RECENTLY a friend told me of his 1986 visit to Guadalcanal, where he served as an Army officer during World War II.
found the return depressing. This was the site of the first great battle in which the Japanese sweep south was stopped. Casualties were enormous. But while there was in 1986 an impressive, well-tended memorial to the Japanese war dead on the island, there was little to memorialize the heroism and sacrifice of the Americans. Just a few small tributes to different units that fought there, scattered about in generally weed-covered plots.
A 1942 New York Times editorial about the battle said, "Guadalcanal. The name will not die out of the memories of this generation. It will endure in honor." Over 40 years later it seemed the editorial was prophetic in its implication -- that the name would die with the generation that fought and won the battles.
I wrote about my friend's sadness. Soon thereafter I was informed that an effort was under way to erect a proper American memorial at Guadalcanal. The effort was initiated by a group formed after some veterans of the Southwest Pacific campaigns visited their old battle sites, much as my friend did, in the mid-1980s.
They began raising money on their own (to avoid professional fund-raisers' fees). They got Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska to win $150,000 from the federal government to help with the project.
By the end of last year, according to a letter of solicitation, the cost of the monument was at $500,000, of which the foundation still needed about $150,000.
Two peripheral monuments were completed and dedicated last year. One is a small obelisk marking a particular battle site, and one is a statue of a Solomons Islander who served as a scout for the Allies.
The final design of the main monument has been completed by the U.S. American Battle Monuments Commission in Washington. It needs only the finishing touches of a local architect adapting it to the site. It sounds impressive.
It will be located on a high elevation on the island, from whicvisitors can look in all directions at important battle scenes. There will be a granite pylon four feet square and 24 feet tall. There will be what the commission calls "tributary words." There will be a small plaza and four "directional" granite walls, pointing toward sites of combat. The walls will also include tributes and descriptions of the battles.
With such a memorial in place, perhaps the name "Guadalcanal" will long endure after the generation whose efforts gave the word its resonance, just as "Antietam" and "Gettysburg" endure.
At least that's the hope of the commission and the foundation. They also hope to be able to complete the work by next year, the 50th anniversary of the campaign.
Want to know more? Write Robert C. Muehrcke, Chairman, Guadalcanal Solomons Island War Memorial Foundation, P.O. Box 56189, Harwood Heights, Ill., 60656.