The 1st Marine Division had arrived on Guadalcanal in August. Now the survivors were relieved by the the 23rd Infantry Division and they were leaving. The battle would continue until the final elements of Japanese resistance were mopped up in February 1943.
The 1st Marine Division had lost 650 killed in action, 1,278 wounded in action with a further 8,580 contracting malaria and 31 missing in action. They shipped out sometime in late December arriving in the New Hebrides on Christmas Eve. Amongst them was Robert Leckie, who told it like it was:
[W]e were sleeping alongside a road, waiting to embark the next day. On that day, they brought us our Christmas packages from home. We could not take them aboard ship with us, for we were not allowed to carry more than our packs and weapons.
Chuckler and I had already asked Lieutenant Ivy-League to carry our remaining boxes of cigars in his sea bag; officers would be permitted to carry sea bags. It puzzled us to see the reappearance of sea bags – strictly the issue of enlisted men – and it angered us to see them handed out to officers.
This was the first piece of discrimination which we encountered, the first flip of the Single-Sided Coin, whereby the officers would satisfy their covetousness by forbidding us things rightfully ours, and then take them up themselves, much as politicians use the courts to gain their ends.
So we devoured what we could of these Christmas gifts from home, and threw the rest away.
“Stand by to move out. Forrr-ward, harch!”.
We ambled down to the beach, our gait, our bearded, tattered aspect unable to match the precision of that command. We clambered into the waiting boats. We stood at the gunwales and watched the receding shoreline.
Our boat putt-putted to a wallowing halt beneath a huge ship that listed so markedly to port that it seemed drunk. It was one ofthe old Dollar Line ships; the President Wilson, I believe.
“Climb up them cargo nets!” As we had come, so did we leave.
We were so weak that many of us could not make the climb. Some fell into the water – pack, rifle and all – and had to be fished out. Others clung desperately to the nets, panting, fearful to move lest the last ounce of strength depart them, too, and the sea receive them. These also had to be rescued by nimble sailors swanning down the nets.
I was able to reach the top of the net, but could go no farther. I could not muster the strength to swing over the gunwale, and I hung there, breathing heavily, the ship’s hot side swaying away from me in the swells, very perdition lapping beneath me – until two sailors grabbed me under the armpits, and pulled me over.
I fell with a clatter among the others who had been so brought aboard, and I lay with my cheek pressed against the warm, grimy deck, my heart beating rapidly, not from this exertion, but from happiness.