover," he said. "A bunch of people in sweatshirts, hoodies, jeans and sneakers."

The Horrific Sand Creek Massacre Will Be Forgotten No More

Jeff Campbell worked for 20 years as a criminal investi gator for the state   of New Mexico. He specialized in cold cases. These days, he applies his sleuthing skills to a case so cold it’s buried beneath a century and a half of windblown prairie.

“Here’s the crime scene,” Campbell says, surveying a creek bed and miles of empty grassland. A lanky, deliberate detective, he cups a corncob pipe to light it in the flurrying snow before continuing. “The attack began in predawn light, but sound carries in this environment. So the victims would have heard the hooves pounding towards them before they could see what was coming.” 

Campbell is reconstructing a mass murder that occurred in 1864, along Sand Creek, an intermittent stream in eastern Colorado. Today, less than one person per square mile inhabits this arid region. But in late autumn of 1864, about 1,000 Cheyenne and Arapaho lived in tepees here, at   the edge of what was then reservation land. Their chiefs had recently sought peace   in talks with white officials and believed they would be unmolested at their isolated camp. 

When hundreds of blue-clad cavalrymen suddenly appeared at dawn on November 29, a Cheyenne chief raised the Stars and   Stripes above his lodge. Others in the village waved white flags. The troops replied by opening fire with carbines and cannon, killing at least 150 Indians, most of them women, children and the elderly. Before departing, the troops burned the village and mutilated the dead, carrying off body parts as trophies.

Col. John Chivington led the raid. (Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs division) The raid was later depicted by artist Howling Wolf. (Allen Memorial Art Museum / Oberlin College) Visitors to the site today can hike along a mile-long trail to a monument area overlooking Big Sandy Creek itself. (Joanna B. Pinneo ) Visitors to the site today can hike along a mile-long trail to a monument area overlooking Big Sandy Creek itself. (Joanna B. Pinneo ) Plains Indian artist Howling Wolf created these detailed drawings of the Sand Creek massacre about a decade after it happened. (Allen Memorial Art Museum / Oberlin College) When the Park Service and tribal leaders clashed over the exact location of the tragedy, Campbell concluded both were right: the massacre spread out over an area of 12,500 acres. (Joanna B. Pinneo ) Plains Indian artist Howling Wolf created these detailed drawings of the Sand Creek massacre about a decade after it happened. (Allen Memorial Art Museum / Oberlin College) Plains Indian artist Howling Wolf created these detailed drawings of the Sand Creek massacre about a decade after it happened. (Allen Memorial Art Museum / Oberlin College)

There were many such atrocities in the American West. But the slaughter at Sand Creek stands out because of the impact it had at the time and the way it has been remembered. Or rather, lost and then rediscovered. Sand Creek was the My Lai of its day, a war crime exposed by soldiers and condemned by the U.S. government. It fueled decades of war on the Great Plains. And yet, over time, the massacre receded from white memory, to the point where even locals were unaware of what had happened in their own backyard.

That’s now changed, with the opening of the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site. “We’re the only unit in the National Park Service that has ‘massacre’ in its name,” says the site’s superintendent, Alexa Roberts. Usually, she notes, signs for national historic sites lead to a presidential birthplace or patriotic monument. “So a lot of people are startled by what they find here.” 

Visitors are also surprised to learn that the massacre occurred during the Civil War, which most Americans associate with Eastern battles between blue and gray, not cavalry killing Indians on the Western plains. But the two conflicts were closely related, says Ari Kelman, a historian at Penn State University and author of A Misplaced Massacre , a Bancroft Prize-winning book about Sand Creek. 

The Civil War, he observes, was rooted in westward expansion and strife over whether new territories would join the nation as free states or slave states. Slavery, however, wasn’t the only obstacle to free white settlement of the West another was Plains Indians, many of whom staunchly resisted encroachment on their lands.

When the Park Service and tribal leaders clashed over the exact location of the tragedy, Campbell concluded both were right: the massacre spread out over an area of 12,500 acres. (Jamie Simon )

“We remember the Civil War as a war of liberation that freed four million slaves,” Kelman says. “But it also became a war of conquest to destroy and dispossess Native Americans.” Sand Creek, he adds, “is a bloody and mostly forgotten link” between the Civil War and the Plains Indian Wars that continued for 25 years after Appomattox.

One reason Sand Creek remains little known is its geographic remoteness. The site lies 170 miles southeast of Denver, in a ranching county that never recovered from the Dust Bowl. The nearest town, Eads, is a dwindling community of about 600 that can field only a six-man high-school football team. The unpaved, eight-mile road leading to Sand Creek crosses short-grass prairie that appears almost featureless, apart from a few cattle and a grain silo 30 miles away in Kansas, visible on clear days. 

The historic site also offers few landmarks: a visitors center housed, for now, in a trailer, an Indian graveyard and a monument atop a low bluff beside Sand Creek, a narrow stream fringed by willow and cottonwood. “It was treeless here in 1864 and the creek was mostly dry by late November,” says Campbell, the criminal investigator, who is now a seasonal ranger at the site. No trace of the village site or massacre remains, apart from bullets, artillery fragments and other relics dug from decades of windblown dirt by archaeologists.

While visible evidence of the crime is scarce, the “witness pool,” as Campbell calls it, is unusually large. Indian survivors drew maps of the attack, painted it on elk hides and told of the massacre to their descendants. But for white Americans at the time, the most damning testimony came from soldiers, who not only described the massacre but also fingered their commanding officer, a larger-than-life figure regarded, until then, as a war hero and rising star.

John Chivington stood 6-foot-4, weighed over 200 pounds, and used his booming voice to good effect as a minister and ardent abolitionist before the Civil War. When war broke out, he volunteered to fight rather than preach, leading Union troops to victory at Glorieta Pass, in New Mexico, against a Confederate force that sought to disrupt trade routes and invade the Colorado gold fields.

