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Bill Coggin
HQ Company, 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines
Interview by Peter Flahvin

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Bill Coggin, 1998

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Dandenong Camp 1943
Bill Coggin (left) and friends at
1st Marine scout / sniper school

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Bill Coggin (foreground, hands behind head) 2nd Bat /1st Marines ; near Henderson Field 8th Aug 42

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Henderson Field Today

Bill Coggin
Sgt. Bill Coggin with captured
Japanese Machine Gun at
Cape Gloucester Feb. 13, 1944

Bill Coggin
Guadalcanal 1942
Friendly Fire
Japanese Counter Attacks
Defense South of the Airfield
Tenaru
Defense West of Lunga River
Guadalcanal September - October
Dauntless Dive Bomber Crash - December
Cape Gloucester

Bill Coggin
I was in Hq.Co. 2Bn. 1st.Marines { Reg. }. Bn.C.O. was Lt. Col. Pollock. I was in the Bn. intelligence section. At Bn. level it was pretty basic.Patrolling, maintaining observation posts and trying to keep our current position plotted on the poor maps we had. The majority of us were recent recruits { Jan. 42. }and had been aboard ship since mid June so we were ill prepared for the campaign.It was a learning experience for all of us. Now I live in Topsfield, MA.

Guadalcanal 1942
Our maps of that time showed the Ilu River as the Tenaru. The Ilu was farther east  at Red Beach where we landed. We crossed this river ? { more like a creek }many times as it wound like a snake inland { south }. After landing at Red beach our Bn.s mission was to proceed on a compass azimuth to the top Grassy Knoll and command the high ground behind the airfield.We never got there. After 2 days of hacking through the jungle [ single file this made a long column ] the Co. commander [ G ] abandoned the mission.

We withdrew north toward the beach by wading {up to our armpits } down the Ilu We came out of the river where a large unit had crossed into the southern end of a long grass field and then south up onto a high open ridge.{ this field was the same one later defended by the 3rd & 2nd. Bns. } There was a telephone wire alongside the trail so contact was made with the unit that had passed. It turned out to be the rest or our Bn.As we were taking a break there a person in army fatigues scanned us with a camera [this photo showed up in history books ]

We followed the wire up onto high open ground until darkness and then laid down where we were.This was Aug.8th.It was hard trying to sleep on hard coral ground.As there was intermit rain we were under our ponchos.

Sometime after midnight a plane flew over. It sounded so different from ours I knew it was Japanese. It dropped a series of flares that lit up the area like day.We felt naked being exposed on that open ridge. Later after the flares went out we heard  naval gun fire and flashes on the horizon to the north west.This lasted a while and it then it was quiet.[ This was the Battle Of Savo Island that was a disaster for the U S Navy ]

The next  morning[Aug 9th] we made contact with the rest of our Bn. up ahead of us and was told our mission to Grassy Knoll was cancelled as the 5th Marines and balance of the 1st Marines had occupied the airfield. Also our ship USS George F. Elliott  had been sunk during an air raid the day before.The last 2 days we had U S planes overflying us [SBD s& F4Fs ]also sporadic rifle & machine gun fire on the ground.This day was quiet, no planes or ground fire.

Our Battalion was the last to withdraw to the beach and was given the mission of defending against seaborn attack {north} and along the Tenaru {east} and with a open flank some distance south of the sand spit.I am including this prelude to the Teneru battle so you might understand how vulnerable we were and lucky that the Japanese were so arrogant and stupid to believe that one of theirs {with his willingness to die for his Emperor} was equal to10 Caucasians.

      This was a strange time.{Aug 10th-20th} We were elated it had been so easy.{ lower ranks weren't told of losses at Savo} and yet we knew because of the food situation we were in trouble.

There was no mosquitoes or jungle growth to contend with in the palm grove along the beach and western bank of the Tenaru lagoon. Our C.P. was approx.200yds.west of Tenaru and 100yds.south of the beach.Our O.P. was on the beach north of the C.P. There was a coastal road running East & West.There was a herd of 4-6 horses on the Lunga plain also Brahma cattle some if which were sloughed for meat.I saw Chevvy trucks with Jap marking's being driven by Marines. There was a lot of material such as photo albums, candy, toothpowder, sake and lumber also rice & oatmeal.This was all put to good use.Our food situation was critical right away.We found out eating coconuts could cause diarrhea and some of us paid that price.

