The Coast Guard
During World War II
Signalman First Class Douglas Munro
provides covering fire to evacuating Marines at Guadalcanal. He was
killed in action during this firefight after ensuring that all of the
Marines were safe. He became the only Coast Guardsman to ever be awarded
the Medal of Honor.
On Sept. 27, 1942, a group of diminutive landing craft sped toward
the beaches of Guadalcanal. Huddled on shore, and fighting for their
lives, were about 500 men of COL Lewis B. "Chesty" Puller's 1st
Battalion, 7th Marines.
Earlier that day, the same group of landing craft had put the Marines
on the beach; now they were returning to extract them. As the LCVPs
(Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel) and LCMs (Landing Craft, Mechanized)
reached the shore, Coast Guard Signalman 1st Class Douglas Munro steered
his LCVP between the evacuating Marines and the Japanese. By interposing
his craft between the men on the beach and the enemy, Munro allowed the
landing craft to safely evacuate all the Marines, including the
As the last men climbed aboard, Munro steered his craft away from the
beach. When almost clear, Japanese gunfire struck Munro and killed him
instantly. Munro was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. It is
fitting that given the Coast Guard's lifesaving tradition and the
tremendous part the Coast Guard played during World War II, the Coast
Guard's only Medal of Honor winner was not only involved with a rescue
but also an amphibious operation.
The Coast Guard's participation in amphibious activity during World
War II was perhaps the most important war-related job the service
performed. Incredibly, the Coast Guard fully manned more than 350 naval
ships, including 76 LSTs (Landing Ship, Tank), 21 cargo and attack-cargo
ships, 75 frigates, and 31 transports. In addition, the Coast Guard
manned more than 800 cutters, nearly 300 ships for the Army, and
thousands of amphibious-type assault craft.
In the ships and craft of the amphibious forces, the Coast Guard
discharged its most important role during the war - that is getting the
men to the beaches and providing support.
The largest Coast Guard-manned ships were the transports, and they
played a vital role in landing operations. Just as vital, and generally
overlooked, was the absolutely critical small-craft operations. The
LCVPs, LCMs, Higgins Boats, LVTs (Landing Vehicle, Tracked) and others
carried assault troops from the offshore transports and brought in
reinforcements and supplies.
The handling of these small craft in the surf is a specialized skill,
and it was not common among men in the Navy. Not so for men in the Coast
Guard. Many of the coxswains had learned this skill from handling boats
in the surf at lifesaving stations. In fact, Coast Guard coxswains from
lifesaving stations were the most seasoned smallboat handlers in
government service. As only experienced men could successfully
maneuver landing craft through strong currents, reefs, sand bars and
heavy surf, their contributions to amphibious operations is
Coast Guard coxswains prepare to land
Marines on the beaches of Saipan a task fulfilled by Coast Guardsmen
during every major Pacific invasion in World War II.
This experience was particularly important during the training
exercises before the early amphibious operations. The Coast Guard's
surfmen acted as mentors to the Navy coxswains trying to learn the
nuances of controlling smallboats in the surf. During the early part
of the war several thousand Coast Guard and Navy men were trained to
handle landing craft.