Location: Sacramento, California

I am a retired lawyer and administrative law judge, aged but active, with a variety of interests.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Guadalcanal (poem)


Longer and longer shadows will obscure them, until their
Guadalcanal sounds distant on the ear like Shiloh and Valley Forge.

James A. Michener, Tales of the South Pacific, 1948

The name sounds distant on the ear,
as some chroniclers foretold,
although an epoch in any proper reading -
half a year of unremitting struggle
whose outcome teetered, momentous,

in the balance, before the Japanese withdrew;
at sea, combat the most savage in the history
of the navies of America and Japan, desperate
battles in "The Slot," Iron Bottom Sound,
and many other deep-sea scenes;

and on the island itself, bloody fighting between
Japanese soldiers and the First Marine Division
(whose patch with pride proclaims still
its birth in battle there: "Guadalcanal");
and in the air, combats by day and night

between the improvised "Cactus Air Force"
at Henderson Field (the raison de, whose use by
the Japanese the campaign sought to foil),
and the Zeros, Bettys, Vals and Rufes
of the Japanese 11th Air Fleet.

The deeds of some who fought in that arena,
American and Japanese, are written down,
but thousands fell without a trace to mark
their feats and sacrifice, and those left standing
at the fighting’s end, who did not perish

in later strife, are mostly gone by now,
timed out by Nature’s relentless clock,
the service of even those who survived
the war rarely noted at their deaths.
My friend Saul was one such warrior

who, leaving the Navy, lived life to the lees -
married, sired two daughters, and became a judge -
but, even in an ambience of collegiality, never
told his brethren of his involvement in the
the twists and turns of that bloody battleground.

In retirement, and nearing his end,
this self-effacing man disclosed to a friend
the role he played in that campaign in 1942.
Like Justice Holmes, he may have been as proud
of his martial career as his later life in law.

A tin can sailor, Saul owned a plank in
U.S.S. Buchanan (second of her name), a destroyer
present at the Battle of Savo Island (the greatest
defeat ever suffered by the United States Navy)
and at the Battle of Cape Esperance,

in which our fleet fared better, sinking
the Japanese heavy cruiser Furutaka, an event
to which Buchanan’s torpedoes, fired on the order
of her torpedo officer (Saul Benjamin by name),
made a potent contribution.

Let those who read of the passing of any of the
heroes still among us who fought on land or sea
in the "Canal" campaign, raise a glass to all
who fought, including Saul, and may all such men
"Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb’red."

James M. Moose


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