As a huge wave of U.S. Marines bent on delivering Pearl Harbor payback waded onto the beach of the Solomon Island of Guadalcanal on Aug. 7, 1942, a Japanese radio operator frantically vowed to his superiors, “we will defend our posts to the death.”
He got his wish, thanks to 11,000 brave Marines, including an 18-year-old Bronx kid named Al “Duke” Dellaera who still recalls the initial hours that kicked off a grueling, six-month battle that helped turn the tide against the Axis Powers in World War II. For the first few days, the Marines met little resistance, but as they moved deeper into the island during the first week, patrols were regularly ambushed from the jungle shadows.
“We got in a few hundred yards in from the beach and then the Japanese opened fire on us,” Dellaera, now 89, said, recalling one such attack in the early days of the invasion. “We were ambushed, really surprised. All I saw was debris falling all over the place.”
Seventy years later, the Guadalcanal Invasion stands as a seminal moment in World War II, the beginning of the end of Japanese naval dominance in the Pacific Theater. It was the Allies’ first engagement with the Japanese Imperial Navy, which had for months been establishing bases and dominance throughout the Pacific Theater, threatening supply routes between the U.S. and Australia.
The invasion, the brainchild of legendary U.S. Adm. Ernest King, came as the Army, including what later became the Air Force, had its hands full battling the Germans in Europe. King lobbied hard for men and supplies, and in the end won approval for the invasion. It had been eight months to the day since the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, awakening, in the words of Japanese Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto, “a sleeping giant” — along with Dellaera, who was among thousands of American men and boys who signed up following the sneak attack.
“I rushed home naturally, because I knew my parents would be upset,” recalled Dellaera, who now lives in Fairfield, Conn. “My parents had a fit. I said, ‘I don’t want to wait,’ so I went down and enlisted.”
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