January 1st, 1943 — The Japanese are being decimated and Lieutenant Ko’o notes in his diary that everywhere he gazed corpses lay, the freshly dead rotting side by side with already skeletal remains. “On New Year’s Day the last food was distributed in the Gifu, two crackers and one piece of candy per man.” (16)
January 3rd — Imperial General Headquarters formally advises Yamamoto to prepare to withdraw units from Guadalcanal.
January 4th — The O’Bannon with a group of three cruisers and another destroyer move out of Guadalcanal and up the Solomon chain of islands to shell the newly completed airfield that the Japanese built at Munda. Our group dispenses over 4,000 shells destroying ten buildings. The airfield had been deactivated a week earlier.
In response to the shelling, the Japanese increase their morning aerial reconnaissance and manage to find our force heading south. Four dive bombers with the protection of fourteen zeros strike at our cruisers as they slow to recover their search aircraft. Two of the bombers strike at the cruiser Honolulu with near misses and the two other bombers strike at the New Zealand cruiser Achilles with one near miss and one hit with a 550-pound bomb which knocks out its number three turret. The angered captain of the Achilles signals “our fighting efficiency is only slightly reduced and our fighting temper is greatly increased.” The engagement ends on this high note.
A short time later word is passed that one of the bombers of the two that were shot down has crashed and its crew is in the water ahead of us. Not being on watch at the time and the ship not being at General Quarters (battle condition), I am able to watch the unfolding drama as we close in on the downed flyers.
By the time I manage to get on deck though, we are along side the Japanese fliers. The fliers show no indication of wanting to be rescued and swim away from the ship. Lines that are being thrown to them are tossed back. Not wanting to appear inhospitable, a whaleboat is lowered and no less than the executive officer enters the boat to try to bring the Japanese fliers aboard. He is similarly rejected and finally resorts to force by trying to grab one of the men in the water and to pull him into the boat. The flyer’s final rejection comes in the form of a pistol that he pulls from inside his flight jacket. He quickly points it at the head of our Exec and pulls the trigger. His gun clicks but fails to fire (probably from being in the water). This action provokes a crewmember (who supposedly is providing security for the Exec) to spring into action. A burst of fire from his machine gun blows the pilots head off. Not wanting to witness this, I quickly turn my head as I’m sure did many others.
The second flyer, wounded and in poor condition, offers no resistance and is pulled aboard where the medical officer cuts open his flying suit to examine his wounds. These are so serious that it is obvious to all that he has not long to live. His chin is gone and his stomach area is a mess. Still, he does not seem to be in pain (in shock, I guess) and he is looking around as if interested in his new surroundings. He gestures for water and a pharmacist mate quickly brings him a glass. Most of the water runs out the opening where his chin used to be but his thirst seems to be quenched anyway. By now he has quite an audience as this is the first time the crew has a chance to examine the enemy up close without the fear of being killed in the process.
Everyone is quiet and seems to respect him as a dying enemy whose life is slowly ebbing away in the service of his country. No tears are shed here but no hostility is in evidence either. He looks around into the faces that are peering at him and into mine for several seconds. He then looks up at the American flag that is flying about twenty feet over his head and stares at it for several moments. The surrounding crew members follow his gaze and look up also. What he can be thinking we can only guess. Our flag is sunbleached and faded much as our whole crew is, I guess, but it undoubtedly conveys a message: We may be tattered and threadbare but we are still flying. The pharmacist mate takes the flyer into the pharmacy station putting an end to the drama. The flyer dies an hour later and is respectfully buried at sea.
On the bridge, our captain removes the bullet from the flyer’s pistol and finds it has a deep dent in it made by the firing pin of the gun. This is how close our executive officer came to death. Can we expect this kind of luck to last forever? Well, it does last a little longer anyway, for when we return to port, we learn our executive officer has been promoted and is the new captain of the O’Bannon and our present captain is being transferred to a new position.
January 5th — General Patch directs Army troops and remaining marines to clear Guadalcanal of all Japanese troops.
January 9th — the Japanese complete plans for withdrawal from Guadalcanal that entails the use of destroyers as transports during the hours of darkness. The target date for complete withdrawal is February 10th. Plans include and elaborate program of feints designed to keep the Americans guessing and make it appear that a reinforcement effort is in progress.
January 15th — orders from Imperial General Headquarters for the evacuation of Guadalcanal reach the Japanese 17th army commander. General Hyakutake resists the orders (on the grounds that retreat would betray those who already had given their lives) and prefers to sacrifice the 17th Army as a last service to the nation. Since the orders have been ordained by the Emperor himself, the general will comply.
January 23rd — by sunset the Americans take the last Japanese stronghold known as the Gifu. Other Japanese detachments are being annihilated from regimental size down to a handful of individuals. Few Japanese are surrendering, they calmly accept imminent death. The remaining troops place their last chance at survival on evacuation runs by destroyers.
January 30th — (February 1st in the States) at sea, patrolling American naval forces threaten the Japanese destroyers engaged in the evacuation and are hit by Japanese planes that sink the cruiser Chicago, the destroyer De Haven, three PT boats and damage one destroyer. The Japanese loose one destroyer with damage to three others. Air loses cost the Japanese fifty-six planes with the Americans losing fifty-three. This engagement is between opposing aircraft and ships with no naval action between ships. The battle is to be known as the Battle of Rennell Island.
February 1st — twenty Japanese destroyers begin the first evacuation of Japanese troops. This takes place at night as “thousands of men toiling laboriously up muddied trails livened the night as they move toward the embarkation point.” (17) PT boats on the scene create some havoc for the soldiers but Japanese destroyers drive them off. One Japanese destroyer explodes and is lost due to the PT boats or possibly from hitting a mine, but the soldiers are evacuated successfully in this first run of the evacuation express.
February 4th — twenty Japanese destroyers again head down from Rabaul to Guadalcanal to evacuate troops but planes from Henderson Field catch the destroyers before dark sinking one while damaging a second one. This second evacuation run picks up additional troops and returns them to Rabaul without further incident.
February 7th — eighteen destroyers make a final run to evacuate the remaining troops and again U.S. planes hit and damage one destroyer but the remaining destroyers are able to reach Guadalcanal under cover of darkness and commence boarding the last Japanese troops from the island. Small boats nudge up to the gray destroyer hulls in single file as their occupants climb to deliverance. To honor the Japanese Navy’s pledge to the Army that no troops will be deserted on the island, sailors row boats in along shore and call out again and again to make sure that no one is left on the beach.
At three minutes into February 8th, the evacuation is complete and the destroyers leave the islands. Over ten thousand Japanese troops have been rescued from a horrible death. Many of the troops will not be fit for further service and the others will take many months to return to health. “The flag of the Rising Sun flutters no more at Guadalcanal.”
February 9th — General Patch of the U.S. Army announces that the Japanese have been driven from Guadalcanal. The battle for Guadalcanal is now officially over.