That 1862 battle—later hailed as the “Gettysburg of the West”—ended the Rebel threat and made Chivington a colonel. But as Colorado troops deployed east, to more active campaigns, conflict increased with Indians in the thinly settled territory. Tensions peaked in the summer of 1864, following the murder of a white family near Denver, a crime attributed at the time to raiding Cheyenne or Arapaho. The territorial governor, John Evans, called on citizens to “kill and destroy” hostile natives and raised a new regiment, led by Chivington. Evans also ordered “friendly Indians” to seek out “places of safety,” such as U.S. forts.

The Cheyenne chief Black Kettle heeded this call. Known as a peacemaker, he and allied chiefs initiated talks with white authorities, the last of whom was a fort commander who told the Indians to remain in their camp at Sand Creek until the commander received further orders. 

But Governor Evans was intent on the “chastisement” of all the region’s Indians and he had a willing cudgel in Chivington, who hoped further military glory would vault him into Congress. For months, his new regiment had seen no action and become mockingly known as the “Bloodless Third.” Then, shortly before the unit’s 100-day enlistment ran out, Chivington led about 700 men on a night ride to Sand Creek.

“At daylight this morning attacked Cheyenne village of 130 lodges, from 900 to 1,000 warriors strong,” Chivington wrote his superior late on November 29. His men, he said, waged a furious battle against well-armed and entrenched foes, ending in a great victory: the deaths of several chiefs, “between 400 and 500 other Indians” and “almost an annihilation of the entire tribe.” 

This news was greeted with acclaim, as were Chivington’s troops, who returned to Denver displaying scalps they’d cut from Indians (some of which became props in celebratory local plays). But this gruesome revelry was interrupted by the emergence of a very different storyline. Its primary author was Capt. Silas Soule, a militant abolitionist and eager warrior, like Chivington. Soule, however, was appalled by the attack on Sand Creek, which he saw as a betrayal of peaceful Indians. He refused to fire a shot or order his men into action, instead bearing witness to the massacre and recording it in chilling detail.

“Hundreds of women and children were coming towards us, and getting on their knees for mercy,” he wrote, only to be shot and “have their brains beat out by men professing to be civilized.” Indians didn’t fight from trenches, as Chivington claimed they fled up the creek and desperately dug into its sand banks for protection. From there, some young men “defended themselves as well as they could,” with a few rifles and bows, until overwhelmed by carbines and howitzers. Others were chased down and killed as they fled across the Plains.

Soule estimated the Indian dead at 200, all but 60 of them women and children. He also told of how the soldiers not only scalped the dead but cut off the “Ears and Privates” of chiefs. “Squaws snatches were cut out for trophies.” Of Chivington’s leadership, Soule reported: “There was no organization among our troops, they were a perfect mob—every man on his own hook.” Given this chaos, some of the dozen or so soldiers killed at Sand Creek were likely hit by friendly fire.

Soule sent his dispatch to a sympathetic major. A lieutenant at the scene sent a similar report. When these accounts reached Washington in early 1865, Congress and the military launched investigations. Chivington testified that it was impossible to tell peaceful from hostile natives, and insisted he’d battled warriors rather than slaughtering civilians. But a Congressional committee ruled that the colonel had “deliberately planned and executed a foul and dastardly massacre” and “surprised and murdered, in cold blood” Indians who “had every reason to believe that they were under [U.S.] protection.” 

That authorities in Washington paid attention to distant Sand Creek was striking, particularly at a time when civil war still raged back East. Federal condemnation of a military atrocity against Indians was likewise extraordinary. In a treaty later that year, the U.S. government also promised reparations for “the gross and wanton outrages” perpetrated at Sand Creek.

Chivington escaped court-martial because he had already resigned from the military. But his once-promising career was over. He became a nomad and failed entrepreneur rather than a Congressman. Soule, his principal accuser, also paid for his role in the affair. Soon after testifying, he was shot dead on a Denver street by assailants believed to have been associates of Chivington.

Another casualty of Sand Creek was any remaining hope of peace on the Plains. Black Kettle, the Cheyenne chief who had raised a U.S. flag in a futile gesture of fellowship, survived the massacre, carrying his badly wounded wife from the field and straggling east across the wintry plains. The next year, in his continuing effort to make peace, he signed a treaty and resettled his band on reservation land in Oklahoma. He was killed there in 1868, in yet another massacre, this one led by George Armstrong Custer.

Many other Indians, meanwhile, had taken Sand Creek as final proof that peace with whites was impossible and promises of protection meant nothing. Young Cheyenne warriors, called Dog Soldiers, joined other Plains tribesmen in launching raids that killed scores of settlers and paralyzed transport. As a result, says the historian Ari Kelman, the massacre at Sand Creek accomplished the opposite of what Chivington and his allies had sought. Rather than speed the removal of Indians and the opening of the Plains to whites, it united formerly divided tribes into a formidable obstacle to expansion.

Sand Creek and its aftermath also kept the nation at war long after the South’s surrender. Union soldiers, and generals such as Sherman and Sheridan, were redeployed west to subdue Plains Indians. This campaign took five times as long as the Civil War, until the infamous massacre at Wounded Knee, in 1890, all but extinguished resistance.

“Sand Creek and Wounded Knee were bookends of the Plains Indian Wars, which were, in turn, the last sad chapter of the Civil War,” Kelman says. 

About Tony Horwitz

Tony Horwitz was a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who worked as a foreign correspondent for the Wall Street Journal and wrote for the New Yorker. He is the author of Baghdad without a Map, Midnight Rising and the digital best seller BOOM. His most recent work, Spying on the South, was released in May 2019. Tony Horwitz died in May 2019 at the age of 60.

World War II Mystery: What Happened To the Marines of the Makin Island Raid?

Japanese sources shed light on the Makin Raid conducted by Carlson’s Marine Raiders in 1942.

Key Point: By using Japanese and Gilbert Islands sources of information in addition to American sources, it is now possible to clarify the matter.

