Col. Robert S. Scott, who as a junior Army officer won the Medal of Honor in World War II for beating back a Japanese counterattack in the battle for an airstrip in the Solomon Islands and killing 28 enemy soldiers despite being wounded twice, died on Feb. 5, 1999 at his home in Santa Fe, N.M. He was 85.
In the first week of July 1943, Colonel Scott, then a second lieutenant, came ashore on the heavily defended main island of New Georgia in the central Solomons with the 172d Infantry Regiment of the untested 43d Division.
Eight months earlier, he had a harrowing experience even before stepping foot on New Georgia. While approaching the harbor at the island of Espiritu Santo near Guadalcanal, his troopship, the President Coolidge, hit a mine and sank.
Lieutenant Scott was picked up by a boat, and virtually everyone aboard was saved, although all the equipment was lost.
In midsummer 1943, Lieutenant Scott and his men had their first taste of combat in some of the worst terrain of the Pacific campaign, dense New Georgia jungle clinging to hillsides on which 9,000 Japanese defenders were hiding in superbly camouflaged pillboxes.
The objective of the 45,000-man invasion force — three Army divisions and Marine units — was to capture the Munda Point airstrip, which was needed as a base for Marine fighter planes that would escort heavy bombers on their run to the Japanese stronghold of Rabaul.
During four weeks of fighting, the troops made slow progress in reaching the airstrip, seven miles from the coastline.
On July 29, Lieutenant Scott’s platoon was bogged down in front of a hilltop overlooking the airstrip. He advanced with his exhausted troops, urging them on in the face of rifle and machine-gun fire.
He had pushed forward to a point midway across a hilltop, 75 yards from Japanese defenders, when enemy troops emerged from their dugouts, firing and throwing grenades. Suddenly, Lieutenant Scott found himself alone, the soldiers with him having withdrawn.
He crouched behind a tree stump, blasted away with his carbine and threw grenades. He continued to fight despite suffering a bullet wound in the left hand and a shrapnel wound in the head after his carbine had been shot from his hand.
Over a half-hour, Lieutenant Scott hurled about 30 grenades at the Japanese dugouts, finally forcing the enemy to withdraw. His troops then captured the hill and found 28 Japanese dead in the bunkers that he had destroyed.
American forces took the airstrip on Aug. 5, and a week later the Seabees expanded it to accommodate Marine fighters. But success in the New Georgia campaign came at a heavy cost. More than 1,100 American troops were killed.
In October 1944, he received the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest award for valor, from Maj. Gen. Leonard F. Wing of the 43d Division.
Robert Sheldon Scott was born in Washington, D.C., the son of a doctor, and moved to Albuquerque, N.M., with his family as a youngster. He graduated from the University of New Mexico in 1937 with a degree in English, was drafted in September 1941 and obtained a commission.
He remained in Pacific combat after the New Georgia campaign, then was discharged from the Army when the war ended. He re-enlisted in 1947, served in the Korean War as a lieutenant colonel and remained in the service until retiring as a colonel in 1966.
In 1997 the New Mexico Legislature proclaimed Colonel Scott’s birthday, Nov. 30, as Robert Scott Day. But Colonel Scott’s son, James, of Weatherford, Tex., who survives him with three grandsons, said his father did not seek any public plaudits for his Medal of Honor.
”He didn’t talk about it,” James Scott said. ”He disliked it when people regarded him as a hero. He felt he had a job to do, and he did it.”
We honor you, Robert Scott.