Gadi Lawton had another flare-up of malaria this fall. Malaria is a souvenir he brought back to Indianapolis from Guadalcanal. Most all the leathernecks there during World War II brought it home with them.
Gadi, 89, is among the World War II veterans disappearing at a rate of 1,000 a day. Once numbering 16 million, there are now fewer than 2.5 million. Gadi didn't want his name used in this column, but there was no way around it.
He wrote an eloquent letter this past August, asking if I would remind readers about the hundreds of thousands of sacrifices that were made in Guadalcanal so we can live the way we do.
The Japanese were building an airstrip on Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands. Once completed, the airstrip would have interrupted supply lines with Australia and given the Japanese control over the entire Pacific from New Zealand to the Aleutian Islands.
On August 7, 1942, the Marines landed in the Solomon Islands. They handily took possession of the airstrip on Guadalcanal but encountered fierce fighting across the sound on Tulagi and several smaller islands. Supplies were brought ashore, but air attacks hindered unloading cargo.
Early August 9th, a stealth Japanese fleet arrived and destroyed four Allied cruisers and crippled a fifth. The remaining transports, carrying supplies and additional troops, departed.
"When we woke up, everything was gone, our ships with our supplies, ammunition, artillery, all gone. The Japanese owned the sea, the air and started landing troops."
Seventeen thousands Marines were landed with provisions for one month and ammunition for four days of intense fighting. For a time, the Marines were written off.
They were armed with 1903 Springfield bolt-action rifles from World War I and immediately put on half-rations. Food quickly became scarce. Like so many Marines, Gadi, arrived weighing 195 pounds and would leave the island six and a half months later at a mere 129.
The Japanese, humiliated by their defeat at Midway, were fighting to the death and nearly always at night. The Marines looked doomed, not only by their ferocious enemy, but by the heat and humidity, snakes, mosquitoes, dysentery and jungle rot. Yet they did the impossible they continued fighting and set the course of the war.
Gadi recalls an engagement where five Marines waded through knee-deep muck and climbed a ridge to set up a beachhead. When the men crested the ridge, the enemy opened fire. Fellow Marine Paul Moore Jr. waded that swamp and crawled up that ridge five times under heavy fire to bring back each one of those Marines.
Gadi's eyes well with tears. He purses his lips, pauses and shakes a finger as if to say, just a minute.
"The war put things in perspective," Gadi says. "You appreciate things things like a glass of water. We would have given our souls for a glass of water. We drank the filthiest, dirtiest water you can imagine by putting a few drops of iodine in it.
"And a bed. When I got back on the ship there was a cot with a sheet. You appreciate those things.
"Those Marines came home and made something of themselves," Gadi says, swallowing hard.
"They did something. They became important citizens.
"Many of these men from Guadalcanal are dead now," he says softly. "Those that are alive would appreciate remembering what they did."
And so we will. Guadalcanal's D-Day was August 7, 1942.