In August 1942, the 2nd Marine Raider Battalion conducted the Makin Island raid in the Central Pacific. The purpose of the raid was to destroy Japanese installations on the island, gather intelligence, and to test the raiding tactics of the U.S. Marines. If successful, the raid would also boost home front morale. The plan was for 211 men from the 2nd Battalion, led by Lt. Col. Evans F. Carlson, to land at night from two submarines, USS Argonaut and USS Nautilus. They would neutralize the small Japanese garrison and destroy equipment before leaving the island and returning aboard the submarines.

Unfortunately, nine raiders were left behind on the island after the raid, and the submarine crews did not realize it until it was too late to return to rescue them.

As told from Japanese sources, this story relates the capture of the nine men on Makin, their interrogation, transfer to Kwajalein Atoll, and the reason why they were executed there. The Japanese record of Carlson’s raid begins after most of the raiders were on their way home to Hawaii, believing they had lost 30 men in battle and that all of them had died on Makin Island.

Taniura Hideo’s Accounts: What Happened to the Captured Marines

Since 1940, Lieutenant Taniura Hideo had been a squad leader of the Japanese 6th Defense Force stationed on Kwajalein in the Marshall Islands. Immediately after Carlson’s raid, he was deployed to Makin with reinforcements for the decimated Makin Defense Force. Taniura and his platoon of reinforcements traveled by patrol boat from Truk in the Marianas Islands, arriving at Makin on August 23, six days after the raid. They set about identifying and cremating the Japanese bodies, the ashes of which were then buried in a mass grave. Then they buried the bodies of the 21 dead U.S. Marines and erected a marker labeled “grave of unknown American soldiers.” The nine living U.S. Marines were brought to the burial site so that they could pay respect to their fallen comrades. Taniura’s next task was to interrogate these nine abandoned Marines.

In his memoir, Taniura recorded the accounts given to him by two of the Marines. According to Taniura’s record, four of the raiders had thought surrender would be their best option, and they had done so by making their way to the lagoon shore and waving to a Japanese seaplane that was anchored in the lagoon. The remaining five raiders had opted to try to escape. Under cover of darkness, they took the small trading yacht Kariamakingo, owned by the local branch of the NBK (Nanyo Boyeki Kabushiki Kaisha, or South Seas Trading Company), which was the only Japanese trading company operating in the Gilbert Islands in prewar times. The boat was tied alongside Kings Wharf with nobody aboard.

They left the wharf in the yacht. Even in the darkness, they believed they could see a passage out of the lagoon on the western side of the atoll, and they steered toward it. There are several gaps through which a small boat may pass to gain access to the ocean, all of them on the western side of the atoll. But there are also many places where the reef is close to the surface with insufficient depth of water for a boat to clear it. They ran aground on such a patch of reef and abandoned ship, swimming and wading until they made it to shore. The next morning, Japanese soldiers arrived, and they were captured.

Mistaken Identity at Keuea Village

About this time, Taniura arranged for medical care for the people of Keuea Village who had come under attack from Japanese bombers. He had been alerted to this need by Kanzaki Chojiro, the NBK manager, who had reported that a village on the eastern side of the island had received a random bombing attack by Japanese aircraft, killing and injuring a considerable number of villagers. Taniura dispatched two military doctors who provided medical service to the village for two days.

The attack had come on the morning of August 18, after the Americans had escaped on the yacht from the area around Butaritari Village, the main settlement on Makin. Japanese planes had bombed and strafed Keuea Village, 10 miles to the northeast. It is unclear why Keuea was selected as a target, but it seems that the Japanese mistakenly believed that the Marines were sheltering there. It was a disaster for the small village.

Taniura arranged for the nine prisoners to be transported to Kwajalein in the Marshall Islands to the north. There, they were imprisoned at the 6th Naval Base Headquarters for approximately six weeks until executed on October 16. The Japanese explanation as to why and how these prisoners were put to death is as follows.

In September, an inspection mission was sent out by Tokyo, the Southern Defense Inspection Mission, which visited several Japanese bases in Micronesia. They completed inspections at various islands, including Wake Island, Truk, and Tarawa, before reaching Kwajalein on October 14, two days before the execution of the nine prisoners. The mission was headed by Lt. Cmdr. Okada Sadatomo, who was accompanied by Ida Hideo, from the 4th Fleet.

According to an account related by Hayashi Koichi, who was Admiral Koso Abe’s chief of staff at Kwajalein, there was anticipation of a large-scale attack against Kwajalein. Commander Abe therefore wanted an early decision on what was to be done with the nine American prisoners and, seeking advice, had made the following suggestions to Japanese Naval General Headquarters: send the prisoners to a relatively safe location within the control of the 4th Fleet, send them to mainland Japan, or execute them locally by an appropriate method.

Executions on the Western Shore of the Kwajalein Atoll

No reply was received, and so Abe sent another request seeking an urgent decision.

The matter was discussed when the visiting mission arrived on October 14, and Abe was informed by Okada that with regard to the three suggested options for dealing with the prisoners, General Headquarters had responded that transport was extremely difficult at the time and, furthermore, it was impossible to estimate the area of large-scale advancement of U.S. forces under the circumstances, transfer to Japan from a distant location such as Kwajalein was impossible therefore, there was no option other than to dispose of the prisoners locally.

Commander Abe, therefore, believed he had only one option. Two days later, at 9 am on October 16, 1942, an open area near the western shore of Kwajalein Atoll was selected for the executions. The nine prisoners were brought by truck, hands tied behind their backs and blindfolded. Master swordsmen from among the Marshall Islands Area Defense Unit were selected as the executioners. These men were all veterans of the Shanghai Special Naval Landing Force. The executions were performed according to Japanese tradition, and the bodies were buried in a pit with local wild flowers offered to the spirits of the deceased.

