The Unbelievable Story of How a Mother in Ohio Saved Her Son’s Life At Guadalcanal

July 25, 2023Mac Caltrider

Elgin and Vera Staples reunited after Guadalcanal. Photo courtesy of The National WWII Museum.

The Guadalcanal campaign is usually remembered as a major victory for the United States Marine Corps. However, the truth is that the US Navy played an equal — if not larger — role in the famous World War II battle. In fact, approximately twice as many sailors died fighting for the island as Marines. 

Among the sailors who survived was 19-year-old Signalman 3rd Class Elgin Staples. Staples nearly died twice during the months-long campaign. In his telling, he, too, like so many of his comrades, would have met his fate off the waters of Guadalcanal had it not been for a woman who was more than 8,000 miles away at the time of the battle — his mother.

As the story goes, in the early morning hours of Aug. 9, 1942, Staples felt the steel deck of the USS Astoria rumble beneath his feet. A Japanese shell had struck the turret of the cruiser’s 8-inch deck gun. The explosion sent Staples flying through the air and into the moonlit sea.


The USS Astoria before the battle. Photo courtesy of The National WWII Museum.

Dazed and riddled with shrapnel, Staples bobbed in the warm water, buoyed by his M1926 inflatable life belt. He floated for more than four hours until he was picked up by the crew of the USS Bagley. Then he returned to the Astoria and joined his shipmates in trying to save the burning ship, but the damage was too extensive. Ten hours after first being hit, the Astoria sank, sending Staples back into the brine. 

Staples had the foresight not to take off the inflatable belt that had already saved his life once. He remained afloat while around him more than 200 other sailors drowned. The following day, Staples was picked up by the USS President Jackson and taken to New Caledonia. There he was granted medical leave and boarded a ship bound for the States. Not to be caught without his lucky belt — which, coincidentally, had been made in his hometown of Akron, Ohio — he brought it with him.


Staples' inflatable belt after the war. Photo courtesy of The National WWII Museum, composite by Coffee or Die.

Once safely back home in Akron, Staples recounted his harrowing story of survival to his mother, Vera Mueller-Staples. When he mentioned the rubber belt, his mother revealed that while he was away, she had taken a job at the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company plant in Akron. Staples grabbed the belt, pointing to the Firestone name and serial number pressed into the rubber.

When his mother saw the serial number she was stunned. “Son, I’m an inspector at Firestone,” she said, according to an article published in 1942 in the Akron Beacon Journal. “This is my inspector number.”

Staples later said wearing the inflatable rubber belt off Guadalcanal “was like having my mother’s arms around me.”

Read Next: Most American Moment of Pearl Harbor: Sailor Took On Japanese in Full Football Pads

Mac Caltrider
Mac Caltrider

Mac Caltrider is a senior staff writer for Coffee or Die Magazine. He served in the US Marine Corps and is a former police officer. Caltrider earned his bachelor’s degree in history and now reads anything he can get his hands on. He is also the creator of Pipes & Pages, a site intended to increase readership among enlisted troops. Caltrider spends most of his time reading, writing, and waging a one-man war against premature hair loss.

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