On 20 November 1943, I was in M Battery, 4th Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment (artillery), with the 2nd Marine Division.  With a group of about 18 men, we were in a Higgins landing craft heading to shore in the 2nd wave on Red Beach 2.  
From New Zealand to Tarawa (in the Gilbert Islands; the present-day Republic of Kiribati), I traveled with my unit on the attack transport USS Doyen (APA-1).  
USS Doyen (APA-1)
We departed the wonderful Land of the Kiwis on 01 November 1943, heading for Efate Island (in the present-day Republic of Vanuatu) for a rendezvous with other transports in Task Force 53. Doyen herself had a remarkable service record during World War II, logging over 100,000 miles in 2.8 years and earning six battle stars along the way.  At one point while at Betio, Doyen came under attack from enemy shore batteries and enemy torpedo bomber aircraft, at the same time as she was embarking Marine casualties from Betio!
We arrived at Betio in the early morning darkness of D-Day, 20 November 1943.  To this day I remember standing at the rail talking with my buddies and watching in the dark as our Navy ships bombarded various targets, followed in daylight by watching our aircraft on bombing and strafing runs.   That action was tremendous to watch!  We thought they had accomplished so much, but the enemy managed to hide deep in prepared bunkers and were there ready to take us on when the assault finally began.
On our run to Red Beach 2, we got hung up on some of the barbed wire on the coral reefs not too far west of the pier, meaning we were sitting ducks for enemy mortars for at least 30 minutes.  In that time, mortars landed all around us but never actually ‘in’ our landing craft.  We were splashed with water, yet we rode out the nearby explosions without injuries.  
Eventually, another landing craft towed us off the reef, and we moved closer to our landing on Red 2.  Our situation became much riskier, though, because we soon discovered something not working as it should with our motor; running onto the reef or when we were towed off, we must have damaged our motor.  As a result, we diverted to Green Beach over on the west end of Betio.  So, an unintentional stranding and a change of course were our first tactical moves when the amphibious assault on Tarawa began.
Very quickly, I can tell you, a greater contrast between the beaches of Tarawa that day and the beaches in my hometown of Santa Monica, California does not exist!
On D-Day at Betio, I was a 22 year-old radio operator with a 68-pound radio on my back with my own backpack suspended beneath that – not good for maneuvering in water or on land while dodging enemy fire!  As a radio operator, my job was to work within a forward observation group and send locations of enemy target sightings to field guns behind and to our battalion headquarters. We worked very close to headquarters simply because the island was so small.
On our initial run to Red 2, the objective was to land not too far to the west of the pier and make our way to battalion headquarters, but because we diverted to the west around the Bird’s Beak to Green Beach, we were a fair distance to the west of our Headquarters.
We found a route through a break in the barbed wire and in a channel of some sort through the coral, and we finally made it to shore.  We saw many dead and wounded, mostly Japs, but there was still lots of shooting.   In that hot midday sun, conditions were awful.
But landing on Green meant we were a long way to the west of where our battalion headquarters was located, back near the pier and not too far from a big bunker.  
We spent the rest of D-Day very close to Green Beach. In fact, I remember digging a foxhole on the beach itself and inflating some life jackets to lie on in the hole!  On D+1, in an eastwardly direction somewhat parallel to and inland from the seawall lining Red 1 and Red 2, we fought our way about halfway back to our battalion headquarters. This means repeatedly running, dropping, crawling, firing, hiding, being fired at, crawling and firing some more until we had to set up for spending the night of D+1.  Keep in mind that all this was happening in something like 115° heat while being shot at! Then, on D+2 we arrived at our headquarters just before the final assaults were made on the big bunker.
Distinctly, I remember carefully approaching one of the entrances to the bunker.  This entrance was down a flight of maybe eight steps with a 90° turn at the bottom of the steps.  A friend of mine was right in front of me when suddenly a Jap appeared from behind the corner and shot my friend.  Immediately, a couple of other Marines threw a couple of grenades down by the base of the steps and killed the Jap.  
By D+3 sometime, our unit had got as far as the east end of the airstrip when the action really tapered off quite noticeably. The overall distance from the bunker area to the east end of the airstrip wasn’t too far, but the fighting was intense and non-stop.  Progress seemed to be made in just inches.
That is when we were called back to the lagoon side of Betio.  I remember seeing the flag-raising ceremony, and then we headed over to a Higgins landing craft for a ride back to Doyen.   All told, I was on Tarawa about four full days.
Fortunately for me, I was not wounded and returned to Doyen which took many of us to Camp Tarawa on the Big Island of Hawaii.  There we did a lot of construction setting up the camp.  I had several liberties.  I was issued a radio Jeep which I used there and later in the war as part of our forward observation group.
Looking back on these events at the age of 91, events at Tarawa really do stand out, possibly even more so than my time at Guadalcanal (before Tarawa) and at Saipan, Tinian and Okinawa (after Tarawa).  After Okinawa, I also spent some time on occupation duty in the Nagasaki area on Kyushu … the Japanese mainland!
As for medals, I guess I’d have to say the ones usually given then to Marines.  That would include the Presidential Unit Citation (Tarawa); the Asiatic-Pacific medal; the WWII Victory medal.  Remarkably, I wasn’t wounded at all in any of the five campaigns I was on, at least nothing serious enough to  and I guess that is why there was no Purple Heart!  I was just very, very, lucky!
