“We Thought They Were All Around Us:” A Marine Officer at Guadalcanal
James Wagner grew up on a farm in Virginia in a family of 10. He was attending the University of Richmond where he studied psychology and sociology when the Marines recruited him in May of 1941 in their build up prior to the nation’s entry into WWII. In this interview he describes December 7, 1941 when he was on liberty in Washington D.C. from his base in Quantico, Virginia. He talks about deploying to New Zeeland in June, 1942 but getting diverted to Guadalcanal. He describes the Battle of the Tenaru River on Guadalcanal on August 21, 1942 and the living conditions on the island. After being pulled out of Guadalcanal, he was stationed in Australia where he met his wife, Betty Bernard. After training and refitting in Melbourne Australia, his unit fought in the Battle of Peleliu from September to November 1944. He talks about how difficult it was to get the Japanese Soldiers out of the caves and bunkers they had built as defenses. He discusses a Medal of Honor recipient, Everett Pope, and his personal interactions with Chesty Puller. He describes being rotated home before the Battle of Okinawa. Once he returned home, he was assigned to Quantico, Virginia where he applied his knowledge to train young Marines who were preparing to deploy. He remained in the Marines as a Reserve Officer, and during the Korean War, he worked on a local draft board. He retired from the Marines as a Lieutenant Colonel. Stay tuned at the end of the video – we come back and he recounts an experience on Peleliu when he was under an artillery barrage.