The Manele family in Guadalcanal, an island in the South Pacific Ocean, prepares for a typical Monday night dinner as coconut crabs roast on top of a sheet of roofing iron, heated by a fire below.
Subsistence farmer John Manele converses with his sons, Junior Dominic, 13, and Jeffry, 17, as the sun sets next to the fire that has been lit at the bottom of the stairs leading up to the house.
The rest of the meal is prepared a short distance away by the boys’ mother, Loretta Manele, next to the typical thatched-hut kitchen.
The four Maneles are launched into the air by the blast. John and Junior are mangled by the flying metal debris. Two hours later, John passes away in his bed, while Junior dies in a hospital. When Jeffry awakens, he discovers himself next to his mother, whose legs have been burned and punctured by shrapnel.
He is seated in the family’s wooden home, which was constructed on stilts in the traditional Solomon Islands manner to keep the interior cool and keep vermin out, a year later.
He is describing a night of tragedy and horror that is all too familiar to families living in the Solomon Islands, which were the scene of one of the most well-known World War II battles and are located east of Papua New Guinea.
According to research, when one of the thousands of unexploded World War II-era bombs left behind by the U.S. and Japan is detonated, more than 20 people are killed or suffer serious injuries annually.
Since Japan, the U.S., and its allies withdrew from the fighting in the Solomon Islands in the middle of WWII, deadly remnants of war have plagued the country, leaving a legacy the developing South Pacific nation has been unable to deal with, despite its cries for assistance.
Since the war’s end, some assistance has arrived from the US and other nations, but it has been sparse and sporadic as American geopolitical priorities shifted away from the famous battleground. The United States has spent $6.8 million on local training programs and the removal of unexploded ordnance in the Solomon Islands since 2011. This amount is a small portion of the money that has been allocated to other nations where the United States has left dangerous war remnants behind.
In order to mark the 80th anniversary of the first U.S. Marine Corps landing at Guadalcanal, hundreds of dignitaries, including U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and U.S. Ambassador to Australia Caroline Kennedy, were dispatched to the Solomon Islands earlier this year. The arrival of American forces in 1942 marked a turning point in Allied efforts to thwart Japan’s southern Pacific advance, ultimately resulting in its defeat.
They made speeches in Honiara, the nation’s capital, honoring the valor, bravery, and sacrifice of the Allied forces. Solomon Islanders and their role in the war’s success were honored in one ceremony. American Fleet Admiral William F. Halsey is credited with saying: “The Coastwatchers saved Guadalcanal, and Guadalcanal saved the South Pacific.”
However, little was said this summer about the death toll that has persisted year after year or the dangers that unexploded ordnance, or UXO as it is more commonly known, poses to Solomon Islanders on a daily basis.
Soon after Sherman, the deputy secretary, met with Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, local journalists brought up the subject. According to Sherman, removing explosives “requires a deep commitment” from the United States and its allies.
Just one day later, on August 13, WWII explosives were discovered at a wartime airstrip that was being tar-sealed for domestic flights in Taro, 300 miles northwest of Guadalcanal. Following the discovery of hundreds of pounds of explosives there, police declared the small township a “danger zone” because of the sheer number of bombs scattered around it.
The news made headlines in the two national newspapers of the Solomon Islands, but it received little attention from the international media, which had accompanied the official delegations of the United States and its allies to the islands.
Hundreds of thousands of bombs were dropped and millions of rounds of ammunition were fired in the Solomon Islands over the course of World War II, when the then-British protectorate was overrun by foreign militaries vying for an upper hand in the Pacific.