A 50-year-old Pacific Islander survived a bayoneting by chewing through his ropes at Guadalcanal

Team Mighty
May 8, 2023 12:08 PM PDT
3 minute read
vouza guadalcanal

SUMMARY

When the Japanese invaded British-held Guadalcanal in 1942, Jacob Vouza was already 50 years old and a retired Sergeant Major…

When the Japanese invaded British-held Guadalcanal in 1942, Jacob Vouza was already 50 years old and a retired Sergeant Major of the Solomon Islands Protectorate Armed Constabulary. The Japanese had undisputed control over the island for just three months before the Americans learned they were constructing an airfield at Lunga Point, which would have been a threat to Australia. 

In August 1942, the United States landed at Guadalcanal and Sgt. Maj. Vouza had already returned to active duty as a coastwatcher, observing enemy movement and rescuing Allied personnel. He met the Americans for the first time after rescuing a down aviator, which would lead to the most enduring – and most brutal – mission of his entire career. 

Being a Coastwatcher was a dangerous job. On the surface, it seemed safe. Civilians from all walks of life merely posed as themselves; farmers, miners, traders, and natives would seemingly go about their business, pretending to be mere background players in the war. If caught by the Japanese, however, things could go south very quickly, and often did. That was especially true for Sgt. Maj. Vouza. 

After rescuing a downed Naval aviator from the USS Wasp and returning him to the invading 1st Marine Division at Guadalcanal, Vouza volunteered to become a scout for the Marines fighting to liberate his home island. Even at 50 years old, his skill and experience as a guide and scout would prove invaluable. 

The Battle for Guadalcanal would last for six full months. Vouza was sent to scout for enemy outposts behind the Japanese lines in the early days of the U.S. campaign. It was during one of these scouting trips that he was captured by the Ichiki Detachment, a battalion-sized force being sent to recapture Henderson Field. Unfortunately, his captors discovered an American flag in his loincloth. 

The Japanese had been given very little intelligence about the American positions and tied Vouza to a tree to interrogate him. They tortured him for hours trying to extract information from the Sergeant Major, but Vouza wouldn’t spill. In the end, the Japanese bayoneted him in both of his arms, his throat, shoulder, face, and stomach, and then left him to die. 

Sir Jacob Vouza memorial at Honiara, Solomon Islands.

But Vouza didn’t die. Instead, he chewed through the ropes that held him to the tree and escaped into the jungle to warn the Americans. Before getting any treatment for his wounds, he told them about the estimated force headed for the Marines. By the time the Japanese arrived, the Marines were ready and inflicted heavy casualties on the Japanese in the Battle of the Tenaru

Vouza spent 12 days in the hospital recovering from his wounds. He would be back to service as chief scout for the Americans, leading the 2nd Raider Battalion (also known as “Carlson’s Raiders) for a month behind enemy lines. 

For his refusal to submit under torture, the Americans awarded him the Silver Star. For his service with the Raiders, the Marine Corps awarded him the Legion of Merit and made him an honorary Marine Corps Sergeant Major. The British awarded him the George Medal for his gallantry in combat and he was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire. In 1979, he was promoted to Knight Commander of the British Empire. 

After Vouza died in 1984, a memorial to him and his service was erected in front of the police headquarters building in Honiara, the Solomon Islands’ capital city.

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