Many a year ago, I married into a military family. Various members served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. Through the years, sometimes to satisfy my own curiosity, I would read about the horrific situations those family soldiers endured. Sometimes they asked me to plunder the internet for them so they could read about those deadly situations to compare the written word to what they experienced in real time.
I knew of the Solomon Islands, of Guadalcanal and how important they were in the overall scheme of things in the Pacific Theater during World War II. However, I had never read or heard about the Matanikau River, or the Lunga River, or a beach point called Kukum on Guadalcanal. That is, until my brother told me about one of our own being involved in an important mission in that area. Our own was Charles Casper Arndt, born in Van Vleet to Charles Robertson and Kareda House Arndt in May of 1919. He grew up in Van Vleet and Okolona. His parents are buried in the Friendship Cemetery in Van Vleet. His paternal grandfather was Franz Arndt, an immigrant back in the mid eighteen hundreds, was born in Solingen, Germany.
Charles enlisted in the US Marines on October 3, 1938. Of course, his early months and years were spent in familiar places associated with the Marines, like Parris Island, Camp LeJune, and Quantico, Virginia. He was part of the Intelligence Section of the 1st Marine Division. In the 1940 census, Charles is a Corporal and was stationed at the “Marine Reservation” at Dumfries, Prince William County, Virginia. Later that year he is at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. In July of 1942, his location can be traced almost daily. Early in the month, he is on board the USS American Legion, bound for Wellington, New Zealand. By the 27th and 28th of July, he is at Suva, in the Fiji Islands and on the 29th through the 31st of July, he is at sea, enroute to the Solomon Island and a dangerous, almost fatal mission.
From the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December, 1941, the United States was officially at war with Japan. The aim of the Imperial Japanese Navy was to neutralize our Navy and thus establish strategic military bases that would allow them to defend their empire in the Pacific Ocean and Asia. In the early months of 1942, it seemed they were doing a pretty good job. Our first major offensive to thwart their plans was the Guadalcanal campaign. In early August of 1942, allied forces landed on Guadalcanal, mostly Marines. We desperately needed to put an end to their ability to threaten our supply and communication routes between the US, Australia and New Zealand. Also, Guadalcanal would be a point from which a major allied offensive could go forth and neutralize Japan’s forces in the area.
The Fifth Marines of the First Marine Division were posted at Kukum, on Guadalcanal’s coast, near the mouth of the Matanikau River. The leader of what turned into a deadly patrol was Lt. Col. Frank Goettge. Born in Canton, Ohio, in 1895, Goettge enlisted in the Marine Corp in May of 1917, ending a very promising career in football. He played on the Ohio University team his freshman year. Goettge was touted as one of the greatest players of the day – he later played on the Marine Corp team and was recruited by the New York Giants but chose to stay in the Marines. On the night of August 12, 1942, Lieutenant Colonel Frank Goettge, an officer in the D-2 Intelligence Section, set out at about six p.m. in a boat a bit larger than a Higgins boat. With him were twenty-five others, including scouts, officers and infantry men as well as a Marine proficient in Japanese. There had been a Japanese naval officer taken prisoner and he told his captors that many Japanese soldiers on the island would surrender if given the opportunity. He added that the soldiers were without food and many needed medical attention. Another Japanese captor corroborated his story. One of our Marines said he thought he had seen a white flag waving in the jungle. Korean laborers on the island had surrendered, claiming to be near starving. From this information, Goettge felt sure this situation needed to be capitalized on, and as soon as possible. Perhaps this would end land operations on the island by giving the enemy the opportunity to surrender.
It’s August 12, the sun is setting, twilight swiftly descending upon the patrol. While on the water, Goettge saw a signal flare back in the east and thought it a signal to return to their ship. One of his men was sent back and returned to Goettge with the word to continue the mission. By now, it’s nine p.m., and as dark as a jungle could be with no moon. There were those of this mission who, by now, had become a bit antsy because there were so many unknowns. As they approached the beach they ran up on a sandbar and the coxswain had to gun the motor to get the boat loose, men jumped out of the boat and rocked it back and forth. Finally, it was free once more, but of course the Japanese soldiers had heard this commotion.
It was time to find a suitable place to bivouac for the night and Goettge led the way along with two other Marines. Almost immediately he was felled by one rifle shot. Then a barrage of machine fire cut loose. Another of the three was wounded and the remaining Marine drug him to a safer spot back aways on the beach. So now, the remaining Marines don’t know if Goettge is dead or alive. Sgt. Charles Arndt, Platoon Sgt. Frank Few, a half Native American from Buckeye, AZ, and Corporal Joseph Spaulding of New York City, volunteered to go ashore and bring him in. When they reached Goettge, Few saw that he had been shot in the head and would have died instantly. Few removed his uniform insignia and watch so the enemy wouldn’t know his rank. In their struggle to get back to the beach, they are attacked. Few was on the receiving end of a bayonet in his arm and leg. Finally, he is able to get the bayonet and kill his attacker. Arndt was told to send an S.O.S. by firing three sets of tracer shots simultaneously. He did, but his fellow Marines back at Kukum didn’t know what they meant. What was left of the patrol knew if they didn’t get reinforcements, they were doomed.
Needing someone to get back to the base camp, Arndt was given the mission. As Don Richter wrote in his book “The Sun Stood Still”, Few said, “If anyone can get through, it’ll be Arndt”. Arndt had a nickname – “Monk” – gained a couple of years earlier while on Puerto Rico because he had climbed up a coconut tree to get a nut. He was said to be ‘as agile as a monkey’ and the name stuck. Richter continued with the following “Soon the small, tough sergeant from Mississippi, who always responded to a challenge, slipped into the water and was on his way. It was around 10:30 p.m. and the Lunga Point was five miles away. The enemy occupied much of the territory. Arndt knew this, but the only thing on his mind was to get through.
At the mouth of the Matanikau River, he was shot at by a Japanese soldier, Arndt returned fire with his 45 pistol which he had strapped to his helmet. He believed he killed the enemy, but quickly moved on before another soldier appeared.
Arndt stayed close to the beach, about twenty yard out, because he still had his boondockers on. (Navy issued, heavy boots) He couldn’t get them off. In the excitement of his anticipated mission, he had tied them into knots. In several places Arndt slipped on the coral reef and was tossed about by the waves. His body was badly cut and bruised by the jagged protrusions on the coral reefs. Tiring, he made for the beach to rest.”
Thankfully, Arndt found a damaged dugout canoe and was able to paddle the two miles to the Lunga Boat Pool from where they had embarked. By now it is 5 a.m. Arndt was wrapped in blankets and taken ashore. Meanwhile, the patrol was being fired on by the Japanese who were determined to annihilate the Americans. They were being picked off one by one. Sgt. Few was the lone survivor and he had witnessed the Japanese mutilating those Americans who lay dead on the beach. “He knew if he remained, he was a dead man. He made a bee-line to the beach, shedding his dungaree jacket, then dove into the sea. He peeled off his boondockers and trousers and swam for the open sea as quickly as he could.”
Charles Casper Arndt was awarded the Silver Star on January 2, 1943. He continued his military career and saw action later at the Chosin Reservoir in Korea in 1950. He retired from the US Marines in 1964, with 26 years of service. He returned to Mississippi where he died on 22 September, 2008. He is buried at the Egger Cemetery in Caledonia, Mississippi. His advice to others for a successful reconnaissance on Guadalcanal in 1942 was “Take your time. Stay away from the easy going. Never take the same way twice.”