(August 16, 2009)
Alexander J. Mlodzianowski, former Marine and veteran of the Battle of Guadalcanal, is greeted by Col. Daniel J. Choike, commander of Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., outside Lejeune Hall during a base tour Aug. 6, 2009.
Photo by USMC LCpl. Lucas G. Lowe
| ||MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va. (August 13, 2009) |
“I came here [to Quantico] to tell a story,” said Alexander J. Mlodzianowski, former Marine and veteran of the World War II battle for the island of Guadalcanal.
At 95, Mlodzianowski stands erect, wearing a windbreaker and an inviting smile that twists the lines age has made on his face. His white hair is covered by a faded cap bearing the Marine Corps seal. He is the blueprint of an affable grandfather. However, when Mlodzianowski enlisted in the Marine Corps in March 1942, his physique intimidated people as much as it impressed them. At the time he was 27 years old and weighed 170 pounds. Hard labor in the coal yards around his hometown of Lawrence, Mass., in addition to an athletic lifestyle, had conditioned his body well, and at the time he joined the Marine Corps, Mlodzianowski was lifting more than twice his body weight.
|He happened to be working out at a local gym when President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared war on Japan.|
“I dropped everything I was doing and headed home. On my way I stopped by the pub where my friends would gather. They had heard the news. We got to talking, and one of the guys there said, ‘Let's go to Boston and sign up for the Marines!'”
The battle for Guadalcanal has been too often neglected as a part of history, according to Mlodzianowski, whose daughter, Mary, encouraged him to come to Quantico's Oral History Division. Mlodzianowski also has a personal stake in the story of Guadalcanal.
“I know I'm getting old,” he explained, “and I wanted to make sure I passed this bit of history along before it gets too late.”
It has been more than half a century since Mlodzianowski has discussed his experiences on Guadalcanal with 5th Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division. Friday marked the 67th anniversary of the morning the first wave of Marines hit the beach on Guadalcanal on Aug. 7, 1942.
The morning of the Marine Corps' first amphibious landing, Maj. Gen. Alexander A. Vandegrift, then the commander of 1st Mar. Div., offered the troops a few words of encouragement: “God favors the bold and strong of heart,” he said. Vandegrift later became the 18th commandant of the Marine Corps and on April 4, 1945, became the first Marine on active duty to achieve the rank of four-star general.
Among those whom Vandegrift addressed the morning of the landing on Guadalcanal was Mlodzianowski, whose billet as line sergeant meant he would spend most of the next five months on the island completely alone, laying communication lines under the cover of dense jungle.
|Iwakuni Marines pose for a picture with World War II veterans while visiting Gaudalcanal Aug. 6, 2009 during their islandhop trip. The Iwakuni Marines traveled to 10 islands across the Pacific to commemorate the 67th anniversary of Guadalcanal. USMC photo courtesy of Sgt. Adam Kruse|
|Mlodzianowski recalled leaving his ship to land on Guadalcanal with the first wave of the invasion.|
“I get on this half-ton truck and they lower me in a net all alone on the landing barge. I'm looking around like, ‘Hey, isn't anybody coming with me?' I'm all alone . . . As I landed I got caught between to infantry units firing, and I was in the middle, so I spent my time in a brook there up to my neck in the water. I could here the bullets coming in over my head. I figured, ‘If I get in the water, I won't get hit.'”
Equipped with mostly World War I-issued gear, which was common in the beginning of the Second World War, Mlodzianowski set out into the Japanese-infested interior of Guadalcanal in his jeep to begin laying the communication lines that enabled Marines at the front to contact the rear for necessities such as ammunition and food.
Mlodzianowski was wounded for the first time in September when shrapnel from nearby shelling hit his ankle. To make matters worse, Navy Rear Adm. Richmond K. Turner, the commander of the Pacific Fleet at Guadalcanal, had pulled his amphibious force out of the waters surrounding the island the third day of the battle due to intense Japanese harassment of its ships, leaving the Marines to fend for themselves without Navy support. Therefore, Mlodzianowski could not be medically evacuated from the island.
Never minding his wound, Mlodzianowski resumed his labor of laying down communication lines, persevering for another five months when he, along with the rest of the division, shipped for Australia on Dec. 23, 1942. He would spend the next year in Australia, taking frequent trips into the country's interior and getting to know the local populace, which included white ranchers descended from the British colonization period as well as the more primitive Aborigines.
“I got a 72 [-hour leave] one time and walked for 25 miles into the countryside outside Sydney,” recalls Mlodzianowski. “I got to this ranch and figured I would stop and get a glass of water. Someone sitting outside asked me what sort of uniform I was wearing, and I told him, ‘U.S. Marines.' Then he took me by the arm into his house and fed me a whole dinner. I guess he knew we more or less saved the whole country.”
Mlodzianowski's warm reception at the remote home of an Australian rancher might very well be due to the success of Marines who held their ground against the Japanese in the Coral Sea region.
Some historians have inferred that Japan's plans were to annex Australia, but these plans were hampered by the Marines at Guadalcanal.
Mlodzianowski had had enough of seeing the world by the time World War II ended and his military service was terminated. He returned to Lawrence, Mass., and spent most of the rest of his life working in textiles, content with keeping his memories of the war to himself.
Today, Mlodzianowski does not put off an aura of arrogance for actions that took place 67 years ago in the South Pacific Ocean, although he could probably get away with it. His merits as a former Marine include three separate citations: one from President Franklin D. Roosevelt for successes at Guadalcanal, a regimental citation from the secretary of the Navy for seizing and maintaining Guadalcanal and a personal citation from President Harry S. Truman for service to his country.
Rather, Mlodzianowski seems eager to share his story of war with the world, specifically with Marines several generations removed from his. He wants them to know.
He came to Quantico with a story. Now he has told it.
Article by USMC LCpl. Lucas G. Lowe
Marine Corps Base Quantico
Reprinted from Marine Corps News
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