Reading’s Boys Special Edition #3: Battle of Guadalcanal, Part 3

The Arrival of the Perkins Brothers and the Continuing Fight to Hold Guadalcanal

If John Francis Beaudoin was a member of the 3rd Battalion, 182nd Infantry Regiment, 23rd Infantry Division, he would land on Guadalcanal on December 13, 1942, a while after the death of Charles Parry. 

The Perkins brothers, minus one, landed on Guadalcanal on December 8, 1942. Before Willard Fielding Perkins, Henry Edson Perkins, and Dana Randall Perkins went off to war; their mother gave each of them a diary. True to the stereotypes, Dana, the eldest son, used his diary like an average person and kept track of his time on Guadalcanal inside its pages. Henry, the middle child, used his diary to track the money people owed him. Willard, the youngest of the three, would not use his at all. Now, while Willard was in the Navy, both of his brothers Dana and Henry were members of the 57th Engineer Combat Battalion, which was usually attached to the 23rd Infantry Division. Thanks to Dana’s niece’s help, I have Dana’s diary from his time on Guadalcanal to help us see what he and his brother saw.

As December arrived, though, the American lines were not much different from the lines that had been established when the Marines had first landed back in August. We held Lunga Point, part of the Matanikau River, some area west of Point Cruz on to the south of Hill 66 and then across the Matanikau River to the east. Getting supplies from the beaches to the troops that were now a bit further inland was quite the challenge. Though the 1st Marine Division’s pioneers had begun working on roads, they were not that reliable, and the 57th Engineer Combat Battalion was doing its best to continue the work. Still, the mud and rain made it nearly impossible. Malaria was also becoming an increasingly concerning threat to the troops on Guadalcanal: it was running rampant.

The generals that were monitoring Guadalcanal’s situation soon decided that December would be the right time to strike and take Mount Austen. This point had been like a thorn in the Americans’ side since they had first landed. The order came on December 16 for the 132nd Infantry Regiment, 23rd Infantry Division, to move on Mount Austen. As Americans began establishing lines on the hillside, supplying them became increasingly difficult, and the 57th Engineer Battalion were ordered to help create a road up the mountain, which they had made significant progress on by December 20.

It is likely that in the days following December 20, Dana and Henry saw more wounded and mangled men than they could keep count of. In fact, it is possible that the 101st Medical Regiment requested their help in the movement of injured men. After the victories in the area of Mount Austen, on January 10 at 6:35 AM, the 3rd Battalion, 182nd Infantry Regiment, which as I have said John Beaudoin may have been a member of, was ordered to move up with a handful of other units and hold a 3,000-yard line to the west of Mount Austen. 

In a diary entry on January 6, 1943, Dana Randall Perkins wrote, “Designed several cable-ways for use in carrying supplies and wounded across deep ravines up at the front. Am teaching Perk (Henry’s nickname) fundamentals. He seems very much interested. Temperature 123 degrees.” The situation with the movement of wounded men only seemed to get worse, though. The motto seemed to be to just make do with whatever you had. It makes me wonder if Dana realized that the things he had helped design would be used almost entirely for the transportation of mortally wounded men. Like, of course, he did; he said that was one of their uses, but was he able to really process it? This 29-year-old man from 75 Deering Street looked after his younger brother and worried about his youngest brother, Willard, who was off somewhere in the Atlantic. Did he really process the importance of the cable-way he had created? How many lives he indirectly saved in doing so? 

In early January, the 3rd Battalion, 182nd Infantry Regiment again received orders to help the 35th Infantry Division block off a part of the jungle that the Japanese could move through to flank the main attack force. By the end of January 11, the 3rd Battalion had completely cut off the Japanese. The Japanese troops were now surrounded. I wonder if for a little while, John may have felt bad for them if he was there. The feeling of being surrounded is one like no other. It is both empowering and terrifying, all at once. 

