Guadalcanal Diary: Mass Media Convergence in the 1940s


Media (the plural form of medium) is the common usage word for all the various forms of mass communication. Today, the Internet, television and movies are the media technologies that inform and entertain us. In 1943, we were informed and entertained almost exclusively by print media, radio and, as today, the movies. Guadalcanal Diary is a 1943 black-and-white film that the contemplative movie connoisseur should view and study for its unusual confluence of the media of the mid-20th century.

The 1942-43 Guadalcanal Campaign during World War II was significant because it was the beginning conflict in the long and difficult effort to reverse Japanese military conquests and take the war back to the Japanese Islands. Richard Tregaskis was a 26-year-old journalist who volunteered to serve as a war correspondent with the Marines on Guadalcanal. In January of 1943, five months after the commencement of the six-month campaign, Tregaskis published a book, Guadalcanal Diary, giving the American public an eyewitness account of the island battle. 

Six months after publication of the book, 20th Century-Fox began production on its film version. With a cast that included William Bendix, Richard Conte, Preston Foster, Lloyd Nolan, and a  relatively unknown Anthony Quinn, the gritty drama was released in October of 1943, just 10 months after the conclusion of the fighting on Guadalcanal Island (some of the Marines who took part in the battle actually served as extras). Together the movie and book exposed the public to the real-life experiences of men in combat. It is significant that this mass communication of the wartime experience was only mid-way through the war in the Pacific theater of operations. The horrific death tolls of Iwo Jima and Okinawa (148,185 combat deaths) were more than a year in the future for 1943 movie patrons. One year after the picture’s release, three of its leads–Bendix, Foster, and Nolan–re-created their roles for a Lux Radio Theater presentation of Guadalcanal Diary, thereby completing a tripartite 1940s mass communication by print, film and radio.     

California-based blogger John Greanias regularly looks back on the golden age of monochrome cinema in his John Greanias B&W Movie Report.   

  • akentg

    My uncle was a raider in that conflict. He was a young man who had to have his mother sign for him to serve underage. (He left high school to join). I recall that the moment the book came out my family rushed to purchase it, and it was read to me and my cousins over a period of days. It made what he had written home about to life. I still have that very copy for my own. That campaign was bloody, and the stories he told me as an adult were extremely graphic. His picture is in the book from shots the Marine photog. did. I also rushed to see the film. It is an excellent work, and my uncle endorsed their efforts. All should see it or read the book for its excellent reporting.

  • Abraham Gonzalez-soto

    Who wins in a war.?

    • speedle24

      The ones still above ground.

      • mike

        Speedle is right, the winners on either side are the ones still standing. I learned that in Vietnam!

    • Ot-man

      The last man standing.

  • Capoman

    My Dad was a 20yr old Sergeant leading a machine gun platoon who landed on Gavutu the first day. He was with the 2nd Marine Division under Dave Shoup, later Commandant USMC. After Gavutu was secured they moved to Guadalcanal where he fought until relieved in the fall. I read the book when I was a boy & have seen the movie. It was one hell of a fight, one of the Marine Corps Greatest Campaigns.

  • mike

    My uncle was a Marine who was involved in the Guadalcanal operation (also at several other islands). He watched the movie and gave it his seal of approval that it was fairly accurate. He was awarded a Silver Star and a Purple Heart while there. He (and my father) were both wounded at Okinawa and evacuated to Tripler Army Hospital in Honolulu. They were two floors apart and did not know it until a nurse saw both charts.

  • Ben

    When I was a kid in the 1950’s, I enjoyed listening to the veterans tell their stories about their service in WWII. My dad, (Everett .L.) served in the army and fought the Japanese on Saipan. He told about the great banzai charge, near the end of the campaign, and how his unit had to lower their anti-aircraft guns, as low as they could go, to blast away at the Japanese. Our two neighbors were on Guadalcanal, one was a Marine (Sam W.) who would tell how his unit feared the dark, because of the Japanese infiltrators. Our other neighbor was a Navy SeaBee (Construction Battalion), one of the more humorous times was during the early time of August ’42. He said, one night the Japanese slipped down through Ironbottom Sound and starting lobbing shells against the Marines. He said they hadn’t ever seen anything like that and ran down to the beach to enjoy the star shells, like it was some type of 4th of July. Well, he said they took off for the dug outs, or those foxholes, that you see in the movie, because that was the ‘Tokyo Express’ making a house call on the airfield and the marines.
    Well, after I got out of the navy in 1970, after sailing up and down Dixie Station on the old USS Kitty Hawk, I started my teaching career. During the last seventeen years, I taught a Military Warfare class at Spartanburg High School. The class covered the changes in warfare, from the American Revolution to the Persian Gulf. It included, my notes, guests speakers, computer wargaming, and large 12′ x 5′ table-top wargames. (Bunker Hill, Monmouth, Trafalgar, Battle of Britain, Gettysburg, naval battle of Charleston (ironclads), Battle of the Bulge, Ace of Aces (Bookcase games) and a large table-top game patterned after the American Heritage game of ‘Dogfight’ and ‘Ace of Aces’. Also, I used the American Heritage game of ‘Hit the Beach,’ too.
    In the movie Guadalcanal, I would point out the scene for ‘mail call’ and all the marines would drop what they were doing. Everyone wanted to hear or read a word from home. Just some bit of news to know that someone cared back home. Then, you see that scene where the marine, ‘Sammy’ didn’t get anything and he strolls off towards the jungle in a dejected manner. That part was to me heart rendering, because of the emotional impact it played. I know that it was always good to get mail on the carrier, especially those chocolate pound cakes. The officers really enjoyed those with their coffee in the squadron ready room.
    Oh yes, guests speakers were able to visit my class. Most were arranged by the ‘Warbirds of Spartanburg.’ Colonel Robert Morgan made two trips to my class, since he lived up in Asheville, NC, at that time. I’m proud that I got a video of his presentation, too. Oh yes, COlonel Morgan made General flying B-29’s in the Pacific. Others were aces like Gen. Gabby Gabreski and Marine General Joe Foss (Guadalcanal). I got video on Gen. Foss when he came to the class on a cold February day in the late 1990’s. One student decided to put his head down in class……..YOU DON’T DO THAT TO A MARINE GENERAL! The General lit into him, like he was lower than a PFC. Needless, to say, he paid attention from then on out. The stories he told about the ZERO dogfights over Guadalcanal were a wonder of all wonders. I got his autograph on one of the drawings that I put up for my classes. Yes, these men were from the GREATEST GENERATION. Our country was blessed that they did what they needed to do for our freedoms and liberties, and our way of life for today.
    Unfortunately, someone on 1600 is bending over backwards to give it all away.
    When I retired, I carried all my war toys with me. I am forever thankful to the administration for allowing me to teach this senior elective class at Spartanburg High School. I am forever thankful for all the patriots, who made their presentations, too. Oh yes, one for the modern era was Commander Barry Hull, who flew downtown Baghdad in 1991 – Persian Gulf War. His wingman was Lt. Speicker, whom nearly everyone believed had survived his shootdown, but later found out that he had been killed. The students thoroughly enjoyed Commander Hull’s presentations, as they had heard from graduating seniors about the class and about the commander’s talk and video.