Friendly Fire
During the first week on the island units got separated from each other and not knowing " who was where" fire fights would break out between friendly units most often at night.Unfortunately this resulted in causalities. Later with more experience and knowledge of the location of friendly units available this was less of a problem. Still one had to be very careful moving around at night.I lost a very good friend at Pelilu {I wasn't there} going to the head at night.

When any American ship was unloading offshore {daylight} our planes couldn't fly near them for fear of getting shot down. Our high ridge O.P. observed a Wildcat in trouble,smoking engine,wheels down having to approach over the ocean to land and a merchant ship shooting at it with every gun it had.Fortunately it made the landing. No American aircraft was easier to identify. Men under pressure are trigger happy.

Before we had aircraft on Henderson I remember a B-17 buzzing the beach head and showing up almost every day until our planes arrived.Aug.19th.the destroyer incident occurred.{we watched this with our 19power scope}These ships had disembarked the first Jap troops to our east.

Some of our equipment proved to be faulty.[hand held radios & Reising sub machine gun]Word of the Savo Is.battle was getting around and we were beginning to understand our predicament.Patrols stripped wire off plantation fences to use at our defense positions.

Around this time most of the Div.intelligence sect.were killed.[Goettge Patrol]One of our Sgt's was transferred there. All marine units provide their own security at night and those on watch would sometimes fire at suspected Jap.infiltrates resulting in return fire from other marines.The use of passwords was supposed to prevent this.It never really did.

Japanese Counter Attacks
Occasionally a Jap sub would surface off Lunga Point. A 75mm Half track would shoot at it and force it farther off shore.At sunrise Aug.19th. our O.P. reported 2 Jap.destroyers on the horizon steaming back & forth apparently shelling Tulagi.This went on until a B-17 arrived and dropped 2 bombs and left. One bomb hit the stern of one of the ships and started a fire which soon went out as they left.

Jap planes started flying over around Aug.11.They didn't bomb at first but then did so on a daily basis usually arriving about noon.They were twin engine Betty's [27 in V formation] Occasionally our 90m.m.A.A knocked one down.

Defense South of the Airfield
The next day Aug.20th.late afternoon the first American planes landed on Henderson Field.[SBDs&F4Fs] Everyone cheered anticipating tomorrow's aerial combat.

Our 1st. position was defending the beach and inland a short ways along the Tenaru { Ilu } river. {more like a lagoon } on the right {east } flank of the perimeter. At that time it was all coconut grove extending from Lunger to Koli pt.along the beach and inland 100 - 300 yds. After the battle at Tenaru the Pioneer Bn. built a tank barricade across the sandspit, more wire was strung and more machine gun positions dug and all positions with overhead. I'm sure there were no B-17's stationed on Henderson while we were there. I remember C-47's & PBY's landing occasionally but nothing larger.

The 3rd.Bn. 1st.took up position extending south from our position on the tenaru {previously undefended }It ran along a wide kunai grass field {1-300 yards .} approx. 600yds.and ended against high ground curving back into the jungle with a open flank. This line generally faced east across a open high grass field. Immediately behind this defense line was approx.200yds.of jungle, the grass fighter strip and then Henderson Field.

History records more accurate than I  the actions of the Japs. I do know we had patrol contact and we were probed at night at the Tenaru. 3rd Bn.was attacked at night and next day Marine tanks were knocked out in the field in front of them.This all culminated in the battle of Edson's Ridge.

In the middle of Sept.   2nd. Bn. relieved 3rd. Bn.I think they went to Kukom and then the Matanikau R. We {2nd.Bn.} were in that position until Oct.13. It involved patrolling every day,to the East,following the main trail the Japs had cut to the south of our perimeter, bringing back Jap equipt. and sick stragglers from the battle of Edson's Ridge.