After the war ended, this matter of the disposal of prisoners became an issue for war crimes investigators. At a U.S. Navy tribunal held on Guam on May 15, 1946, Commander Abe was sentenced to death. Navy Commander Ohara, who was in command at the execution site, received a sentence of 10 years imprisonment, and Navy Lt. Cmdr. Uchiki, who had transported the prisoners to the execution site, got five years imprisonment.

This story clearly shows the different attitudes of the Japanese and Americans toward the rights of prisoners of war, their treatment, and the “right” of the captors to execute them. The following is an example of how incorporating Japanese and local peoples’ information into the otherwise American narrative can shed new light on the story.

The Real Story of the Makin Island Raid

The events of the U.S. Marines’ attack against the Japanese Navy garrison during the Makin Island raid has been well covered in books and magazines. The attack, which occurred on August 17-18, 1942, was designed to draw attention away from another U.S. Marine attack on Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands.

Not so well known is that on the afternoon of the first day of the Makin Island raid, Carlson’s Raiders gave up all hope of being able to get away from the island and attempted to surrender. There is still some uncertainty over how the surrender overture was delivered to Japanese military forces and how they responded.

By using Japanese and Gilbert Islands sources of information in addition to American sources, it is now possible to clarify the matter.

The raid had been moderately successful. Although the raiders had lost 30 men, they had killed approximately 46 Japanese. They had also gained experience in atoll warfare and submarine troop transport. But when the time came to withdraw and return to the waiting submarines, there was a problem. They could not get over the reef to the deeper water where the submarines were. The high tide and surf worked against their rubber boats, washing them back onto the beach.

The Doolittle Raid: America’s First Strike Back on Japan

Four months after Japan’s surprise attack at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, the aircraft carrier USS Hornet sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge and out of San Francisco Bay into the Pacific on a secret mission.

On the Hornet’s deck sat 16 specially equipped B-25 bombers—accompanied on this mission by a 200-strong contingent of crews and maintenance personnel. The Hornet’s own fighter planes were parked below deck to make room for these special passengers.

A few days after leaving the West Coast, the Hornet was met by a group of other U.S. carriers, destroyers, and cruisers that would escort it to the location in the Pacific where its mission would begin.

That mission, 75 years ago: Take off from the deck of the Hornet, which bombers had never done, and deliver four specially built bombs each to the targets on the Japanese homeland—Tokyo, Yokohama, and several other Japanese cities. Then, fly on to China, where they would be met by friendly Chinese after landing at prearranged locations.

The idea for striking the Japanese homeland came from President Franklin D. Roosevelt himself. Roosevelt felt that the nation needed a morale booster after the Pearl Harbor attack on December 7, 1941, which took 2,403 lives and destroyed or heavily damaged much of the U.S. Pacific Fleet.

This particular air strike on the Japanese homeland was devised by Lt. Col. James H. (“Jimmy”) Doolittle of the Army Air Forces and has become known in military lore as the “Doolittle Raid.”

Doolittle would pilot the first plane, and the other 15 would take off from the deck of the Hornet as soon as the one ahead of it was in the air.

However, not everything went according to plan.

Early in the morning of April 18, when the Hornet and its extensive escort was about 750 miles from Japan, it was sighted by a Japanese patrol craft, which sent a warning back to Japan by radio. American gunfire sunk the boat, but Doolittle and the Hornet’s commander realized they would have to strike earlier than planned—by 10 hours—and from a location about 200 miles farther from Japan.

High winds threw the Pacific onto the flight deck, and the pilots had only 400 feet of deck to get their bombers airborne. All 16 planes, with a total of 80 crew members (five men for each plane), took off from the deck of the Hornet and delivered their bombs to the designated targets.

But because they had taken off about 200 miles farther from Japan than planned, they would not have enough fuel to make it to where they were supposed to land in China.

In the end, 15 of the planes crash landed in China or in the ocean.

“We just barely did make the coast of China,” Travis Hoover, who piloted the second plane, remembered in an interview with the Kansas City Times in 1990. After crash landing, Hoover and his crew burned the B-25 and made it to the airfield on foot. Hoover died in 2004.

Not all the crews were as lucky. One crew landed in Russia and was interned before escaping to Persia. Two other crews crash-landed in China and were captured by the Japanese, who put eight crew members on trial (two drowned in crashes) and executed three of them.

The raid, however, proved to be the morale-booster that Roosevelt was looking for. Although the damage in Tokyo and elsewhere was not significant, it demonstrated to the Japanese people that the Americans could reach their homeland—and might return again.

All the raiders received the Distinguished Flying Cross. Most crew members went on to other assignments in the Pacific, Europe, or North Africa. Only one of the 80 crew members is still living: Col. Richard Cole, who was Doolittle’s co-pilot and is now 101 years old.

Doolittle, who believed he would be court-martialed because all 16 B-25s were lost, was instead promoted two grades to brigadier general, and in 1985 was promoted to four-star general in the Air Force Reserve. He died in 1993.

Rescue at Cabanatuan

On 6 May 1942, Lieutenant General (LTG) Jonathan M. ‘Skinny’ Wainwright IV surrendered the last American forces in the Philippines to the Imperial Japanese Army. With that capitulation more than 23,000 American servicemen and women, along with 12,000 Filipino Scouts, and 21,000 soldiers of the Philippine Commonwealth Army became prisoners of war (POWs) . 1 To add to the misfortune, about 20,000 American citizens, many of them wives and children of the soldiers posted to the Philippines, were also detained and placed in internment camps where they were subjected to hardship for years. Tragically, of all the American prisoners in World War II, the POWs in the Philippines suffered one of the highest mortality rates at 40 percent. About 13,000 American soldiers captured in the Philippines died, and many thousands of them were shipped throughout the Japanese Empire as slave laborers . 2