Yes, Carl, you were very, very lucky, and this grateful nation is very lucky you were the fine fighting Marine there on Tarawa and the other Pacific campaigns.  Thank you for your service.  We will remember.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Carl E. Parks,  M-4-10
I really enjoyed Kingston Johns article in a recent Sept-Oct Follow Me about the USS Hinsdale (APA-120).  I was also on that ship when the Kamikaze plane hit her.
In fact that article spiked my ambition to write what I remember about that day (April 1, 1945), the most unforgettable day of my life.  Hardly a day passes that I don’t think of that awful experience.
Even the landing on Tarawa and the landing on Saipan by the sugarcane mill or being shot at by a sniper from the smoke stack does not stick in my memory like the following story.
I had just eaten breakfast and was eating an apple in the dark-out room between the interior and exterior door when the blast from the bombs exploded in the engine rooms.
I said to myself, “We’ve hit another ship or something.” I rushed outside on the port deck and heard this loud swishing sound and went to the rail and looked over.  There, about 40 feet aft and maybe 20 feet below me was a big hole and water was rushing in at a terribly fast rate!
The plane actually went through a portion of the mess hall which I had recently vacated and went into the engine rooms.  I say ‘rooms’ because it destroyed both engine rooms allowing the water to go into 3 compartments of a 7-compartment ship.  I have heard that flooding of 4 compartments would sink the ship immediately.
The ship began to list immediately to the port side.  Everyone scrambled up to the starboard side and the ship’s personnel began trying to lower the lifeboats.  There was quite a bit of difficulty because of the list, which I thought was more than 13 degrees as I had to go from the port side to starboard side with my hands on the deck it was so steep.  However, by all hands on the starboard side and the able crews working below, the ship settled back somewhat and I was able to go below and gather up some of my personal belongings.
After a while, they were able to lower the boats, and as word was passed to disembark, I got the word from my battery commander that I was to stay aboard and stay with my radio Jeep to be taken off by another ship along side later on that day.
Well, that was the second time that day my heart sank.  I wanted to go with my buddies, but I stacked my gear topside and settled in to help others disembark.
There actually was a time that my memory just quit working.  I just remember seeing smoke everywhere and ships being hit by other Kamikaze planes and bombs.  One LST about one quarter mile off the rear must have been carrying lots of ammunition because she just completely disappeared in a single, huge blast.  Hardly anything floated after the smoke settled.
I found a place near the rear on the main deck and settled in for the worst day of my life, before or since.  Remember, I knew no one aboard because, other than the ship’s crew and the other Marines aboard (I saw only about 30, and they were from other units), mostly the drivers of other radio Jeeps and ambulance Jeeps and one-tons had already disembarked when the earlier order had been given.  I do remember one tank with a blade for covering ammunition fires remained on board the Hinsdale.
I was sitting near a 20mm anti-aircraft gun when a sailor asked me to help him with ammo.  I spent the rest of the day with him, and we operated the gun all day.  I didn’t even get his name.  Even if I had asked him, I would have forgotten by now.
We sat there dead in the water until about 2pm when a smaller ship which I have recently learned was the USS Leo (AKA-6) came by and began towing us about 20 miles to Kerama Retto harbor (on Takashiki Island west of Okinawa) where there were numerous ships of all sizes that had been hit by Kamikaze planes or damaged by bombs or shell fire. One was a cruiser where a bomb went down the stack.  That was one long and miserable trip.  Enemy planes were flying over all day, and I guess we were not a #1 priority because they passed us by looking for undamaged or bigger targets.
Mr. Johns did not mention that we did not get into the harbor that day. Just before dark a submarine net tender began stringing a net across the entrance to the harbor and the tow-ship, Leo, dropped us like a hot potato and beat it into the harbor ahead of the net tender.  That was the third time that day that my heart sank another 3 inches.  
Just about dusk, two enemy planes decided to finish us off.  Fortunately, they had expended their bombs, but they circled and were making a run at us to either torpedo us or just strafe us.  I don’t know which, but with the help of a lot of fire-power coming from inside the harbor (protected by anti-submarine nets), we were firing every gun on our ship that would work without electric power.   Our luck was still holding as both planes were hit and tumbled into the water less than 600 yards from our ship.
As I said before, that was the worst day of my life.  I remember it started at 0600.  The loudspeaker was announcing the time when the plane hit and the power went dead.  Up until that time, everything had been fine.  I had slept well and gotten up about 0515 and eaten a good breakfast (don’t ask me what it was!), because we were scheduled to land later that day on Okinawa.  I didn’t know or don’t remember hearing that we were to make a feint landing off the east coast of Okinawa to draw the enemy away from where the actual landing first took place on the west side.  That feint drew a lot of attention by the Kamikaze planes.
Back to the longest and scariest day and the longest night … I guess you know there was no sleeping that night.  I can’t say it was not without entertainment.  The sky was lit up most of the night with anti-aircraft fire from the Hinsdale and all the other ships in the harbor.  I have never seen a 4th of July that would come close to equaling the display of lights over Kerama Retto Island the night of April 1, 1945!  April Fools Day, my eye!  It was for real!
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Received 28 January 2011
Return to ROSTER