Members of our section were fortunate whereas we kept the Bn. situation map in the Col.'s C.P.we were privy to information not readily available to the rifleman.Also we had ties with Reg.& Div. 2 Sections where former 2nd.Bn. section members had transferred to.They {Burnham from Div.} would visit us and give the latest scoop.{sometimes just rumors too}

Tenaru
Our section was bivouacked near the Col.s tent with our foxholes nearby.Around midnight a lot of activity occurred and about an hour later all hell broke at the Tenaru.There was constant rifle&machine gun fire also shouting and the heavy thump of a 37mm A.T. gun.This continued all night.The Bn.switchboard was busy all night and next day.

At dawn the Col.left in his jeep. A "G" co.platoon moved up the beach toward the Tenaru.Planes took off at this time also outbound artillery rounds were passing over head. We were in our foxholes facing a little clearing to our south. In about an hour our section chief suggested some of us go to the Tenaru where the Col.was as observers.Scotty,Burnham and myself did so.

As we approached the front we passed a Am. Tractor { Alligator} parked about 40 yds.from the action}behind which the two Bn. Dr.were attending the wounded.Scotty chose to stay there and lay in a foxhole in front of the tractor.Burnham and I advanced to the edge of the lagoon and out onto the beach at the beginning of the sandspit.There were two empty foxholes dug in the sand just below the beach bank at the edge of the palm trees.We occupied these.

Col. Pollock was standing and walking around erect telling everyone to stay low and squeeze them off.His jeep was parked nearby with bullet holes in it. Jap bodies covered the sandspit from the waters edge slightly behind us to the opposite grove across the lagoon.

"G" co.had set up a 60mm Mortar section and was dropping shells in the edge of the grove across the lagoon.When the shells exploded in addition to bodies and parts flying there was clouds of dust and the Japs would run trying to take advantage of the concealment.They didn't get very far as many rifles would fire.Occassionally one would rise out of the bodies on the sandspit with the same result.One actually stood up and surrendered waving a white handkerchief only 40ft.in front of marine rifle's.

This went on for quite a while before the firing slacked off and the word came the 1st.Bn.was advancing from the south & east.During this time Jap fire came our way. Rifle fire hit the sand in front of us and near the Colonel's feet as he was standing near us.Also a mortar barrage hit the top of palm trees showering us with coconuts.This same barrage hit the aid station behind the Am. Trac.killing one Doctor and wounding others including Scotty who took a piece of shrapnel in his buttock.

Like everyone else Burnham and I had fired our rifles and emptied our cartridge belts.{100rds.} and then some.As it was pretty much over when we got there I don't feel we contributed much more then being executioners.Not enough credit can be given to those who held these positions during the night.

After the middle of the day the sun was very strong.The carnage and odor became unbearable. I actually vomited.I went back to the C P for a while.On the way I passed The surviving doctor [Dr. Goldman] He looked worse than I felt. After awhile I went back and rejoined Burnham.We watched the tanks moping up in the grove across the lagoon and we saw the tank crew rescue incident then we left.

During the night there was sporadic rifle fire from our side of the lagoon. The next day the burial detail was busy with a bulldozer and Jap [Koreans?] prisoners. I heard the count was around 800.There was all kinds of equipment laying around. These people were well equipped. Among the things no body had any interest in were some pieces of pipe about 4ft. long. A few days later I was at an new O.P. location near the sandspit.A marine was boiling clothes over a open grated fire.Unfortunately he was standing close to it when it exploded. He was killed.These pipes were bangalore torpedoes for removing barb wire.We could have used that 6 mon.training at New Zealand. I spent much time at this new O P location

Defense West of Lunga River
After the night of the Battleships Oct.13. we were relieved by Army troops and moved to the south west of Henderson.This was an area of high coral ridges {sparse , thin grass } and thick jungle ravines.This area was only lightly defended and the rifle co.'s had a difficult time cutting heavy jungle and digging into coral to prepare positions. We had a O. P. on the highest ridge and with a 20 power scope we had a view of the whole perimeter also to the west where the Japs beached 4 ships.