1 Considered by many military historians to be the greatest defeat of U.S. forces in any conflict, the chaotic conditions following the fall of the Philippines make it difficult to accurately account for all American and Allied persons that became captives of the Japanese Army. The problem of accountability was compounded by incidents such as the ‘Bataan Death March,’ and similar acts of mistreatment, as well as the later Japanese policy of relocating prisoners throughout the Japanese Empire to perform slave labor tasks in support of its war effort. Moreover, few records of the early days of the Philippine Campaign survived the war. All these factors combined to make accurate personnel accounting of prisoners and detainees difficult. In addition to the figure of 23,000 American soldiers, sailors, and Marines taken captive in the Philippines, tens of thousands of American citizens, many of them dependent wives and children of the soldiers, were also detained and subjected to the same harsh conditions as prisoners of war. The figures cited are from: Office of the Provost Marshal General, “Report on American Prisoners of War Interned by the Japanese in the Philippine Islands,” 19 November 1945, copy on Internet at: http://www.mansell.com/pow_resources/camplists/philippines/pows_in_pi-OPMG_report.html , accessed on 27 February 2017. See also: Louis Morton, The Fall of the Philippines, The War in the Pacific (Washington, DC: GPO, 1953), 454-55, 579-83.

2 Although accurate numbers are difficult to ascertain due to lack of documentation on the part of the Japanese, there have been some studies made comparing pre-war records with wartime and post-war accounting of survivors. The cited 40 percent mortality rate comes from: William P. Skelton III, “American Ex-Prisoners of War,” Independent Study Course, Released: April 2002, Department of Veteran Affairs, Employee Education System, on Internet at: https://www.publichealth.va.gov/docs/vhi/pow.pdf , accessed on 22 March 2017, 11. Robert E. Klein, et al, “Former American Prisoners of War (POWs),” U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, April 2005, on Internet at: www.va.gov/vetdata/docs/specialreports/powcy054-12-06jsmwrfinal2.doc , accessed on 22 March 2017, 4.The U.S. Army alone counted 25,580 soldiers captured or interned in the Philippines. Of that number, 10,650 died while a POW. Those figures do not include U.S. Navy or Marine Corps personnel, nor civilian detainees. The same source also soberly notes that 30 percent of the captives died in their first year of captivity.

A POW in Cabanatuan Prison drew this sketch of an inmate giving water to a sick POW. (Library of Congress)

The fate of the Americans left behind in the Philippines weighed heavily on the senior leaders who escaped. General of the Army (GEN) Douglas A. MacArthur’s staff closely tracked the status of Allied POWs on the islands. Headquarters, Southwest Pacific Area (SWPA) (MacArthur’s Headquarters in Australia) asked several guerrilla units to pinpoint the locations of POWs and internees in the Philippines. They were to establish contact with them and report. This information would be used to develop rescue plans . 3

3 A number of period documents highlighted the need to task guerrilla forces to gain information regarding American prisoners of war (POWs) and details on prison camps. For example, see Staff Study for the Chief of Staff, “Subject: Development of Contact with American POW in Japanese Camps,” 11 December 1943, reprinted in Charles A. Willoughby, Editor-in-Chief, Intelligence Activities in the Philippines during the Japanese Occupation, Documentary Appendices (II), Volume II, Intelligence Series (Washington, DC: GPO, 1948), 2-6.

In late 1944, reports of the Palawan POW Camp Massacre traveled quickly to SWPA (see article). The initial information came from the guerrillas who assisted survivors after escaping. The horrific details prompted SWPA to dispatch amphibian aircraft to recover the escapees. Once in Australia, eyewitness accounts of the mass execution caused military leaders to swear to prevent other atrocities. Thousands of other prisoners were still held by the Japanese, including the thousand or so still believed held at Cabanatuan, on Luzon Island . 4

4 For more information on the Palawan Massacre and its influence on increasing the need for rescuing POWs from similar fates, see the preceding article (Michael E. Krivdo, “Catalyst for Action: The Palawan Massacre,” Veritas: Journal of Army Special Operations History (14:1) in this issue. For good secondary source accounts from the survivors’ perspective, see: Stephen L. Moore, As Good as Dead: The Daring Escape of American POWs from a Japanese Death Camp (New York: Caliber, 2016) and Bob Wilbanks, Last Man Out: Glenn McDole, USMC, Survivor of the Palawan Massacre in World War II (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., Publishers, 2004).

Night Raid On Vila

After the great night surface battles of November, the heavier units of the Japanese fleet were withdrawn from the Solomons, those that were still floating, and the Japanese threw in air strength to take their place.

The American fleet had received several new additions in the meantime. Striking forces were organized to give the enemy a taste of the night shelling that had proved so discouraging to the Marines on Guadalcanal.

On January 5 the first raid was made on the Munda airdrome which the Japanese had recently put into operation. They had been very cute about the building, constructing the strip around the palm trees so it was not visible from the air. Then, one day, they pushed over the palm trees and there it was. The Guadalcanal fliers had been pasting it since that time but a ship bombardment is much more efficacious than bombing against such wilderness establishments.

Rear Admiral W. L. Ainsworth took his force of light cruisers and destroyers safely in past Rendova Island without a scratch. On the way home a striking force of Japanese dive bombers reached the American force ahead of their air cover from Guadalcanal and scored a hit.

The American Doolittle Raid And The Brutal Japanese Reprisals

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, is one of the most well-known events of the Second World War. Less well-known is the Doolittle Raid, in which American B-25 bombers bombed the Japanese cities of Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka, and Kobe on April 18, 1942, in response to Pearl Harbor.

Tragically, the Japanese reprisal for the Doolittle Raid – the Zhejiang-Jiangxi Campaign – is barely remembered today, even though it cost 250,000 Chinese civilians their lives.

After the shock of the unexpected Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor had worn off, the United States decided to strike back at Japan.

Lieutenant-Colonel James Doolittle of the United States Army Air Force (USAAF) devised a daring plan to strike at the Japanese home islands by launching B-25 bombers from Navy aircraft carriers, which had never been done before.

On April 18, 1942, Doolittle led the raid on the Japanese homeland, bombing a number of Japanese cities with 16 B-25 bombers. The raid, totally unexpected by the Japanese, was a success. Most of the bombers, after passing over Japan, landed in the Chinese provinces of Zhejiang and Jiangxi.

