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Deputy Secretary Sherman’s Remarks on the 80th Anniversary of the Battle of Guadalcanal

Wendy R. Sherman, Deputy Secretary of State

Honiara, Solomon Islands

Skyline Ridge

DEPUTY SECRETARY SHERMAN: Good morning. Minister for Police, National Security and Correctional Services Veke… Ministers of the Crown, Members of Parliament, esteemed representatives of Guadalcanal and Solomon Islands…

Ambassadors, High Commissioners, and distinguished members of the diplomatic corps and international organizations…

Distinguished representatives of the governments and armed forces of Australia, New Zealand, and Japan…

Lieutenant General Rudder, Lieutenant General Sklenka, Vice Admiral Tiongson, Lieutenant General Smith, Major General Watson, Major General Ryan, Rear Admiral Kilian, Commissioner Pettigrew… all of you…

Welcome guests… visitors… descendants… and the people of Solomon Islands…

Eighty years ago today, thousands of U.S. Marines landed here on Guadalcanal and on the islands of Tulagi and Gavutu-Tanambogo.

It was the first major Allied land offensive in the Pacific theater, and a proving ground for the United States Marine Corps’ new methods of amphibious warfare.

With the benefit of hindsight, it is easy for us gathered here today to recognize the Battle of Guadalcanal as a turning point in the Pacific theater, and indeed in the Second World War.

But for the Marines patrolling the dense and humid jungle, who had to be wary of both enemy snipers and crippling disease… for the sailors who fought terrifying night battles in the seas around these islands… for the airmen who engaged in countless dogfights in the skies above… the future was unknown and unknowable.

In so many ways, their world had already been turned upside down. They had put their ordinary lives aside. They dropped out of school, closed down their shops, quit their jobs, kissed their children good-bye.

At a time when many Americans never left their hometowns—let alone the country—new recruits boarded ships for places thousands of miles away, some of which they had never even heard of before the war.

And in many of those places—like here in Solomon Islands—civilians saw their world upended as well, as bombs and mortars fell on their towns and villages, destroying the lives of innocents.

Over more than six months of fighting, some 1,600 Allied troops were killed. More than 4,000 were wounded, and thousands more died from disease. Among Imperial Japanese forces, an estimated 24,000 died. And no one—no one—can say for certain how many Solomon Islanders lost their lives when their home became a battlefield.

Today—as we have been every day since the war ended—former combatants are united here as partners in peace.

We have built schools and clinics together. Conducted scientific research together. Shared vaccines to combat the pandemic together. We have helped each other recover from natural disasters, protected each other from the impacts of climate change. We have celebrated and mourned and grown together. And above all—forged in the experience of the Second World War and made deeper with each passing year—we have built profound and enduring ties with each other, as one Pacific family.

President Biden has made solidarity with the Pacific Islands a priority for his entire administration from the very beginning. That is why Secretary Blinken chose Fiji as the place where he released our Indo-Pacific Strategy earlier this year—because we see cooperation with the Pacific Islands as absolutely critical to the future of the entire region.

As Vice President Harris told the Pacific Island Forum last month, the United States is working to expand our diplomatic presence across the Pacific, including by opening embassies in Tonga, Kiribati, and right here in Solomon Islands.

We are committed to reinvesting in our relationships with our Pacific family as we work together to address the challenges of the next eight decades—and beyond.

But today, we remember the pain and strife that scarred the Pacific. We honor the memories of those who died and were injured—both during the war itself, and in the years afterward, as a result of unexploded ordinance and other after-effects of the conflict. And we recommit ourselves to moving forward together as partners—and as true and lasting friends.

Those who fought here may not have been able to foresee this day, any more than they knew whether they themselves would live to see another dawn. But I like to think they hoped it was possible. That they believed their efforts would help build a better, safer, more democratic world—a world where people and nations are free to choose their own paths.

My father, Mal Sherman, was among thousands of U.S. Marines who fought in the Battle of Guadalcanal. He enlisted two days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, at all of 19 years old. Like a lot of World War II veterans, he didn’t like to talk much about his service. He didn’t glory in it. He didn’t revel in it. But still, his experience here shaped him. And it shaped me in return.

I know he was wounded in action here on Guadalcanal, and that eventually his wounds became infected with jungle rot. He became sick enough to be evacuated—first to New Zealand, where he always said the Kiwis took extraordinary care of him, and eventually to California.

Still in his Marine Corps uniform after the war’s end, he and my mother, Mimi, attended the founding meetings of the United Nations in San Francisco—because he believed—they believed—adamantly in creating a world without war.

My dad was fortunate. He went home. Healed from his wounds. Married my mom. Started a business. Raised three children, and lived long enough to delight in his grandchildren. When we held his funeral—nearly 70 years after the Battle of Guadalcanal—the room was filled with people whose lives he touched.

But thousands—tens of thousands—hundreds of thousands of other young people who fought in the Pacific… Americans and Australians, New Zealanders and Solomon Islanders, Fijians and Tongans, and of course Japanese… they never had that chance.

Their parents, their spouses, their siblings, even their children had to mourn them from afar.

They were lost to the jungle, to the beaches, to the fathomless sea—or to the inner pain of having survived when others did not.

Their abilities, their ambitions, their most secret dreams, all the possibilities of their futures, all the ways they might have contributed to their communities, to their countries, to our world—gone forever.

This is the dreadful cost of war. Not only blood and treasure, but human souls.

As we have lost the Guadalcanal generation to the passage of time, we have seen around the world—some around the world who seem to have forgotten the awful lessons learned here, or perhaps never took them to heart in the first place. Leaders who believe that others must be diminished if they are to rise. Leaders who believe that coercion, pressure, and violence are tools to be used with impunity. Leaders who believe that the principles and institutions the world set up after the Second World War—the rules-based international order that has enabled peace and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific and around the world for generations—can be ignored and undermined, diminished and destroyed.

If we listen—really listen—to the souls of those young people who lost their lives here and elsewhere in the Pacific… or in the fields and mountains of Europe… or in the deserts of North Africa… we remember how bankrupt, how empty, such views were then, and remain today.

Today we are once again engaged in a different kind of struggle—a struggle that will go on for some time to come. President Biden and Secretary Blinken have both said we are in a decisive decade. It is up to us in this moment to decide what we want our world to look like—for ourselves, for our children, and in my case for my grandchildren—and to redouble our work together to realize that future.

It is up to us to decide if we want to continue having societies where people are free to speak their minds. If we want to have governments that are transparent and accountable to their people. If we want an international system that is fair and orderly, where everyone plays by the same rules and where disputes are solved peacefully. If we want to embrace our ability to come together and solve our shared challenges—foremost among them the climate crisis, so understood here, which poses such a profound threat to the people of this region and to the security of the world. If we want to trust in each other, to recognize our mutual humanity and our common interests.

It is a daunting task. But we need only look around ourselves here today to see the hope and promise of a better future—one where former combatants, former enemies, can become the staunchest of allies and the truest of friends.

So I ask that we all commit ourselves to serving as a new Guadalcanal generation—brought together not only by our shared past, but by our shared values and our shared vision for a free and open, and prosperous and secure, and above all peaceful Indo-Pacific… and a peaceful world.

Thank you. And may the memories of those lost here forever be a blessing.

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