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Remembering the first Coast Guardsman to be awarded Medal of Honor

By DONALD W. MEYERS | Yakima Herald-Republic, Wash. | Published: April 10, 2017

YAKIMA, Wash. (Tribune News Service) — Even among the 472 Medal of Honor recipients of World War II, Douglas Munro stands out.

The South Cle Elum resident was the first — and so far only — U.S. Coast Guardsman to earn the nation’s highest award for valor. Like many Medal of Honor recipients, Munro was awarded the medal posthumously, having been killed while evacuating U.S. Marines from an island in the South Pacific.

He was born in Vancouver, British Columbia, Oct. 11, 1919, the son of James and Edith Munro. The family eventually moved to South Cle Elum, where Munro graduated from Cle Elum High School in 1937, and attended Central Washington College of Education (now Central Washington University) for a year before enlisting in the Coast Guard in 1939.

In the Coast Guard, Munro rose through the ranks, eventually becoming a Signalman First Class. His service record showed he received consistently excellent and perfect marks for conduct and ability.

One shipmate noted that Munro would participate in ship’s boxing matches, using the skills he learned in college.

On Sept. 20, 1942, Munro and four others set out in a small boat to search for two men whose dive bomber was forced down off Savo Island in the Solomon Islands. Unknown to Munro, the air crew had been rescued by a flying boat, but he and his crew braved enemy fire searching for them.

A week later, Munro was commanding a group of 10 Higgins landing craft carrying Marines to Matanikau Island during the Guadalcanal campaign. After dropping the men on a narrow beach, the boats returned to their rendezvous point.

There they learned that things were going bad on Matanikau. The Japanese force was larger than expected, and the Marines needed immediate evacuation.

Munro volunteered to lead the boats back. Under withering fire, the Higgins boats pulled up on the beach and loaded Marines.

As the evacuation continued under heavy fire, Munro ordered his and several other boats to pull in close and provide covering fire for the remaining Marines on the beach. Munro was manning one of the landing craft’s machine guns when he was hit by Japanese fire and mortally wounded.

Ray Evans, Munro’s shipmate, said Munro’s last words were “Did they get off?” The official Navy account said that when told the Marines made it off the beach, Munro died with a smile on his face.

“Believe me, Doug is one of the real heroes of this war,” Marine Master Sgt. James Hurlbutt wrote in a letter to Munro’s father.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt presented Munro’s parents with the Medal of Honor their son earned during a May 24, 1943, ceremony at the White House.

Edith Munro, his mother, enlisted in the Coast Guard’s women’s reserve, commanding the reserve’s Seattle barracks and retiring at the end of the war with the rank of lieutenant. She also christened a Navy destroyer escort named in honor of her son. Two Coast Guard cutters were also named for him, the first in 1971 and a second more recently a 378-foot cutter

In November 2013 the Coast Guard dedicated its Washington, D.C., headquarters the “Douglas A. Munro Coast Guard Building.”

A Coast Guard cutter, USCGC Munro, was commissioned in 1971, and is slated to be decommissioned, while a new cutter bearing Munro’s name was April 1 commissioned in Seattle.

©2017 Yakima Herald-Republic (Yakima, Wash.)
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World War II Medal of Honor recipient Douglas Munro.
U.S. COAST GUARD

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