Detroit, Michigan was where I came from when I joined the Marines in 1942.  My boot camp was in San Diego; I was 21 years old; I was in Platoon 996 and we slept in 3-man tents.  With one exception during all of World War II, I slept only in tents!  
Originally, I was in the tank school in San Diego with light Stuart tanks.  We had a two-week orientation in the Stuarts, and I still remember those tight-fitting leather helmets from that time.
USMC M2A4  'Stuart' light tank at Guadalcanal in 1942
In the middle of January 1943 the Marine Corps decided to activate a medium tank battalion, and I was part of a group of 80 guys who went to Jacques Farm, a couple of miles south of Camp Elliott, to learn how to use the mediums (the Shermans).  We formed different companies, lived in 5-man tents.  While waiting for tanks to arrive, we spent a lot of time just cleaning guns.  When the Shermans arrived, at first they had 500 horsepower Chryslers, and after a month or two, they weren't working out so good.  So the Marine Corps gave us a 375 horsepower General Motors Sherman.  That was much better.  So, from that point onward, the lights ('Stuarts') were done, and we would never see another Stuart again.
We went into the nearby mountains on and around Jacques Farm and used these mediums to practice with, especially in among the trees,  to see how they worked. The problem was, though, our company with these Shermans had  75 mm guns that started fires.  Well, it wasn't the gun that started the fires.  The fires were caused because we had armor piercing shells and flame throwers. 
We trained from February to June with the Shermans.  We had a 1st, 2nd and 3rd platoon and Hq formed the reconnaisance platoon.  I was a supply sergeant, so I was in charge of doling out weapons and ammunition.  When each of the platoons got their own tanks, all of ours were marked with a "C" to represent C Company.  It was from thfis that our tanks received names like Cannonball, Charlie, Condor, Cuddles, Commando, Cherokee, Clipper, Cobra, Cecelia, China Gal, Chicago and Colorado.  
"Colorado" … an M4A2 Sherman medium tank of 3rd Platoon, C Company, 1st Corps Tank Battalion               on Tarawa after the island was declared secure
Our Shermans came with a 75mm cannon on the nose, a .50 cal Browning machine gun, and two .30-06 Browning machine guns. That vehicle weighed 33 tons unloaded … 35 tons loaded, and it could do a lot of damage on the battlefield!
By early June 1943, I was in the French colony of New Caledonia, at Camp Majenta on Uemo Ba, about 4 miles east of the major port facilities in Port Noumea.  About 800 nautical miles northeast of Brisbane, Australia and about 975 nautical miles north, northweat of Auckland, NZ, this area in and around Noumea became the focus of an extensive build-up of the main fleet base in the South Pacific, superceding the extensive plans originally planned for Auckland, New Zealand.  Noumea's harbor was the only sensible location for such a focus of activity.  This is because its location was almost 1,000 miles north of Auckland, and it could much more easily supply support facilities to forward areas even further north.  Also, its overall size was immense and it could be easily defended.  In March 1942, the United States and the Free French government-in-exile agreed to terms for the occupation of New Caledonia, and in June 1942, the U.S. Navy assumed control of the Port of Noumea.  From that point until I arrived in June 1943, Navy construction battalions had begun development 
From the decks of the Ashland in those pre-invasion early hours, I watched our US Navy cruisers and one battlewagon pummel Betio.  It was a tremendous show, inflicting – we thought – extensive damage on land targets and Japanese personnel.  Were we ever surprised, though, when we went ashore!  
If my memory still serves me, C Company, 1st Corps Medium Tank Battalion was in the 3rd Wave at Red Beach #2.  Our tanks went in on their own, and I was part of a group of about 45 guys in a LCM landing craft that hit the reef 300 yards from the beach. 
LCM (landing craft, mechanized and utility):  the sort of craft that brought Ed as far as the reef                  some 300 yards out from the beach at Betio
The ramp went down in 5’ of water and, just like all the other Marines, we had to wade in to shore with all our gear and with barely our noses sticking out of the water.  Now, that wasn’t such a bad thing, in a sense, because that meant, initially, we did not present ourselves as much of a target to snipers on shore.  However, the water became increasingly shallow, and that meant we began to present ourselves as increasingly large targets and … well, it was awful:  men all around getting shot.  Lots of blood in the water; it doesn’t dilute and dissipate as quickly as you might think.   It was just as bad or worse in the sand around the seawall.  We were like sitting ducks in the water; only a little less like sitting ducks crouching up by the seawall.  Of the 45 men were who left the landing craft at the reef, only 7 or 8 of us got to the beach.  All of this was caused by somebody who BADLY screwed up on calculations of the tidal action for that day.   ALL of this could have been avoided.
In the water and once the few of us made it to shore, there was nothing but smoke, noise and screams for Corpsmen.  The smell of death and the sound of bullets hitting the sand and logs will never leave me.  
Since the battle was basically over after 3 days, we spent a day or so burying our dead.  In that heat, bodies don’t last long.    Generally, my job on Betio as a supply sergeant was to bring ammo and water to the front.  Guys in my company saw that I got my job done well, and for that they sometimes called me 'Superman' and, on other occasions, I was referred to as 'the Black Prince'... but that's another story.. At one point, my tank commander, Captain Bale, appointed me as his First Sergeant, and I was both surprised and proud of that. 
We were scheduled to have gone on to take another nearby island, but our casualties were so high and our survivors were so shot up we were taken to Hawaii. Since we had secured the island in four days, we buried our dead, left our tanks and returned to our ship, the USS Ashland, which had brought us to Tarawa in the first place.  We were taken to Hilo on the Big Island of Hawaii, where, with our tanks loaded on 6x6 trucks, we were driven to what became Camp Tarawa.  Yes, as a tank unit, we helped in the initial construction of Camp Tarawa!
One anecdote I should add here is a story about the flag raising ceremony on Betio after the island had been secured.  A man named Jimmy Williams from C Company Medium Tanks was the one who played the bugle!
Jimmy had been dressed in the clothes he had fought in, and they were stinky, torn, in shreds in places … a real mess!
To help himself look more presentable at the closing ceremony, Jimmy rummaged around in a nearby Japanese Marine bunker and found some clean long underwear that fit.  He discarded his own clothes, put on the Japanese underwear and went back to play “Taps.”
But Major General Julian C. Smith (Commanding General of Operation Galvanic) and some of his staff saw this and General Smith ordered Jimmy to get rid of those (!#&$^@#!) clothes!  Someone on the General’s staff found some clean or at least wearable US Marine clothing.  Jimmy had to undress in front of the General, God and the rest of the General’s staff … and then put on the new set of Marine clothing before he could go out and play “Taps.”  I’ll never forget that.  And you notice the order here – the General before God!  
After Tarawa, I was in the action on Saipan, Tinian, Okinawa and 3 months in Nagasaki after the atomic bomb was dropped there.   On 10 January 1946, I was honorably discharged from the U.S. Marine Corps.  But, as they say, Once a Marine, Always a Marine!
Medals and citations?  A Bronze Star and the Presidential Unit Citation (Tarawa).
Ed, thank you for your service to our country.  Because of you and Marines like you, we are the “Land of the Free!”
Received 13 November 2010
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