Regimental staff members huddled around the command post of the ‘fighting’ 5th Marine Regiment at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton. Between the offices buzzing with movement on either side of the foyer, and the hallways lined with photos and encased memorabilia from the wars of yesteryear, the building had the air of a living museum.
Two special guests, Graeme and his wife Carmel Day, stood in the middle of the small crowd and chatted away about their recent flight from Australia and the honor of meeting the Marines who fill the ranks of the historic 1st Marine Division.
Graeme and Carmel had just arrived for the first stop of their two-day base tour of Camp Pendleton to partake in the trip of a lifetime after years of personal study and admiration for the feats of the 1st Marine Division in the Pacific during World War Two.
But their interest in the 1st Marine Division was more than just academic curiosity. In 1943, Graeme’s grandparents had welcomed three U.S. Marines into their home to stay with them during the Marines’ rest and recuperation period following the Battle of Guadalcanal.
“5th Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment was in Bellarat with Edson’s boys,” Graeme described. Edson, of course refers to Major General Merritt Austin Edson, a Medal of Honor recipient and former commanding officer of 5th Marine Regiment during the Battle of Guadalcanal. “We lived right by the hospital where the boys were admitted.”
Following fierce fighting in the six-month Battle of Guadalcanal, Marines were sent to Australia for R & R while regrouping for the next fight in the Pacific. Marines from 11th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, set up a tent encampment for themselves at Victoria Park. As fate would have it, the park did not prove large enough for all the Marines, leaving senior enlisted leaders to go door to door in search of homeowners in the local community who would be willing to temporarily house one or even a few Marines.
It is rumored that during transit to Australia following the battle, the renowned blue diamond patch that is now the official logo of the 1st Marine Division was first drawn. The blue diamond is accented with white stars, placed such that they depict the Southern Cross constellation, under which 1st Marine Division fought at Guadalcanal. The center of the patch features the number one, fixed in red with the word Guadalcanal sprawled vertically across its face.
The hastily drawn patches were instantly successful among the boisterous Marines who were still celebrating their victory. Upon arrival in Australia in early 1943, the patches were printed at a local embroidery shop and distributed to the Marines. The design has stood the test of time and has been proudly hoisted wherever the colors of the 1st Marine Division have been flown.
Graeme Day was raised on tales of the U.S. Marines who had become like family members to his grandparents. This lifelong affinity for the 1st Marine Division made the visit Camp Pendleton that much more special.
In addition to visiting the 5th Marine Regiment, Graeme had specifically requested to see the artillerymen of the 11th Marine Regiment, given his special familial connection to the unit.
“The boys [in Bellarat] were from the 11th Artillery,” said Graeme. “To go to the 11th Marine Regiment was just absolutely fantastic because they were the boys that became family to the Bellarat family, and vice versa.”
In addition to visiting the ‘fighting’ 5th Marine Regiment and the ‘cannon cockers’ of 11th Marine Regiment, Graeme and Carmel also stopped by the 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance battalion and even had a chance to meet with the 1st Marine Division Commanding General, Maj. Gen. Robert F. Castellvi.
Graeme and Carmel both described the trip as a once in a lifetime opportunity.
“I have been overwhelmed by the degree of kindness we have received,” said Graeme of his time visiting the 1st Marine Division. “I’d like to think that unofficially. I am here representing all the Bellarat families.”
During a jam-packed tour schedule that permitted little downtime, Graeme still found moments to share his personal anecdotes about the three Marines that stayed with his family in 1943.
“I was given a copy of the New Testament [from] my grandmother when I was eight, which was given to her by one of the three Marines,” said Graeme. “I put it into my wardrobe and it stayed there. It was in the treasure drawer.” While this treasure sparked his passion for learning about the 1st Marine Division, Graeme never felt like the bible was his to keep.
Years later, in 2017, Graeme flew to Guadalcanal for a ceremony commemorating the 75th anniversary of the historic battle. During the ceremony, Graeme presented—or rather, returned—the bible to then 1st Marine Division Commanding General, Maj. Gen. Eric Smith.
Today the antique bible sits in the 1st Marine Division Command Post at Camp Pendleton, California, among various black and white photos and war artifacts that keep alive the Marines who sacrificed in the battles of the 1st Marine Division history.
During their trip, Graeme and Carmel were eager to share several aged yet remarkably well-kept photos of Marines who stayed in Bellarat. Some of the photos feature the standard headshots of men in uniform while others reveal families smiling from front porches. In these photos the Marines must be pointed out, as they blend in with the beaming families so naturally.
One series of photos bears the headshots of cheerful, suit-wearing men of varying ages. When closely examined, it becomes clear that the thickly-spectacled man of sixty-five or seventy from one headshot is the same iron-jawed Marine whose stoic gaze appears prominently in a photo nearby.
“That’s Eddy,” Graeme exclaimed as one of the photos entered his gaze.
Eddy Metz, a 1st Marine Division veteran of the Battle of Guadalcanal who passed away in 2002, was one of the Marines who enjoyed the gracious hospitality of a Bellarat family. So deep were the bonds built during this time that Eddy would return to Bellarat to visit his host family on numerous occasions, years and even decades after the war.
“They were like family,” said Graeme of the Marines who stayed with his grandparents. According to Graeme, many of the Marines and Australian host families stayed in touch for the remainder of their lives.
Graeme described the ways the Marines repaid the hospitality of the Bellarat families in many small ways. “The Marines would come back with tea for grandma,” Graeme recounted of his own family stories. Given that the community was on rations at the time, this small act of thoughtfulness went a long way in winning the hearts of the Day family.
Graeme and Carmel are intimately connected with the vibrant, somber, courageous, and deeply moving history of the 1st Marine Division. The stories passed down to Graeme during his childhood are part of a rich oral tradition of the 1st Marine Division—a tradition that has spread throughout the world and which cuts across geographic and generational divides.
Marines like Eddie Metz help to keep these stories alive. Currently, U.S. forces maintain a constant presence in the Pacific and the 1st Marine Division participates in numerous theater security cooperation exercises with Australian forces, where they create new memories and deepen cultural ties in the process.
So what could follow an intercontinental trip over seventy years in the making come to an end? “Babysitting!” Carmel Day exclaimed. Gazing out affectionately as the topic of her grandchildren comes up, Carmel continued, “There is no way [the grandchildren] won’t be told this history. They will know this history.”
It is a history of which Graeme and Carmel are forever a part.