We sent patrols every day along the ridge tops to the base of Grassy Knoll {about 1 mile} From the top the Japs had a good view of our perimeter. Along with the airfield they shelled us constantly.They located our Bn.C.P.in a ravine between 2 open ridge tops and laid shells on both ridges. There was casualties and we finally moved theC.P.

Guadalcanal - September - October 1942
Everyone was angry and griping when we got the word to relieve the 3rd.Bn.on our inland right flank.We hated to leave our strong positions on the Tenaru and the pleasant palm grove where there were no mosquitoes and little mud.

Our new defense line ran north to south along the western jungle edge of a wide kunai grass field approx 600 yds.and then curving back west into the jungle a short distance with an open flank.Facing east across the field{1-300yds.wide}was a tree line that bordered the Ilu creek .It was from here the Japs had launched their attack across the field against 3rd.Bn.positions on the western edge that we now occupied.Also from here Jap gunners had knocked out Marine tanks in the field the morning after the attack.

At the Tenaru we had Jap probing action at the same time as the 3rd. Bn.action.I seem to remember it happened after "Bloody Ridge" but I can't be sure.

From our new position daily patrols went out to the east.As usual for this time they were full company size and important enough to warrant the attention of the Regimental Intelligent Officer {Capt. Hunt} who participated along with 2nd. Bn. Intelligence people.

The area to the east was flat grasslands intersected by patches of jungle that lined the waterways meandering to the coast.The Japs had cut a trail from the east to the Ilu and then south onto jungle covered high ground.It was deemed this was the unit that hit "Bloody Ridge".Many interesting things were found on this trail.

At the turnback point in a big open high grass field {6ft.some places} a Jap Zero had crash landed and burned.The fuselage and wing frames were still intact but no sign of the pilot.In these high grass fields sometimes cattle would jump up and go charging off.Whereas you couldn't see them it would be quite startling to say the least.

On one patrol a Jap 75mm. mountain gun was found hidden near the trail.It was easily disassembled and had harness's for man carry or dragging all assembled.We dragged it until almost dusk and then hid it with the intention of going back for it the next day.The next day it was gone.On another occasion we found a sick Jap following the trail. The word was out for live prisoners so he had to be carried back.There was much griping over that.We learned the Japs cut their trails with hand saws instead of machetes. It was much more quiet.

Going on these patrols we passed a Marine tank stuck in the Ilu creekbed between the high banks.The upper half was burnt and there was the stench of death as we passed.

Just a short distance past the tank off the trail there were two bloated Jap bodies.In just a few days they were reduced to skeletons in uniform.

We were only at this location about 3 weeks during which there was a full moon.I remember our O.P.group at the edge of the field playing cards by moonlight. We didn't have planes taking off over us constantly as at the Tenaru{there they would test fire their guns right over us and the brass would come whistling down.}The air raids were still a daily event.

We had an Army Officer that had been flown in and was staying near our O.P.so we knew the first army troops were due.We had been told we would be relieved by 164th Reg.{N.Dakota Nat. Gd.} and we would take up new positions across the Lunga,S.West of the airfield.The day they arrived,after unloading they had to spend their first night on the beach.

We had become used to the navel shelling at night,but when this started we knew this was something different.The star shells,salvos of six,and the heavy impact concussion. {the ground shook.}Fortunately for us we were not that close to Henderson.{ about 1 mile I would guess} but we still had a 14" base plate land near "E" Company's galley.

The next morning our army relief showed up bedragled and bleary eyed.Some Marines had to say "You ain't seen nothing yet", which was of course "Bull". These men on average were older than us.{any Marine private over 25 gets called Pop.} and were carrying M1 Garands which we admired.

That first day,myself and other marines went on patrol with an army platoon to familiarise them with the area.It was uneventful except for the usual air raid around noon. That morning we learned there were Heavy Jap Ships west of the Matanikau unloading troops and equipment and there was little our demolished air force could do about it.

We left this location feeling we were being moved into harms way not knowing that in  12-14 days those defending this corner and the line extended west would be severely tested.

