After graduating from high school in 1937, Douglas Munro spent one year in college before leaving school to join the United States Coast Guard. He advanced through the ranks quickly, and by September 1942 was a Signalman First Class and leader of a 24-boat landing craft group in the Guadalcanal Campaign.
On September 27, 1942 - 70 years ago to the day - Marines under the command of the legendary "Chesty" Puller found themselves pinned down under intense enemy opposition during the Second Battle of the Matanikau. With the destroyer USS Monssen (DD-436) providing cover by hurling 5" shells at the enemy ashore, Munro led his boats to the beach to evacuate the Marines. He placed his own boat in between the others and the enemy to draw their fire.
For his supreme courage in the face of the enemy which cost him his life, Douglas Munro became the only Coast Guardsman ever to receive the Medal of Honor.
From Medal of Honor Citations for World War II (M-S):
*MUNRO, DOUGLAS ALBERT
Rank and organization: Signalman First Class, U.S. Coast Guard Born: 11 October 1919, Vancouver, British Columbia. Accredited to Washington. Citation: For extraordinary heroism and conspicuous gallantry m action above and beyond the call of duty as Petty Officer in Charge of a group of 24 Higgins boats, engaged in the evacuation of a battalion of marines trapped by enemy Japanese forces at Point Cruz Guadalcanal, on 27 September 1942. After making preliminary plans for the evacuation of nearly 500 beleaguered marines, Munro, under constant strafing by enemy machineguns on the island, and at great risk of his life, daringly led 5 of his small craft toward the shore. 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 2 small guns as a shield between the beachhead and the Japanese. When the perilous task of evacuation was nearly completed, Munro was instantly killed by enemy fire, but his crew, 2 of whom were wounded, carried on until the last boat had loaded and cleared the beach. By his outstanding leadership, expert planning, and dauntless devotion to duty, he and his courageous comrades undoubtedly saved the lives of many who otherwise would have perished. He gallantly gave his life for his country.
It is said that Munro's dying words were solely for the men he was so determined to see live to fight again another day:
Did they get off?Thanks to him, they did. Munro's mother, Edith, carried on where her gallant son left off and joined the Coast Guard herself (pdf) following Douglas' death. She served with them until November 1945, reaching the rank of Lieutenant.
On March 3, 1944, then Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Edith Munro acted as the launch sponsor in Houston, Texas for a United States Navy destroyer escort that would bear her son's name. The USS Douglas A. Munro (DE-422) was commissioned on July 11, 1944 and served in the Pacific Fleet through 1947. The ship was reactivated for the Korean War in 1951, and was finally retired in 1960. The Munro was sunk as a target in 1966.
The United States Coast Guard honored their sole Medal of Honor recipient on September 27, 1971 (the 29th anniversary of his heroic acts) when they placed into commission the Hamilton-class cutter USCGC Munro (WHEC-724). Edith Munro was once again present to see a ship bearing her son's name put in service. The second Munro still serves our Coast Guard today. The ship is home-ported at Coast Guard Base Kodiak in Alaska.
Douglas Munro rests in peace at the Laurel Hill Memorial Park in Cle Elum, Washington. His father (James, d. 1962) and mother (d. 1983) lie near him.
Munro's Medal of Honor is currently held by the Coast Guard Training Center Cape May in New Jersey. Every new enlisted member of the Coast Guard receives their basic training there, and assuredly hear of the courage of the young man who with his life so clearly demonstrated the Coast Guard's motto: Semper Paratus - Always Ready.