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What was The Island of Death? At 103, this veteran knows all too well

The Island of Death -- or the Green Hell -- is part of WWII history we learn from veteran, Larry Lawson

JACKSONVILLE, Fla — His story starts in a puny town. 

"Celeryville," Larry Lawson said. "It's near Willard." 

He's talking about his home stomping ground as a boy in Ohio. Now, this WWII veteran lives in Jacksonville.

He's 103 years old and still walks up and down his halls in an independent living facility. Even irons his own shirts every week, and, boy, are they crisp. Lawson was proud to join the United States Marines as a young kid. He enlisted after Pearl Harbor.

He says boot camp was "rough." 

He recalled with a twinkle in his eyes, "We were supposed to shave at night. I skipped it once and they caught me the next morning. And I had to scrub the floors with a toothbrush."

But that was nothing compared with his mission to the Island of Death, or call it the Green Hell.

Guadalcanal is an island in the Pacific near Australia. 

Dr. Rob Citino, Senior Historian for the World War II Museum in New Orleans says, "The heat and humidity were awful enough to literally rot human flesh."

And in the jungle, malaria ram rampant. "Our regiment had 65% casualties," Lawson recalls. 

Credit: Larry Lawson

"The Marines called it 'Operation Shoe String.' We didn't have supplies, armament and arguably not enough men," Citino said. He explains the Marines hung on "by the skin of their teeth."

But Guadalcanal was significant to the Americans trying to fight off the Japanese in the Pacific. 

"It was our first big counterpunch of war in any theater, that is, Pacific, European, and African theater," Citino says. 

For Lawson, he saw the human damage from Japanese attacks. He was assigned to a field hospital. He doesn't like to focus on the wounded, but he says, "I remember one; he was completely open. But they were still trying to do the best they can..."

However, he says, the Japanese had "blasted him open."

Lawson says trying to make cover on Guadalcanal was terribly difficult.

They were given short shovels and told to dig fox holes. He says you just couldn't because the coral was hard as rocks. But he managed to dig a shallow fox hole, not particularly reassuring.. 

SIx months of fighting on Guadalcanal.  Then victory for the Americans.

"It told the world, the Allies may have been down, but .. they are coming for you,"  Dr. Citino says. 

For Lawson, his WWII story isn't complete without billiards and a bit of romance. 

Credit: Lawson

He's still chipper enough to play a mean game of pool. He beats his fellow senior citizen friends, younger than he

Credit: Lawson

But it's the romance part that turns him into a sweetheart.

He was on leave in Australia during WWII at a dance hall. He says he looked across the room and said, "She's the one." 

Six weeks later, he proposed.  "She said 'no,'"  he said with a grin. 

But no worry, they wound up happily married for 62 years.