It wasn't long after the Kid returned to duty that the company was sent to Guadalanal (early Oct. 1942). They made the crossing on a small vessel that was crowded for space, its deck piled high with the gear of companies being called to action. It took a couple of hours to make the crossing and they were delivered safe to the landing zone. Because shipping space was at a premium, an effort was made to tow Higgins boats loaded with men behind a larger vessel. This was somewhat of a disaster as a number of boats capsized and some men were lost; the whole story of this fiasco was never told.
A patrol was established that was called the "Yacht Patrol," or YP. It was a small boat of yacht size but large enough to support a crew of about five men. About four of our company's men were assigned to this duty. It was a joint operation with the Navy running the boat and Marines manning its machine guns. On one of the patrols the boat was strafed by the Japs and its helmsman injured. One of the Marines took over the helm, which was no more than a few spokes, and managed to beach the boat and get the wounded to shore. All were recommended for a Commendation Medal.
At the landing point the company dragged their gear ashore along with the 37-mm guns and the half-tracks. They had been assigned an area for the night until they were ready to move into positions the next day. The company was stretched out along the road leading to the combat area, the route being covered with palm trees (some of which showed the wear of war).
As dusk approached they were alerted to the presence of a Jap plane over the island. He made the usual pass over the airfield and scurried along the beach, strafing as he went. The red alert had put all Marines on edge and their senses were attuned to the situation. The plane came in low over the road, firing intermittently. The Kid was lying on his unmade cot along the road, looking up as the plane roared overhead. The dusk of the evening helped to delineate the plane's hot exhaust.
At the sight of the plane, he rolled over to the ground dropping from the low cot. There was no place to go during the brief time the plane was overhead, so he just lay there, excited and scared. The plane was known to Marines as "Washing-Machine Charlie" as this lonely flyer came over each night just to harass Marines. Occasionally he dropped a small bomb and strafed the beach area, being more of a nuisance than a threat. He was a mere fly in the ointment and, outside of disrupting the sleep of his victims, didn't amount to much although he did become a minor legend of the war in the south Pacific.
Headquarters platoon (cooks, bakers, clerks, drivers, etc.) was to set up a mess tent and eating facilities a mile or so from the front lines, such as they were. They found a site 100 yards from the black-sand beach that was the signature of volcanic islands. In a flat shaded area they sat up the mess canopy and the field ranges, with all mess personal located nearby in a couple of squad tents. The Kid, still unattached to a combat group, was part of the mess crew. Not that he minded; hell, it was a safe place to be and the grub was close by.
Somebody at Battalion HQ got the idea of consolidating the company's messes into one operating unit, for efficiency. They put it under the command of a warrant officer who was bucking for brass. He attempted to run the mess with an iron hand and succeeded in pissing off the entire crew. They were reluctant to do the job and dragged their feet and were generally uncooperative. The Kid was one of the men sent to work under the WO's whip and spent a miserable week before the company commander canceled the order and brought them all back to the company area to run their own mess.
He and the Marine he shared a foxhole with on Tulagi still had duty at the officers' mess, which was no big distinction. They sat over here and the officers sat over there and ate the same food, although the chow wasn't much to speak of as the troops were still cut off from the world. They ate much pea soup and spam (not the commercial variety). They also had many doughnuts made by the mess sergeant, who was a baker by designation but served as mess sergeant by command. The doughnuts were well received by the troops as they were still using C-rations.
They were drawing rations from the Army, which had come in behind them on the invasion of Guadalcanal. The mess sergeant and the Kid, with a couple of other men, would go the Army rations dump and draw the allotted supplies. As the sergeant walked about the area, he'd casually kick a box of something he wanted that was not on the list, and one of his men would wait until the Army clerks' backs were turned and sneak it to the truck. They focused on the canned peaches and pineapple, and on the canned bacon that was supposed to be for the officers' mess. Mind you, this was Army rations not Marine stuff; Marines were kept to the bare essentials — flour, spam, canned peas, whatever.
The mess detail consisted of hauling food up to the front line, where the company was positioned, along the Matanikau River. Trips were made in the morning and in the afternoon, before dark — definitely before dark. A Jeep would be loaded with as much food as it could haul along with a couple of men to hand out the rations. The trails were nearly impassable and the valiant little Jeep would groan and dig in and spin its wheels but keep going! Up until then the Kid had not seen a dead or wounded Marine. On their way up to the lines and back, Jeeps loaded with the bodies of dead or wounded Marines would pass them. It brought home the fact that this was a real war, not a big adventure. Get with it!
At that time the Matanikou River was the dividing line between the Marines and the enemy. The Japanese had pulled back and established the river as their line of defense. The fighting periphery stretched out in a long arch that thinned out the Marine forces in an effort to confront them. The Japs were on both sides of the river in some places and were dug in well.
Prowling around the front gave the Kid an opportunity to observe their defenses. They were dug down into the root system of the giant trees with just enough room to squeeze into, well protected from overhead blasts of artillery shells. They had good firing positions and used them well. The only way you could dislodge dug-in Japanese was with a direct frontal attack, which would be very costly. The famous banzai charges of Japanese infantry were made from areas where they were concentrated and could launch in great numbers. These were often directed at Marine forces in established positions, and were meant to overrun an enemy's force. However, banzai charges were seldom successful, if ever.
The fight at the river was one hell of a fight, and needless to say the Marines were successful in the long run.