Marc Bonagura, Assistant Professor of English
Brookdale Community College
765 Newman Springs Road
Lincroft, New Jersey 07738
Guadalcanal Remembered 60 Years Later
August 7, 2002 - Lincroft, New Jersey. On August 7, 1942,
the US Marines embarked on what would become the longest sustained
engagement in their storied history and the longest United States
engagement of World War II - the campaign for Guadalcanal. Marc
Bonagura, an Assistant Professor of English at Brookdale Community
College in Lincroft, New Jersey, has been chasing the ghosts of
this World War II story for several years. The result of his efforts
is a web site, www.thetigerisdead.com, launched on the 60th anniversary
of the original landing. The web site is dedicated to the Marines
who fought on that tiny island and changed the course of World
War II. Bonagura provides hours of audio interviews with Guadalcanal
veterans as well as pictures, newspaper articles, and excerpts
from a 300-page manuscript entitled The Tiger is Dead. Bonagura
wrote the book based on the life of one very special Guadalcanal
veteran named Bob Worthington.
is also seeking other Guadalcanal vets to interview, and all interested
parties should contact him through the web site - all interviews
will eventually be sent to the Library of Congress in Washington.
DC as part of the Veterans History Project. A future presentation
based on Bonagura's work at the Brookdale Community College Center
for World War II Studies and Conflict Resolution is also in the
Americans today place much significance on the name of that remote
island in the Solomon's in the Southwestern Pacific, but Guadalcanal
proved the turning point in the Pacific War. All Marine units
involved in the original landing numbered 18,146 enlisted men
and 956 officers. When the 1st Marine Division pulled out in early
December 1942, they had turned back almost 40,000 Japanese troops,
of whom more than 30,000 died on the island. The victory didn't
come cheaply as there were almost 8,000 U.S. Marine casualties
- most failing victim to Malaria. Fewer than 700 Marines were
killed in action during the entire campaign.
was the first ground loss the Japanese Empire sustained in over
2400 years - they would not win another battle. One Japanese Officer,
Captain Ohmae told interrogators: "After Guadalcanal, I knew we
could not win the war. I did not think we would lose, but I knew
we could not win." General Vandegrift Commander of the 1st Marine
Division simply called the Guadalcanal Campaign a "modest operation."
father, Michael John Bonagura, a Marine Raider on Guadalcanal,
died in 1993 of service-related disabilities, and most of his
story died with him, as he had never spoken about his war experiences.
so many other baby boomers, after his father died, Bonagura began
searching through fragments of service records, letters, documents,
books, anything that might explain what his father went through
in the war, but the search always turned up more dead ends than
anything else - just too many unanswered questions. Then, in 1999,
Bonagura met a Guadalcanal veteran named Bob Worthington of Coos
Bay, Oregon, and that meeting changed both their lives. Worthington,
formerly a long-time San Francisco Bay Area resident, then terminally
ill due to several chronic service-related conditions, wasn't
ready to die without first telling his story - all he needed was
a writer. Worthington fought in many of the same battles as Bonagura's
father. While writing the book, Bonagura and Worthington forged
a deep friendship that lasted until Worthington died on June 6,
2001. Worthington held on the last months of his illness motivated
by the fact that he "wanted to see how the story ended."
Guadalcanal, Worthington once wrote, "I still remember how I couldn't
even walk after each battle without stepping on dead bodies ....
They were horribly mangled. Most of the heads were blown off;
the bodies were ripped open with the entrails spilled on the ground.
The ground was soaked with blood and the stench was unbearable."
sought closure and some recognition, and with the encouragement
of friend and fellow Guadalcanal veteran, Medal of Honor recipient
Retired Marine Colonel Mitchell Paige, he was awarded a long overdue
Purple Heart in a public ceremony in Roseburg, Oregon in June
reality, the truth of the Guadalcanal campaign wasn't always appreciated,
especially in the early days of the war. Worthington recalled
several occasions when he tried to relate his experiences to Navy
physicians - stories that initially landed him and many other
Guadalcanal vets in mental institutions immediately following
the campaign. Regarding his psychiatric care, Worthington said,
"they stripped me naked and wrapped layer upon layer of sheets
soaked in ice water around my entire body." One navy Corpsman
Frank R. Feduik recalled, "I remember distinctly going to a psychiatric
ward where there were a lot of Guadalcanal veterans .... They
were in another world; their eyes seemed to be staring somewhere
into space. They were tied to their bunks and there were armed
guards watching them."
also featured many strange tales including the story of the youngest
person ever to enlist in the United States Armed Services, George
Holle, Jr., who was 12 years old when he enlisted in the Marine
Corps and 13 years old when he fought on Guadalcanal.
left to right: Michael J. Bonagura, 1944; Bob Worthington,
1943; Marc Bonagura and Bob Worthington, Coos Bay, Oregon,
March 2000 (Photo by Sunny Day).