Born in Madera, Clearfield County in Pennsylvania. Branic enlisted in the U. S. Marine Corps in New York.
On August 18, 1942 L Company 3rd battalion 5th Marines began their combat patrol that became known as Matanikau One. Probing six miles westward to the Matanikau River the Marines found that the Japanese had set up a strong defensive position at the river mouth. In fact on the 12th August the Divisional intelligence officer, Col. Goettge had lost his life and 21 men in a 25 man amphibious landing on the western side of the Matanikau. L/3/5 were given the task of crossing the river upstream and attacking the Japanese at the river mouth.
On the afternoon of the 18th August they had reached the crossing point, which was near a small stream running into the Matanikau. It was planned that they would bivouac the night there and cross the river the next day. The executive officer, Lt. George Mead Jr., observed a ridgeline on the other side of the river (Hill 73) opposite their planned camp. He became concerned that it could threaten L/3/5’s security if the Japanese were occupying the ridge.
Fording the river and climbing the hill Lt. Mead decided that the Company would bivouac there for the night as the position gave fine tactical views and the long grass provided excellent concealment. He then brought the Company onto the hill. At dawn the next day the Japanese spotted the Marines and brought mortars and small arms fire onto the position. During this action Sgt John Harold Branic was hit and killed. L/3/5 buried Sgt Branic and then proceeded with their mission keeping to the east of a protecting ridgeline out of sight from the Japanese.
L/3/5 then made their way to a hill overlooking Japanese positions at the Matanikau village and made final preparations for the attack. That hill is now the site of the Catholic Church, Holy Cross. L/3/5 then engaged the Japanese in a successful attack and took the position killing 65 Japanese. Unfortunately Lt. Mead was killed while intercepting Japanese trying to outflank the Marines. Before being ordered back over the Matanikau and back into the perimeter L/3/5 saw and identified remains of the Goettge patrol that had been killed 7 days earlier.
In 1992 work on the American WWII Memorial commenced on Skyline Ridge (Hill 73). Whilst excavating the top of the hill the remains of a Marine were found. The US Army’s Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii (CILHI) came and investigated the site and took remains back to Hawaii. Not being able to identify whose remains they were, a plaque for the unknown warrior was then put down on the completed memorial. While examining a sketch map of the route L/3/5 took it was noted that the hill where they spent the night of the 18th was in fact the site of the memorial. The remains found in 1992 were therefore probably those of Sgt Branic. It also struck me that it seemed very appropriate that the site of the official U. S. Memorial on Guadalcanal was in fact the first hill (Hill 73) where U. S. Marines spent the night after crossing the Matanikau.
Branic was officially declared dead on August 19, 1942 and earned the Purple Heart, posthumously. Although killed in action, his body was never recovered after the action and was officially listed as Missing In Action (MIA). He was memorialized on the tablets of the missing at Manila American Cemetery. After his remains were recovered and identified, Branic was permenantly buried at Arlington National Cemetery at section 69, site 1532.
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - John Harold Branic ""recovered"
Sgt John Harold Branic (tablets of the missing)
FindAGrave - Sgt John H. Branic (photo, grave photo)
John Innes for additional information