A B-25 taking off from USS Hornet (CV-8) for the raid

Much of China was occupied by Japan at this time, and as a result of the brutality of their invasion, the Japanese occupiers were much hated by the Chinese. Consequently, local Chinese peasants helped many of the American airmen after they crash-landed their bombers on Chinese soil.

The Japanese response to the Doolittle Raid was swift and brutal. In a campaign called the Zhejiang-Jiangxi campaign, 180,000 troops of the Japanese Army’s China Expeditionary Force set out not only to find the American airmen but also to punish anyone they suspected of aiding them in any way.

A Japanese soldier with 50mm heavy grenade discharger during the Zhejiang-Jiangxi Campaign, 30 May 1942

What followed was on a par with the Rape of Nanjing in terms of violence, bloodshed, and savagery. Japanese troops swept through the provinces of Zhejiang and Jiangxi. They managed to capture eight US airmen, of whom they executed three. The worst horrors, though, were suffered by the Chinese civilian population.

When Japanese troops arrived in a town or village in Zhejiang and Jiangxi, they presumed guilt and complicity with the US airmen on the part of the entire village. This applied to men, women, and children all the way down to domestic animals, regardless of whether any US airmen had even been anywhere near the settlement.

The sentence the Japanese troops imposed for this crime of suspected complicity was death.

Iwane Matsui enters Nanjing.

The atrocities committed en-masse by the Japanese forces were witnessed by a number of foreign Christian missionaries who lived in some of these villages and towns. One, Father Wendelin Dunker, described the Japanese horrors with chilling clarity:

“they shot any man, woman, child, cow, hog, or just about anything that moved, they raped any woman from the ages of 10 – 65, and before burning the town they thoroughly looted it.”

On June 11, the Japanese troops moved from villages and small towns to the city of Nanchang which had a population of around 50,000.

After surrounding Nanchang so that none of the inhabitants could escape, they took the city in an orgy of bloodshed, rape, murder, and looting. The Japanese troops rounded up 800 women and imprisoned them in a warehouse, in which they were repeatedly raped. Men were summarily killed on the streets, and the city was looted.

A Chinese soldier mounts his ZB vz. 26 light machine gun at Changsha, January 1942.

The Japanese occupied the city for around a month in a reign of barbarous violence and horrific bloodshed and brutality, before burning the entire city down. The process of burning Nanchang took three days the troops wanted to make sure that they left nothing of it standing but charred rubble.

Other towns and cities in these provinces were taken in a similar fashion, with the Japanese troops laying waste to everything and conducting a campaign of wanton terror, destruction, and looting. In some regions, eighty percent of all homes were destroyed, and the majority of the population were left destitute.

The Japanese troops who participated in the Zhejiang-Jiangxi campaign did not stop at rape, torture, and murder, though. In August, members of Japan’s secret biological and chemical weapons division, Unit 731, attacked the region in a more insidious but equally devastating manner.

The Unit 731 complex- two prisons are hidden in the center of the main building.

Realizing that once they had left the area, it would be reoccupied by both Chinese troops and civilians, Unit 731 poisoned wells, springs, and water sources with cholera, typhoid, dysentery, and paratyphoid bacteria. They also infected food and water rations with these pathogens, leaving them where hungry Chinese troops and civilians would find them.

They even released plague-carrying fleas into the fields.

Shirō Ishii, commander of Unit 731

All in all, it is estimated that 250,000 Chinese civilians lost their lives in this campaign of wanton brutality and bloodshed. Yet another tragedy of the Zhejiang-Jiangxi campaign was that few of the troops and officers involved were ever prosecuted for the egregious war crimes that were committed during this campaign.

Field Marshal Shunroku Hata, who orchestrated the campaign, was convicted of war crimes and sentenced to life imprisonment but was paroled in 1954.

Perhaps equally sadly, this campaign of terror has largely been forgotten in the West’s remembering of the Second World War.

Greenwood, 1921: One of the worst race massacres in American history

In 1921, a thriving black neighborhood in Tulsa, Oklahoma, burned, leaving hundreds dead.

  • 2020 Jun 14
  • Correspondent Scott Pelley
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This video is available on Paramount+

The death of George Floyd, in the hands of Minneapolis police, came on Memorial Day. Ninety-nine years before, that same week, black Americans suffered a massacre. In the days after World War I, a neighborhood in Tulsa, Oklahoma, called Greenwood was among the wealthiest black communities. Oil made Greenwood rich, but jealousy made it suffer. In 1921, a white mob, with incendiary rage, burned Greenwood to ash. Even memories were murdered when the dead were dropped into unmarked graves. Last December, before the pandemic, we found Tulsa preparing to embrace a reckoning, with a plan to exhume the truth and raise the dead.

John W. Franklin: The community that is Greenwood has thriving businesses, professional offices, doctors, lawyers, dentists&hellip

John W. Franklin speaks of Greenwood in the present tense&hellip

John W. Franklin: Greenwood is the nexus of that African American community.

&hellipperhaps because he studied Greenwood in 32 years as a historian at the Smithsonian or likely because Greenwood is personal.

John W. Franklin: And my grandfather moves here from Rentiesville in February 1921. And he's the first person in the family to go to college, Buck Colbert Franklin.

John W. Franklin

Buck Colbert Franklin was a lawyer who chased his dream to a promised land. Booker T. Washington named Greenwood "Negro Wall Street." Because the district was lined with black-owned shops, restaurants, two newspapers, a 54-room grand hotel, a hospital and the Dreamland Theater, which would soon boast air conditioning. But on the day after Memorial Day, 1921, Buck Franklin awoke to fearful news.

John W. Franklin: He hears that there's to be possibly a lynching. There's this black man who's been caught with this white woman in the elevator. And the newspapers are saying, read all about it. Extra, extra, read all about it.

