It is the 10th January 1943. The men of the US Army’s L Company, 3rd Battalion, 35th Infantry (L/3/35) are moving into an area known as Sea Horse. It is called Sea Horse because of its shape when viewed from the air. The western slope of Sea Horse drops down to a river called the Matanikau. Sea Horse and the Matanikau River are on an island called Guadalcanal.
The Battle of Guadalcanal began with the landing of the US 1st Marine Division on 7th August 1942. The Marines quickly took the almost completed Japanese airfield and renamed it Henderson field. This was followed by a violent six months long struggle with the Japanese as both sides tried to win control of the island and its precious airfield.
By January 1943 the Americal and 25th Divisions of the US Army had joined in the battle. The men of L Company are part of the 25th Division. Private Martin P. Odenthal is a member of L Company. When war broke out he had enlisted in the services at the same time as his brothers including Albert, who was also on Guadalcanal.
To move into position for the attack on Sea Horse a wide flanking movement behind Mount Austen was used. L Company and the 3rd Battalion were moving deeper into the jungle than any American unit had been. It was hard work. The jungle is thick and the terrain is difficult as L Company finally approaches Sea Horse.
The Japanese are well dug in and it is now up to the men of the 3rd Battalion to clear the Sea Horse of the enemy. The arrow at the bottom right of the screen shows the direction of the advance of the 3rd Battalion 35th Infantry. Jungle view of the approach to Sea Horse.
The enemy is engaged and Private Martin Odenthal goes into action firing his M1-Garrand rifle. The fighting is fierce; two Medals of Honor, America’s highest award for bravery are earned in the action. The men of the 3rd Battalion take the ridge but suffer many casualties. In the six months struggle for Guadalcanal more than 31,000 Japanese and 7,000 Americans died in the fighting.
Private Martin P Odenthal is one of them.
During a lull in the battle Martin’s buddies bury him where he fell.
One of his two dog tags is taken to give to Grave Registration the other one is left on Martin in the grave. Martin’s buddies continue with their job of fighting the enemy. It is up to the people at Grave Registration to recover those that have fallen. In the later search for Martin, the people from Graves Registration failed to find his location remote and deep in the jungle.
It is now January 2006 Sam Besi from Barana Village on Mount Austen goes to the Sea Horse looking for an American helmet to put on display in the village. He comes upon fighting positions and foxholes and starts his search.
Whilst digging, he finds bones with an American dog tag. He immediately reports his find to other people in the village and to John Innes. John is a WWII historian who runs a Computer business on Guadalcanal.
He takes John and four others to the grave site. After visiting the site and armed with the details from the dog tag a computer is used to establish that Martin P Odenthal is listed as KIA (Killed in Action) in 1943.
The computer is also used to find Martin’s family and contact is made. His brother and the rest of the family were amazed that he had been found. Their reaction was predictably emotional. When asked “do you want the remains left in the grave?” their response was a firm “no we want him home!” As a result of that request a forensic team from the Solomon Island Police force was taken to the grave site and recovered the remains.
Here a NZ contingent of the Solomon Island Police forensic team is at the grave site with the discoverers from Barana Village. A Karakia is being offered. A Karakia is a Maori prayer paying respect to a spiritual presence.
In Martin’s grave/fighting position 35 cartridges from Martins rifle were found, all fired!
Later in the fighting Martin’s brother Albert also loses his life. Another brother Ralph, who is in the US Navy, is sent home when news came that his two brothers had been killed. The US Army has a command based in Hawaii known as JPAC (Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command) who were notified of the discovery of Martin. Their duty is to find and collect remains that are found of US servicemen killed in action.
JPAC use their resources to confirm the identity of remains found and return them with full ceremony and honors to the family of those killed. Last week Martin Odenthal began his journey home. He was sent to JPAC so they can prepare his final homecoming to his family. His departure was not anonymous and unrecognized. A contingent of the Solomon Island Police and Military from RAMSI were there to pay there respects in a ceremonial farewell to a fallen warrior and hero of the Battle of Guadalcanal.