“This is our holy land”
The words of US General Robert Neller echoed around the US memorial this morning, as hundreds of US, Australian and New Zealand troops, scores of tourists and local Solomon Islanders looked on.
The General, who is Commandant of the US Marine Corps, was pointing in the direction of Bloody Ridge, the area – which you can see from the memorial at Honiara’s Skyline Ridge – where thousands of US and Japanese troops lost their lives in a battle which started 75 years ago today.
The four-star general said the area meant so much to him – and his fellow marines – that he needed to do something.
“I hope you don’t mind Governor General,” he said, directing his comments to the Solomon Islands Governor General Sir Frank Kabui.
“But I’m going out to Bloody Ridge today and I’m going dig and take a little bit of it home with me.”
It is a request that reiterates the importance of the Battle of Guadalcanal to the marines and the US armed forces as a whole.
“Too many people died,” he said. “But this is our legacy, and makes up who we are today. We have to remember our past to understand our future.”
The memorial, which also looks over Iron Bottom Sound where scores of men lost their lives in the conflict, played host to the first ceremony of the 75th anniversary at dawn this morning.
The ceremony included speeches from Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, who said it was a day to also remember the “brave Solomon Islanders” who rose above adversity to help forge relationships into the future.
The ceremony began with a fly-over by the US Coastguard plane and later, WWII historian John Innes was awarded the silver medal of honour by the Solomon Islands Government.
Later in the day the crowd moved to Commonwealth Street for a ceremony in front of the Scouts and Coastwatchers monument, which recognises the role Solomon Islanders played in the conflict.
Then the commemorations moved to the Yacht Club for a ceremony recognising Douglas Albert Munro – the only member of the United States Coast Guard to have received the Medal of Honor, the United States’s highest military award.
More ceremonies are set to take place today, tomorrow and Wednesday.