By Phil Scearce On December 1, 1942, Lance Corporal Kiyoshi Koto wrote his last letter home. By that time, his unit’s command structure was decimated and the battle strength of his army and its supporting navy was ravaged. As he wrote, the characters on the page of Koto’s letter took shape weakly because he had been wounded in the right arm by a shell during an attack five days earlier. He struggled to carry his rifle because of his injury, and he had not eaten because critical supplies had not reached the beach, let alone the front, on the embattled island where he had fought for days. Koto understood very well that he was a dead man. Koto’s unit of the 16th Japanese Infantry Regiment was situated west of the Matanikau River and across from the 164th Infantry Regiment of the U.S Army’s Americal Division (23rd Infantry Division), on the island the Japanese called Gadarukanaru and the Americans knew as Guadalcanal. U.S. Marines who came ashore on Guadalcanal almost four months earlier had been unopposed in spite of Japanese defense theory that prescribed a fierce, overwhelming reception for enemy landings at the shore. But the size of the island Koto’s unit and his comrades occupied was too great for defense of its many miles of shoreline. And most critically for the balance of the Pacific War, the Japanese had reached a logistical tipping point: success after far-flung success had stretched supply lines too thinly for adequate support of Japan’s distant conquest


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