Japan began their “war of aggression” on September 19, 1931, when it invaded Manchuria. Six years later, they continued their efforts when they invaded China on July 7, 1937. On December 7, 1941, Japanese naval air forces attacked Pearl Harbor in the Hawaiian Islands drawing the United States into the expanding second “world war.” Japan continued its aggression by capturing Malaya, Wake Island, New Guinea, Singapore, Java, Mandalay, Burma, and the Philippines.
When the United States learned that the Japanese were constructing an airfield on the island of Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands, 19,000 men of the 1st Marine Division, under the command of Major General Alexander Vandegrift were sent into action. Vandegrift’s marines landed at Tulagi and Luga Point on Guadalcanal on August 7, 1942.
On the morning of August 8, Rear Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher contacted Vice Admiral Robert L. Ghormley, and told him that he was withdrawing Task Force 61 from the Guadalcanal area. Early on next morning, a Japanese naval force, (later known as the “Tokyo Express”), under the command of Rear Admiral Gunichi Mikawa, struck the U.S./Australian naval force, sinking a number of cruisers and destroyers in the Battle of Savo Island. On the evening of August 9, Admiral Fletcher withdrew Task Force 61, leaving the Marines completely cut off and alone on the island.
By August 15, some of the navy ships had returned to the Guadalcanal area. On August 20, 19 F4F fighters and 12 SBD dive bombers of Marine Air Group 23 landed at Henderson Field (named for Major Lofton Henderson, a Marine Corps aviator, killed during the battle of Midway). After much bloody fighting, the U.S. Army relieved the Marines on January 5, 1943. When the campaign ended in early February, 24,000 Japanese and 1,752 Americans had been killed. The Japanese did manage to evacuate 12,000 men from the island on February 7, 1943.
THE “LET GEORGE DO IT DIVISION”
The phrase “Let George Do It” was first used when the 1st Marine Division was in its forming stages at New River, North Carolina. When there was a job to be done, Headquarters Marine Corps would assign the task to the 1st Marines. Some of the senior officers in the division began referring to the division as the “Let George Do It Division.” This was a popular saying at the time that meant, “if something needed to be done, but you did not want to do it, then find someone else to do it!” It seemed appropriate for the the 1st Marines.
A SPECIAL MEDAL FOR A SPECIAL UNIT
As the fighting raged on Guadalcanal, the subject of a medal came up one evening when Colonel Merrill B. Twining and a group of officers discussed the enemy, lack of support, food and ammunition. The Colonel mentioned that a medal should be designed to commemorate the campaign. Everyone thought that it was a good idea and discussed what it should look like. They thought that the medal should be called the “Let George Do It Medal” because of the nickname the division carried.
Some thought that the medal should have a sleeve with navy stripes on it and a hand dropping a hot potato shaped like the island of Guadalcanal into the hands of a Marine. This would represent Rear Admiral Fletcher leaving the Marines alone on the island. Better judgment prevailed and the idea of the stripes on the sleeve was dropped.
The group decided they wanted to have “Let George Do It” in Latin. They asked Captain Martin Clemens, an Australian coast watcher who was His Britannic Majesty’s civil representative in the Solomon Islands if he could do this. But, first they had to explain to Clemens that the “Let George Do It” had nothing to do with King George V. He laughed and said that the phrase loosely translated to “Faciat Georgius.”
The medal design became a topic of conversation among the group. It was good for a laugh and better yet, it took their minds off the war. At one of the meetings, it was suggested that a saguaro cactus, indigenous to Arizona, should be on the medal because the code name for the island of Guadalcanal was “Cactus.”
During another meeting, it was suggested that the reverse side of the medal should have a cow with its rear end pointed toward a fan (they first thought of a Japanese soldier with his pants down). This was in reference to an expression used at that time, “When the s--t has hit the fan.”
Over time, other ideas were considered for the medal, but it was mostly a joke. However, someone in the group thought enough of the idea that he contacted Captain Donald L. Dickson. Dickson, a well-known artist, agreed to do drawings for both sides of the medal.
When the division left Guadalcanal and went to Australia, the drawings were carried by an unknown person. A small engraving shop off Little Collins Street, in Melbourne, Australia, made an initial purchase of 100 medals based on the drawings. The Division’s lithographic branch printed a deliberately pretentious and humorous certificate to accompany each award.
Determined that a medal should be made, the group had a second mold made — this time the medal was a little larger. The total number of medals produced is unknown.
The price of the medal, and the certificate awarded with it, was one Australian pound. The suspension ribbon was a piece of the pale green herringbone twill cloth from the Marine utility uniform. It is said that to be authentic the “ribbon” had to have come from a uniform that had been washed in the waters of the Lunga River on Guadalcanal. The pin for the “ribbon” was an oversized safety pin used to identify laundry bags aboard navy ships.
Reproductions of the medal have been made in recent years. However, the reproduction medals are not made of brass; the detail is of a noticeably poor quality.
You may also enjoy
*As an Amazon Associate, Military Trader / Military Vehicles earns from qualifying purchases.