Sixty-nine years ago today, eight months to the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the US and her allies went on the Offensive against Japan, and the Coast Guard was there. Eagle1 has a good intro to the operation here. Most of us already know the story of Douglas Munro, leading boats in to rescue of a Marine unit ambushed by the Japanese. Here is an interesting bit of history that both provides background to the story and shows the resourcefulness and adaptability Coast Guardsmen are known for: LCdr. Dwight Hodge Dexter: Guadalcanal’s “Naval Operating Base Cactus”, by William H. Thiesen, Ph.D., Atlantic Area Historian, United States Coast Guard
In November 1945, the U.S. Postal Service issued the
Coast Guard stamp to commemorate the service’s role in amphibious combat operations.
It’s the story of a small unit, about 50 men, and it’s CO, operating in primitive conditions, frequently under fire,
“During Dexter’s tenure as commander of NOB Cactus, from August 8 to November 5, 1942, Coast Guard personnel received a considerable number of combat awards and official recognition. These medals and ribbons included, Dexter’s Silver Star Medal and four Silver Stars awarded to Coast Guard coxswains for combat landing operations in neighboring Tulagi. Official recognition received by other NOB personnel included the only Medal of Honor awarded to a Coast Guardsman, two Navy Crosses and a Bronze Star Medal. All who served at NOB Cactus received the Presidential Unit Citation due to their temporary assignment to Guadalcanal’s First Marine Division commanded by Major General (later Marine Corps Commandant) Alexander Vandergrift.”
(When you read this story, see if it doesn’t sound an awful lot like working with Navy MIUW.)
There is another name associated with this unit, Samuel B. Roberts. The name might be familiar because of his namesakes, DE-413, a little destroyer escort that fought a battleship and heavy cruisers at the Battle of Samar, Oct.25, 1944, and FFG-58 which was saved by the efforts of her crew after striking a mine in the Persian Gulf. Roberts was also a coxswain in the unit and died in the same operation that took the life of Munro under almost identical circumstances.
A few years ago I received an email asking for namesakes for the new Coast Guard firing range in Hawaii.
The first, and only, name that came to mind that fit was that of Dexter. As mentioned in Bill Theisen’s article, Dexter was the Officer in Charge of the Coast Guard’s competitive shooting team and a skilled competitor himself. He was also in charge of the Gunner’s Mate School and depot level armory at Curtis Bay. He was highly interested in the world of weaponry.
His Silver Star Medal also put him at the top of the list. While at Guadalcanal he kept a personnel book of what Coastguardsmen and where they were, their conditions, disciplinary problems and the almost mournful tone of when they were lost. Munro was not the only Coastguardsman killed there. Several others disappeared on night picket patrols. Dexter presumed they, and their Navy and Marine shipmates, were killed by Japanese patrol ships. He also notes that Samuel B. Roberts was flown off and died the next day.
As for the Samuel B. Roberts, I spent two months aboard her in 1998 teaching history classes. The bent deck from the mine was noticeable. There was a mock-up of Robert’s Navy Cross on display but none aboard knew of Munro. I asked and Dr. Bob Browning sent me a print of the painting for their quarterdeck display.
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More information about Dexter. http://coastguard.dodlive.mil/2016/03/the-long-blue-line-dwight-dexter-with-the-first-marines-at-guadalcanal/
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