Review: Guadalcanal Diary, by Richard Tregaskis

Dick Tregaskis was a legendary American war correspondent who covered the Second World War, Korea and Vietnam. When he was just 26 years old, he accompanied Marines who landed on the island of Guadalcanal with the goal of taking it back from the Japanese. This book — his best-known work — tells the story of the first three months of that battle, which lasted many more months, and which ended in an American victory.

The historical significance of Guadalcanal consisted of the fact that it was the first land battle between American and Axis troops during the Second World War (the U.S. landing in North Africa came a few months later).

But Tregaskis was not interested in the broad strategy. This is history told at ground level, stories of men (always identified by their home town – e.g., Lieut. Col. William S. Fellers of Atlanta, Ga.) engaged in personal combat. Encounters with Japanese snipers, enemy craft bombarding the shore, Zero fighters coming in to bomb and strafe, are still frightening to read now, eight decades later.

Tregaskis does find some men who panic, some who flee, some who hide — but the vast majority display incredible heroism under fire. However, his description of the enemy is unflattering in the extreme and will make for uncomfortable reading today.