Tulsa's white newspapers told of a black teenager who allegedly attacked a white female elevator operator. At the jail, a lynch mob demanded the prisoner. Black veterans of World War I arrived to shield the defendant for his day in court. A shot was fired. And, in a running gun battle, the mob chased the black vets to Greenwood.

Scott Pelley: One of the moments during the riot that your grandfather wrote about was this. "On they rushed, whooping to the tops of their voices, firing their guns every step they took." What is it like for you to read those words today?

John W. Franklin: He too was traumatized by seeing people being shot in front of his eyes. He describes a woman who's trying to find her child who's run in front of her, and she's unafraid of the bullets raining down, because her concern is to find her child.

Oklahoma Historical Society

What began as an attempted lynching at the jail erupted into a massacre. From a high grain elevator, a machine gun laid fire on Greenwood Avenue.

John W. Franklin: Where's the fire department? Where's the police when we need them? We're part of a city. This is not some small town. This is a city of wealth and order, and governance. It's now been taken over by a mob.

The police joined the mob. National Guard troops pressed the attack against what one guard officer called "the enemy." Quotes from eyewitnesses include, "old women and men, children were running and screaming everywhere." A deputy sheriff reported a black man dragged behind a car, "his head was being bashed in, the deputy said, bouncing on the steel rails and bricks." But what happened next may have frightened Buck Franklin even more.

John W. Franklin: And he hears planes circling and sees roofs of buildings catching fire. And these are from turpentine balls, burning turpentine balls dropped from planes.

Robert Turner: The first time in American history that airplanes were used to terrorize America was not in 9/11, was not at Pearl Harbor, it was right here in the Greenwood District.

Reverend Robert Turner's Vernon AME Church was among at least five churches burned, along with 1,200 homes. A photo was crudely and imperfectly, hand-lettered, at the time, "running the Negro out of Tulsa."

A photo was crudely and imperfectly, hand-lettered, at the time, "running the Negro out of Tulsa." Oklahoma Historical Society

Robert Turner: 36-odd square blocks, city blocks, were destroyed. And before they destroyed it, they looted. They took nice furniture, money

When the black hospital burned, white hospitals refused to take Greenwood's wounded. Those who bled to death included Greenwood's most prominent surgeon. Ultimately, one hospital did make space in its basement for black casualties. The number of dead is estimated between 150 and 300. Survivors included 10,000 now homeless African Americans. 6,000 of them were herded into internment camps and then released weeks later.

Robert Turner: I don't know how they did it. But the following Sunday after the massacre, they came and worshipped in our basement. And that's the same basement that we have today.

Reverend Robert Turner

The death of a black man at the hands of police is, today, shouted into the national memory.

But in 1921, it remained possible to erase a genocide.

Congregant: I grew up attending segregated Tulsa public schools. Never in any of the schools was anything ever said about it.

The congregation of Vernon AME Church is two generations beyond 1921 but they too were victimized.

Scott Pelley: this was not taught in the public schools?

Scott Pelley: You never heard about this in class?

Congregant: You never heard a word about it.

Vernon AME Church today

Damario Solomon-Simmons: When I went to OU in 1998, I was sitting in a class of African American history. And the professor was talking about this place where black people had businesses and had money and had doctors and lawyers. And he said it was in Tulsa. And I raised my hand, I said, "No, I'm from Tulsa. That's not accurate." And he was talking about this massacre riot. I said, "Man, what are you talking about?" I said, "I went to school on Greenwood. I've never heard of this ever."

Scott Pelley: How many people were arrested, tried, for what happened in Greenwood?

Scott Pelley: Two or 300 people murdered, an entire community burned to the ground, and the police were unable to find a single person.

John W. Franklin: It's a real tragedy.

John W. Franklin: All the thousands of claims that were filed by African Americans, not a one, not a one insurance company paid their claim. And our church was included.

No insurance honored for black Tulsans, no arrests made, no complete count of the dead. The Salvation Army recorded only that it fed 37 grave diggers. The nameless were buried in unmarked graves while their families were locked down in the internment camps.

Scott Pelley: I wonder if there are any doubts in this room about whether there are mass graves in Tulsa, Oklahoma. No doubts?

Oral histories, passed down generations, pointed to at least four sites of possible mass graves.

G.T. Bynum: As a mayor, I view it as a homicide investigation.

G.T. Bynum is Tulsa's Republican mayor. In 2018, he ordered an investigation of all remaining evidence.

G.T. Bynum: What you have is a case of law and civil order being overrun by people who were filled with hatred

Correspondent Scott Pelley speaks with Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum

G.T. Bynum: We believe at the end of this road we're walking down right now is one of the sites where we found an anomaly.

"Anomalies" of disturbed earth showed up in the studies of Scott Hammerstedt. That's not a mower, it's ground penetrating radar. He's a senior researcher at the Oklahoma Archeological Survey.

Ground penetrating radar searching for anaomalies.

Scott Pelley: The anomalies that we're looking at, what are those?

Scott Hammerstedt: It's just contrast between the surrounding soil that's undisturbed and then this soil that has been disturbed.

Scott Pelley: So we're not seeing, in these images, human remains?

Scott Hammerstedt: No. No. It's definitely not like CSI. You don't see individual skeletons. You just see disturbances and contrasts which is why you can't really say necessarily that for sure it's a common grave. But it's very consistent with one.

G.T. Bynum: Of course there's any number of things it could be. That's always the thing I have to remind myself.

Scott Pelley: And there's only one way to find out?

G.T. Bynum: That is exactly right. We have to dig. We have to dig.

A ten-day test excavation is scheduled to begin in July, led by University of Florida forensic anthropologist Phoebe Stubblefield. She'll investigate cause of death, but it's complicated, because of the Spanish flu pandemic from the same period.

Scott Pelley: So, just because you find a burial site, it doesn't necessarily mean that it's from the massacre.

Phoebe Stubblefield

Phoebe Stubblefield: Correct. And so, I'm interested in markers like signs of violence or any kind of-- ballistic injuries or chop injuries.