Dauntless Dive Bomber Crash - December 1942
Your notes mention a S.B.D. crashing in the jungle. I believe I was a witness to that.At our new command post location at dusk, we were all in our sacks.This was very thick jungle with areas cleared only for tents , galley and paths.As usual for this hour planes were passing overhead to land.One plane's propeller started clipping the tree tops and he cut the power. He came down thru trees bringing branches and debris and landed with a thud. No explosion.

We rushed toward the sound.He landed on the path between the tent area and the galley.About 100 yds. separates the two.He had hit a big tree at almost ground level and had spun around 180  The engine was laying to one side with just a flicker of fire..As it was dark a lantern was brought out.Only the fuselage remained in one piece.

The pilot was a Marine Capt {Captain Bill Spang} .alive, incoherent and in bad shape.He was a big man.They cut him out of the plane and onto a stretcher where the Bn. doctor attended him but to no avail. The next day airfield ordinance arrived to salvage the 1000 lb bomb that had jarred loose but didn't explode.I hadn't noticed the aerial gunner but had heard he was O K. Your notes tell me this happened Dec.5.

After more study of your information I am convinced the plane in the photo.has to be the plane that crashed into our C P.

The darkness and restricted light from the lantern would explain my not seeing the wings as everything was focused on removing the pilot who was completely exposed with nothing in front of him except a few strands of metal and cable. The next day I had to leave early to accompany a G Company patrol, which was a daily routine event.When I returned late afternoon the ordinance people had already left.

As this happened 58 yrs ago I can't be sure of my memory but I don't remember seeing that plane again or any parts of it. It would have been logical for ordinance to remove it along with the bomb as it would've been a safety hazard {gasoline} so close to our living area (only yards). It being a Carrier plane I assume the wings folded and with the loss of weight {engine & bomb} it wouldn't be as difficult as I first thought .Anyway it was moved at that time or later. This C P location was not that close to the Lunga R. I can only guess 3 or 400 yds. or more.

The crash site was in thick jungle and the plane had spun around creating a small clearing as it came to rest. Radio Section people were the first there and were the ones that pulled the pilot out. I don't recall seeing wings left on the plane.There was no odor of gas and the rescue person was standing on something so there must have been at least partial wings left. I wasn't there the next day when the bomb was removed. It was difficult I heard because the ground was so soft.

I do remember clearly Capt.bars on the pilots shirt and a wedding ring with others on his left hand.We left the area around the 15th of December.I don't remember clearly but I think the plane was still where it fell{along with the engine closeby}.It was probably 50 yds. or so to the galley where there was a jeep & truck road , so I suppose it could have been dragged out with some difficulty.I can't see this happening with the wings left on unless they cut down jungle.

Your location of the plane (west bank of the Lunga) on the aerial photo is exactly right.We couldn't see the Lunger River,but we knew we were close to it. Facing south our defense line started on our left on a very high bare ridge { where our Bn, O. P. was } F Company  extending west into jungle ravines {E & G Co.'s} some distance onto high ground again.I don't remember who was on our right flank { If anyone }.

History books have shown a solid line of defense around the airfield. This was not possible, but always an objective.On our left from our high ridge {F Company} east down to the Lunga it was thick jungle .Exact distance not known ,but not far. I don't believe there were any defense positions on our side of the river. As was the practice it was no doubt covered by artillery & mortar concentrations.

We spent longer at this location than any where else { 2 months. } and in that time the battle reached a climax and turned around in our favor.From our high ridge O P we saw some remarkable air battles. Also probably the shortest bomb mission ever. a SBD  would take off, turn west, just get his wheels up and drop bombs on 4 Jap ships beached.

About 10 days later we were relieved and went to beach to await transport.By this time we were all down to skin & bones and couldn't climb a cargo net. On December 23, 1942 we went aboard President Johnson and was our way to the Melbourne Cricket Grounds.

Cape Gloucester
Mr. Coggin recalls New Britain natives and the pidgin english spoken there:
"Belly belongum me cryum out" means I am hungry.
"Balus shitum along sky" means Airplane drop bombs.

The New Britain natives talked so fast, mispronouncing and running words together I could never understand them. Amazingly Bob Emery could and they would understand him and obey his instructions.They could throw up a leanto shelter in a very short time.

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