On January 9, Dana Perkins off-handedly described in his diary watching a half-ton truck slide off a road and go straight down, then roll over for about a quarter of a mile. He casually explains that both men seem to have survived, but they were seriously injured. He seems so calm about the whole thing. As though he is used to it, and he probably was. But it makes my heart break for him, and it makes me wonder how anyone can possibly go back to everyday life. Just two days later, life got even worse for Dana. On January 11, 1943, he wrote, “Artillery started at 5:20 AM, bombing 6:00 AM with 500 lb bombs. A really horrible sight to see. Will never forget it. Went to Matanikau River, surveyed for bridge. Stepped on dead bodies underwater stuck in mud. Terrible stink.” I cannot even begin to imagine the look on Dana’s face when he realized what it was he was stepping in. The way his heart must have raced, the way his head must have slowly angled downward and looked into the body of another (formerly) living being. And above all other things, I’m sure he did not ever forget it. 

On January 14, a patrol from the 3rd Battalion was sent out to try to find the Japanese flank. When the patrol reached the southern side of Hill 42, they saw what appeared to be parachutes and ammunition. As the patrol headed back for friendly lines, a group of entrenched Japanese soldiers opened fire and killed an intelligence officer and a sergeant. When another American patrol came through the area to retrieve the two dead Americans’ bodies, no bodies were found. In the days that followed, broadcasts were constantly issued to the Japanese soldiers still left on Guadalcanal to surrender. Again, on the morning of January 17, another broadcast was given to the Japanese, informing them that their lines were about to be shelled but that they could come forward now and surrender and be spared. They were also informed that they would be able to enter American lines during the shelling if they agreed to surrender and came in with their hands up. No one came. It is believed that one Japanese company considered surrendering but decided against doing so because many of the men were too weak or ill to walk.

On that same day, Dana was with the rest of the 57th Engineers when Japanese planes came in to bomb the area. Fifty yards away from him, he wrote that a man lost his leg, and two others were wounded by shrapnel. Fifty yards away from him.

On the evening of January 17, 1943, the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 182nd Infantry Regiment, 23rd Infantry Division, moved into the line to the left of some marines that were in the area. On January 22, 1943, the whole line moved forward. Luckily for John Beaudoin, the only serious resistance the men met was the terrain itself. Meanwhile, back near Henderson Field, Dana, and Henry Perkins were being bombed into submission. Dana remarked two nights in a row in his diary, “We are too close to the airfield.” On the night of January 23, 1943, Dana wrote in his diary that an enemy bombing run killed one of the boys near him, but that he didn’t have a scratch on him; it was the concussion that had killed him. He looked like he could have been sleeping. On February 7, Dana celebrated his 30th birthday while on Guadalcanal. He wrote that he hoped he would live another 30 years. He would live another 29 years, passing away on October 30, 1972. Another entry in February describes Dana witnessing a plane crashing and the pilot going up in flames inside the cockpit. Though Dana described many more horrible sights in his diary, I cannot even begin to capture them all here.

In the months that followed, the final mopping up of the Guadalcanal area would finish, and it is my understanding that John Beaudoin probably would not have seen any more combat. Lucky man. I think that Dana Perkins summed up his feelings about leaving Guadalcanal quite nicely in his March 24, 1943 diary entry: “Thank the good Lord we are leaving this hole. Am writing this on the beach at Guadalcanal and pray that I may never see it again.”

Onto the Next Battle

As the Battle of Guadalcanal finally came to a close in the late winter/early spring of 1943, a small beacon of hope began to spread through the United States. We had won our first offensive action in the Pacific. The cost had been high, and the men that would never get to leave that godforsaken place loomed large in the minds of many. But we prevailed. For Henry Brodecki, John Beaudoin, and Dana and Henry Perkins, life would never be the same. I imagine that the things they saw probably stuck with them in some way or another. The family of Charles Parry probably wouldn’t ever be the same again either. 

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