Coast Guard Headquarters Event Honors the Heroism of Douglas Munro
By SARA FUENTES, Special Correspondent
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Coast Guard Oct. 12 hosted its first-ever Douglas Munro Birthday Event at Coast Guard Headquarters to honor the legacy of the service’s sole Medal of Honor recipient.
The event included a special historical display of Munro items, including his Medal of Honor, that will be at Coast Guard headquarters for a limited time, materials from Guadalcanal, and memorabilia from Munro’s closest friend. Capt. Sean Caroll, chief, Office of External Outreach and Heritage, and Josh Buck, the Coast Guard’s Community Relations branch chief, attended and were recognized for their research and efforts for the birthday ceremony.
Douglas Munro, who would have been 98 years old on Oct. 11, is a Coast Guard legend. On Sept. 27, 1942, the Signalman 1st Class gave his life to save the lives of nearly 500 U.S. Marines during action in the Guadalcanal campaign of World War II. With the Marines trapped by enemy forces, Munro volunteered for the mission and led five Higgins boats to the shore to retrieve them.
From the Medal of Honor citation: “As he closed the beach, he signaled the others to land, and then in order to draw the enemy’s fire and protect the heavily loaded boats, he valiantly placed his craft with its two small guns as a shield between the beachhead and the Japanese. When the perilous task of evacuation was nearly completed, Munro was killed by enemy fire, but his crew, two of whom were wounded, carried on until the last boat had loaded and cleared the beach.” His last words, according to his shipmates, were, “Did they get off?” They all did.
Deputy Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Leilani Cale-Jones, the event’s keynote speaker moved the audience with tales from Munro’s life, including his decision to join the Coast Guard after considering each branch of military service because the Coast Guard “saves lives, doesn’t take them”
According to Cale-Jones, Munro’s friends were devoted to him for the rest of their days. Childhood best friend Mike Cooley walking six miles every day to raise and lower the flag over Munro’s grave every day for more than 40 years, until his death. Thanks to the Coast Guard and Cooley’s own efforts, a new flagpole with accent lights was erected to keep the flag flying.
Cale-Jones noted that, “two weeks shy of his 23rs birthday, our hero was responsible for saving hundreds of lives, the reason he joined our service. And he gave the last full measure of devotion of duty doing so.”
Cale-Jones drew the line between the hero the Coast Guard was honoring with what the service does every day.
“The recent hurricane responses demonstrate the spirit of Douglas Munro lives today in each and every single Coastie. One of the Marines rescued from Guadalcanal said, ‘Nobody in their right mind would start a boat and come here voluntarily to get us. But they did, they came in.’ In Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico, our responders, many of them victims themselves, they came in. They protected, they defended, they saved.”