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Saving Guadalcanal

By France Griggs Sloat

On Sept. 13, 1942, John Sweeney’s company of Marines was alone on a ridge surrounded by Japanese soldiers. Three other Marine companies had pulled back to protect Henderson Field, the U.S.-held airstrip on Guadalcanal. His company, part of the 1st Marine Raider Battalion, dug in and waited, watching for enemy movement. Sweeney, a 24-year-old member of the Class of 1940, and his men provided the first line of defense between the Japanese and the airstrip. For two days, they took on the Japanese Army in what became known as the Battle of Bloody Ridge, many times clashing face to face in the dark, engaging in combat with rifles and bayonets.

“The jungle was very close to the ridge line, and most of the enemy would get close in by crawling on the ground and then would rise up with a lot of shouting and screaming,” says Sweeney, 88, a retired colonel. “The Battle of Bloody Ridge turned away the first major attack of the Japanese and got us the reputation for saving Guadalcanal.”

Sweeney was awarded the Navy Cross for his leadership and in the years since has been featured in two books recounting Guadalcanal and, most recently, interviewed on a History Channel show titled “Shootout! Guadalcanal” that aired last spring. He enjoys contributing to the historic record, he says. “I haven’t been back to Bloody Ridge, but I would like to. We were very lucky.”

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