Douglas Munro, The Only US Coast Guardsman to Receive the Medal of Honor

The United States Coast Guard, an amalgamation of the Revenue Cutter Service, Life-Saving Service, and Lighthouse Service, was established in 1915. Though modest in size and resources, it committed ferverently to action during World War I, suffering a greater proportion of casualties than any other branch of the US Armed Forces.

When World War II came, the Coast Guard fought the enemies of the United States in every theater. It was noted for one particular speciality: the operation of small craft inshore. Many Coast Guardsmen operated amphibuous landing craft, such as the famous Higgins boats. Among them was Signalman First Class Douglas Albert Munro. Munro fearlessly piloted his Higgins boat through enemy fire during the Guadalcanal Campaign in the Pacific. Tragically, he died while doing so. His courage was exceptional, and for his actions he was postumously awarded the Medal of Honor. He is the only Coast Guardsman to have been honored in this manner.


(USCG)

Douglas Munro (1919-1942) was born in Vancouver, Canada, as the son of American parents. His family moved to South Cle Um, Washington when he was young. He enlisted in the Coast Guard in 1939 and did well, earning a promotion. On September 27, 1942, he was operating a Higgins boat as part of the Guadalcanal Campaign. His unit inserted Marines led by the legendary Lt. Col. "Chesty" Puller onto a section of the island of Guadalcanal.

Unfortunately, the Japanese force present in that area was much larger than expected. The Marines were badly outnumbered and under devastating fire. They had to be evacuated. Munro immediately volunteered to lead several boats to the beach to rescue the trapped Marines.


(Bernard D'Andrea/USCG)

The Higgins boats were made of plywood. They had no armor and were thus highly vulnerable to the Japanese machine guns on the beach. But under Munro's leadership, all of those Marines, included the wounded, made it back to sea.

Alas, Munro was hit by a machine gun bullet as his boat left the beach. Historian Stanley Coleman Jersey describes Munro's death:

When they were out of range, Munro momentarily regained consciousness. He asked just one question: “Did we get them off?” Assured that the marines were out of harm’s way, Doug Munro smiled, then he died.


(USCG)

For his actions, Signalman First Class Douglas Munro was awarded the Medal of Honor. Here is the citation:

For extraordinary heroism and conspicuous gallantry in 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.

(USGC)

The modern Coast Guard remembers Munro well and has named ships, buildings, and other facilities in his honor, including the high endurance cutter Munro.


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