Scott Pelley: Can you retrieve DNA?

Phoebe Stubblefield: If it's a good preservation state, there's a high probability.

Scott Pelley: Would it be possible in your opinion to actually identify some of these people?

Phoebe Stubblefield: We could try for genealogical matches. So, if we had people now who say, "Oh, I'm missing a relative from that time period. Here's my DNA." Then we can make matches through similar markers and do the genealogical matches.

Scott Pelley: There's a long legacy from 1921. Tulsa is still one of the most segregated cities in the country.

Scott Pelley: The north part of Tulsa is black, the south part is white, and the twain don't meet very much.

G.T. Bynum: Right because of the history of racial disparity that exists in our city. A kid that's growing up in the predominantly African American part of our city is expected to live 11 years less than a kid that's growing up in a whiter part of the city. And by the way, Tulsa's not unique in that regard. You see disparities like that in major cities all around America.

The test excavation is expected to discover whether there are human remains. Next steps would include recovery and the question of how to honor those who have waited nearly 100 years for justice.

John W. Franklin: How do you commemorate an event, that gives dignity and honor to the people who've been lost?

Scott Pelley: We have taken in recent decades in our memorials to etch the names of every single person who was lost. The 9/11 memorial, the Vietnam memorial. That's not gonna be possible here. We don't know the names.

John W. Franklin: We don't know the names. and-- you're going to have to do some kind of-- you know-- we have the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. So, it has to be something that is representative of lost souls, lost in anonymity. Something like that will have to be planned.

Produced by Nicole Young. Associate producers, Katie Kerbstat and Ian Flickinger. Edited by Joe Schanzer.

Dive With WWII Wrecks in the Solomon Islands

Seventy five years ago, the Battle of Guadalcanal changed the course of World War II in the South Pacific. According to the National World War II Museum statistics, the Solomon Islands Campaign cost the Allies approximately 7,100 men, 29 ships and 615 aircraft. The Japanese lost 31,000 men, 38 ships and 683 aircraft. After the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the Japanese Imperial Navy wanted a buffer against attack from the United States and its Allies, and began occupying islands throughout the Pacific Ocean.

When the Japanese began construction on what would later be called Henderson Airfield in July 1942, taking control of this strategic airfield became a primary goal for the US Marine offensive. American forces landed on August 7, 1942 to remove the Japanese from the island. The six-month battle in the Solomon Islands on the most easterly advance of the Rising Sun was crucial to preventing Australia and New Zealand from being cut off from the Allies. This was the first decisive battle of the war in the Pacific in which the Japanese forces were turned back.

The United States Marines depended upon the Australian Coastwatchers and the Solomon Island Scouts for local knowledge and assistance. Inscribed in a plaque at the Memorial Garden at Henderson Airport, the United States Marines honor them with these words: “In the Solomons, a handful of men, Coastwatchers and Solomon Islanders alike, operating side by side often behind enemy lines always against staggering odds, contributed heroically to our victory at Guadalcanal.” This partnership between these groups is credited with having saved John F. Kennedy while he was stationed in the area.

Kennedy was at a forward military base on Lubaria Island, where today you can still visit and see the original cement pads from the bakery and mess house, in addition to a well hole. On August 2, 1943, a moonless night, while patrolling between Kolombangara Island and Ghizo Island, Kennedy and his crew were on maneuvers in their patrol boat (PT 109) and in the path of the Japanese destroyer, Amagiru Maru. After being struck, their boat broke apart and began to sink. Two of the seamen—Andrew Jackson Kirksey and Harold W. Marney—were killed, and the remaining eleven survivors swam through flames towards land. Coastwatcher Reg Evans saw the flames and sent two scouts to search for survivors.

There were Japanese camps on the larger islands like Kolombangara, and Kennedy’s crew swam to the smaller and deserted Plum Pudding Island to the southwest. The men worked together to push a makeshift raft of timbers from the wreck to move the injured and non-swimmers. Kennedy, a strong swimmer and former member of the Harvard University swim team, pulled the injured Patrick McMahon by clenching his life jacket strap in his mouth. After nearly four hours and more than three miles, they reached their first island destination. In search of food and water, they had to swim to another small slip of land named Kasolo Island, where they survived on coconuts for several days.

Island scouts Biuku Gaza and Eroni Kumana searched for survivors in their dugout canoe. If spotted by Japanese ships or aircraft, they hoped to be taken for native fisherman. When Gasa and Kumana found Kennedy, Gasa encouraged him to carve a message in a coconut shell. This message enabled them to coordinate their rescue:


Years later, that carved coconut shell sat on Kennedy’s desk in the Oval Office and served as a reminder of his time in the dangerous waters. Kasolo Island is now called “Kennedy Island.” And on August 3, 2017, Kennedy’s 100th birthday portrait and the 75th Anniversary monument was unveiled at ceremonies on both Kennedy Island and Lubaria Island.

Touring the area is an opportunity to explore what happened on the Solomon Islands three quarters of a century ago. Today, on the island’s pristine beaches, the violence of the battlefield feels long ago—but physical reminders remain. The area is a graveyard of dozens of World War II destroyers, military ships and aircraft in the clear waters surrounding the islands, and makes for an incredible chance to SCUBA dive through history.


Diving: see the planes, boats, submarines underwater from WWII.

Dive the Toa Maru in Gizo, which is similar in size to the ship that rammed Kennedy’s PT boat. Explore to 90 feet underwater in Mundo and visit the Airacobra P-39 fighter from the USAF 68th Fighter Squadron and the nearby Douglas SBD-4 Dauntless dive bomber, which was hit by fire during a raid on Munda on July 23, 1943.

In Honiara: I-1 submarine, B1 and B2.

Vilu War Museum

Explore the open-air museum at Vilu and walk among planes from the World War II dogfights.

Skull Island:

The ancestors of the Roviana people were warriors, and their skills as trackers enabled them to assist the United States in the battles fought on land and over water.


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