Richard Tregaskis, the tall guy on Guadalcanal

November 28, 2020 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: journalism, reporters, reporting, writers, writing.

The Marines that he wrote about on Guadalcanal would tell Richard Tregaskis that if the Japanese captured him, they would probably use him as an “observation post.”

They weren’t far from wrong. Tregaskis, a reporter during World War II for the International News Service, was six-feet, seven-inches tall — tall enough to be an observation post or just about anything else that needed height. What he was, however, was an outstanding war reporter and writer.

Tregaskis was assigned by the INS to cover the U.S. campaign in the Solomon Islands in August 1942, and he landed with the first wave of Marines on what many would eventually describe as the closest thing to hell on earth as you could get. It was a campaign that would reverse the momentum the Japanese were riding with the bombing of Pearl Harbor ten months earlier. Tregaskis was one of two reporters to witness what happened there.

He wrote what he saw, heard, and felt. He was on the front lines, close to the fighting, and that was where he stayed for a month and a half. When he left in late September, he put his writings together in a book titled Guadalcanal Diary, in which the introduction said, ” . . . he ate, slept, and sweated with our front-line units. His story is the straight day-by-day account of what he himself saw or learned from eyewitnesses during those seven weeks.”

The manuscript was finished just a few weeks after he exited the islands, and it was quickly accepted by Random House and picked as a Book of the Month selection. The reading public loved it, and Guadalcanal Diary is still considered one of the classics of World War II reporting and is required reading for many military personnel today. Later in 1943, the book was made into a movie — a film that has continued in popularity to this day.

Tregaskis was born in New Jersey and was a championship swimmer at Harvard. After college, he worked for the Boston American, and when America entered the war, he volunteered to be a correspondent for the INS. After his time in the Pacific, he went to Italy to cover the Allied invasion there, and he was severely wounded — so badly that he was partially paralyzed and lost his power of speech. He regained it by picking up a book of poetry and painstakingly reading it aloud every day until his speech returned.

His book about the campaigns in Sicily and Italy was Invasion Diary, and he continued covering the war until its end.

He continued to cover various conflicts for the next two decades, and in 1963 he published a book about Vietnam, Vietnam Diary, that predated America’s heavy involvement in Southeast Asia.

In 1973, Tregaskis was living in Hawaii when he died at Ala Moana beach park after suffering a heart attack. The helmet, gouged by shrapnel, that he wore in Italy when he was wounded in on display in the National Museum of the Marine Corps.

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