Guadalcanal- Solomon Islands
Before 2 August 1942, who in the United States, save dedicated students of geography, had ever heard the word, Guadalcanal? But on that summer day in the first year of World War II for the U.S., the storied U.S. Marine Corps’ I’ Marine Division’s unopposed landings on Red Beach at Guadalcanal sent almost everyone scurrying for atlases. For eight months, since the
cowardly Japanese attack on the Pearl Harbor Naval Base at Honolulu, Hawaii, the U.S. had frustratingly watched the Japanese war machine rang like a tidal wave across the Pacific Ocean and like a runaway train down the spine of Southeast Asia. Now, the first land blow retaliation was struck. Japanese and U.S. warships and planes had fought to a
virtual draw in the Coral Sea, east of Australia, 4-6 May 1942, the first sea battle in which the naval vessels never saw each other. The action did stop Japan from landing troops on New Guinea, a stepping-stone to assault Australia. A month later, 4-6 June, the U.S. gained a huge victory in the Battle of Midway, ending Japanese plans to invade Hawaii.
Some 60, 000 Marines and soldiers landed on Guadalcanal’s 2, 500-square-mile island to slug it out with the Japanese in jungles and swamps, with 6-foot lizards and crocodiles, coral snakes and vipers. The Japanese withdrew in February 1943. Campaign coats: U.S. dead, 1,504; Japanese, 10, 000. American troops had beaten the seemingly invincible Japanese.
The Solomon Islands consist of 30 islands and numerous atolls, with a land area of 10, 639 square miles. Of volcanic origin, it’s
a mountainous country, highest peak at 7, 648 feet. Population in 1998 was 441, 039. It’s part of the dark-complexioned Melanesian group of Pacific Islanders, which includes Fiji, New Guinea, New Caledonia and Vanuatu (formerly the New Hebrides). The Melanesians are thought to be among the third wave of immigrants who left Southeast Asia some 10, 000 years ago. In the Solomons, the Melanesians comprise 93% of the population: small Polynesian communities are also present. The Solomons have a high birth-rate and a low literacy rate. Though English is the official language, the indecipherable Pidgin, to me anyway, is more widely spoken. Subsistence farming supports 85% of the population: the major exports are from agriculture, fishing and timber.
The first European visitor was the Spanish navigator Alvaro de Mendana de Neira in the 16th century, followed by other Spanish expeditions into the 17th century. Although Mendana found no gold, he told his royal patrons the islands were rich, maybe even the source of King Solomon’s treasure, and the name stuck. In the 18th century the Frenchman, Louis Antoine de Bougainville, explored the northernmost islands. The Solomons were ruled by British and Germans before the Japanese occupation.