November 13, 2013 – Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands
Last night, just as the sun was setting, we passed this volcanic island, Kolombangara, which is the island near which John F. Kennedy’s PT boat was cut in half by a Japanese destroyer, running at high speed, lights out, down “The Slot” (New Georgia Sound) which ran between the parallel chains of the Solomon Islands. The Slot, was the name given by our troops for the passageway controlled by the Japanese which allowed them to resupply and replenish their troops on Guadalcanal from Rabaul (our port on the 11th). They called this continual convoy the Tokyo Express. Kennedy’s boat was sunk in the summer of 1943, at a time we held Guadalcanal, and were moving up the Solomon chain toward Rabaul. He got his crew to the small island of Plum Pudding Island, and subsequently to a slightly larger one which had coconuts they could eat, and was saved by Solomon Island scouts, posing as fishermen in dugout canoes. The coconut on which he carved his “rescue” message stayed on his desk in the oval office.
We are the largest cruise ship to call on Guadalcanal, and the only one in the last 12 years, so these folks gave us quite a welcome. We are accustomed to bands and traditional costumes, but this the first time we have been literally attacked by headhunters!
Following the successful attack, the warriors’ band appeared and played a spirited and most unusual combination of pan flute and drum songs –a most unusual accompaniment to our debarking.
The first European to arrive in the Solomons was a Spaniard, Alvaro de Mendana in 1568. He gave them their name when he discovered some gold on Guadalcanal and assumed he had discovered King Solomon’s mines. He is also responsible for the Spanish names given most of the islands in this area. The Solomons became a British protectorate in 1893 and gained their independence in 1978. They remain a member of the British Commonwealth.
This town, Honoria, is the capital of the Solomon Islands, and was built completely from scratch by the British following the end of WWII when they moved the capital from Tulagi, across the bay – there was nothing here prior. Tourism is just beginning to grow here, following a period of civil unrest during which there was significant fighting and civil disobedience throughout the Solomons. This civil unrest, caused by tribal rivalries, broke out in 1998, and caused Australia and neighboring Pacific island nations to create a regional assistance effort in 2003 to bring things under control. Hostilities ended and the nation is back on track with an elected government in place.
The main areas of interest on Guadalcanal, at least for us, are the WWII sites. So we launch out on our tour to see them. The first stop is the American War Memorial –which is quite impressive, with its large granite plaques detailing the Battle of Guadalcanal.
We traveled past Henderson field (so named by us after we captured it), the partially built airfield that started this battle. Guadalcanal itself was not particularly strategic – we invaded with a relatively small force to take this field before it was finished, and then it is as if the two sides, Admiral Yamamoto, Commanding the entire Japanese pacific Forces, and Admiral Nimitz, his Allied counterpart, picked this spot to settle things. For months, both sides sent in troops, planes and ships, in a massive gamble, which we eventually won – turning back the Japanese expansion which had gone unchecked since the 1930s.
A glimpse of Henderson field as it is today.
We next visited Edson’s Ridge, which sits near Henderson field and was the site of a battle, that if one could point to a single battle as “the” turning point, would be such a battle. A Marine Raider battalion and a Marine Paratroop company, led by Colonel Edson, occupied this ridge, above Henderson field and held it against multiple attacks, over several days, against overwhelming odds. He received the Congressional Medal of Honor for his valor at this place.
Edson’s Ridge in 1942 – note Henderson field in the background. In the picture of me below, I am standing on the point marked “1” in the 1942 picture.
Since I was a child I have seen John Wayne and others on Guadalcanal, and then in Marine Corps boot camp, this battle was drilled in to us, but nothing can describe standing on the very ground that this occurred and thinking how much we owe those young men, fresh out of high school, who turned the war around on this spot. From this point, on this ridge, barely 9 months after Pearl Harbor, the Japanese began a grudging retreat, fighting for each island as we advanced toward Japan.
This article from the local paper shows what a big deal this visit was to the local economy – the first ship in many years.
Solomon Star News
HONIARA was graced on Wednesday with a 10 hour stop-over by cruise liner Ms Amsterdam.
Carrying more than 900 passengers on its maiden voyage to the Solomon Islands, the tourists flocked the city soon after disembarking at 8am by visiting various parts of the country as well as walking through the city.
The cruise ship berthed at the main Port Cruz wharf between 7am to 5pm.
It’s understood the visit by Ms Amsterdam was by far the biggest cruise ship to have visited the country in many years.
The 10 hours allowed the visiting passengers to tour some of the attraction sites in the capital especially the World War II battle grounds.
Local agents earlier said the visit was a very important visit to boost the tourism industry of Solomon Islands.
“It will be an opportunity to showcase Solomon Islands a true destination to visit and a chance to lure Ms Amsterdam on a second return in the near future.
“More so make attraction for other cruise liners to consider adding Solomon Islands to their itineraries.”
With the morning sun following by the slightly showers later in the afternoon, the tourists were able to visit some of the sites in and around the city.
These included the second world sites, monuments, handicraft stalls, the market, shops and watch cultural entertainments.
Yesterday, local craftsmen and women, woodcarvers, artists, weavers and dancers were able to take advantage of the visit to showcase their products and dances along the streets and at the art gallery and national museum.
Given the wide range of local arts and crafts on display the tourists were able to buy themselves souvenirs of their visit to Solomon Islands.
At the Solomon Islands Ports Authority (SIPA) ground in Point Cruz the Solomon Islands women in business association members erected stalls to display their products.
For the locals the visit allow them to earn some extra income through the sales of their products and also through the hiring of their buses and taxis.
The highlight of the day for the guests was the day long cultural entertainment at the National Museum and Art Gallery where they were able to see some of the different cultures displaying their cultural dances.
Despite the heat, a number of visiting tourists enjoyed their brief visit.
Bernard Silverman from Montana, United States, said he enjoyed his visit around the city.
He added the visit is significant because Solomon Islands was one of the battle grounds during the second world war.
Dietrich Heinicke from Germany who now lives in Canada said it was good to see a lot of lovely local artefacts being put on display.
He also bought few souvenirs to remind him of his visit to the Solomon Islands.
Number of tourists opted to enjoy their time out walking along the streets and mingling with the locals.
Some even visited the shops and the main market to buy themselves local fruits to eat.
A number of Honiara residents applauded the visit saying it’s helping to promote the country’s tourism image.
However, one of the notable issues yesterday was the traffic jam which was time consuming for the visitors who are traveling in buses visiting some of the sites in and around the city.
The cruise liner left Honiara after 5pm to continue on its journey.
Our “sail away” celebration.