WILLIAM DODSON SMITH
When I turned 17 in May of 42, I was a tried and true Tar Heel from Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Two months later, I joined the U.S. Marines and went to boot camp. From New Zealand to Tarawa, I was on the transport USS Arthur Middleton (APA-25), a vessel on this trip manned jointly by Coast Guard and Navy personnel. I was in Hq, 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment in the 2nd Marine Division.
USS Arthur Middleton (APA-25)
A PHOTO OF USS Arthur Middleton COMES HERE SOON.
In the early morning hours of D-Day at Betio, I remember eating steak and eggs for breakfast and checking that all my equipment worked. That equipment included my TBX radio, my carbine rifle and its ammo and my canteen. On Middleton, we were some 10 miles out to sea west of the lagoon at Betio, and we must have thought we would have a relatively straightforward approach to the beach once we were inside the lagoon, judging from the pre-attack bombardment of Betio by the cruisers and battleships. But we were in for a terror-filled surprise!
Our landing craft, with about 40 on board, was unable to cross the reef. So, our coxswain landed us at the reef about 800 yards out from the pier. That meant we were unable to land on the beach with the rest of our battalion, and the ensuing bedlam only got worse. In the rush to get off the landing craft, my TBX radio got left behind. If we had taken too long to vacate the landing craft, most or all of us would have been killed right there. As it was, we were left with wading in and reached the beach at about 1400, all the while trying to avoid being shot and trying to miss bomb craters in the water. I remember thinking that those Japs are trying to kill me! We were prime targets for Japanese crossfire as we waded in, and there was only one way to go to the beach.
The smoke, the smell of gun powder, explosions, bullets hitting the sand ahead, behind or on the palm logs at the seawall, killing some outright, wounding others and seeing dead Marines and Japs and the stench of death all around the scene was awful. I remember so well being bunched up with others at the seawall and then running across to a log building. The next man ran over and had a hole shot in his canteen. The next man dove into a shell hole, but when he raised his head to look around, a Jap shot him in the head. Since I had left my TBX on the landing craft, I got behind one of the two tanks that had, by that time got ashore, to make some progress inland. At some point, I started making trips back and forth between the beach and the tanks to carry clover leafs of 75mm ammo back to the tanks. Each step was scary but necessary; every movement exposed myself to being shot.
Eventually, though, I got back with the 3rd Battalion. Slowly we fought our way across the airstrip and ended up somewhere on the narrowing portion of Betio between the runway and the south shore of Betio Black Beach. We just had to go on and do our best to take the island.
Those of us still able to walk and run, left the island the day after the island was secured. Just getting back to the lagoon side of the island was a chore in itself: I was dirty, thirsty, sunburned, hungry and so utterly exhausted when we were taken to the USS Sheridan (APA-51). Upon return to Sheridan, I could hardly climb up the net.
USS Sheridan (APA-51)
A PHOTO OF USS Sheridan COMES HERE SOON.
Sheridan took us from Tarawa to Hawaii, and all I remember of Camp Tarawa was that it was just an open field. We had to set up our tents on the ground, and some time passed before we got lumber for floors and even longer before we got poles for electricity.
After Camp Tarawa, I was in combat at Saipan and later at Okinawa, but I missed Tinian because on the day before fighting stopped at Saipan, I was wounded. After Okinawa, I was sent back to New River (now Camp Lejeune) where I was honorably discharged in November 1945.
For my time in the Pacific, I got the Bronze Star with V for valor; the Purple Heart; a Good Conduct Medal; the Presidential Unit Citation (Tarawa); the Combat Action Ribbon; the Asiatic-Pacific Medal with three stars; and the WWII Victory Medal.
BRONZE STAR V
A PHOTO OF THE BRONZE STAR V COMES HERE SOON.
PURPLE HEART
A PHOTO OF THE PURPLE HEART COMES HERE SOON.
PRESIDENTIAL UNIT CITATION Tarawa)
A PHOTO OF THIS PRESENTIAL UNIT CITATION COMES HERE SOON.
ASIATIC-PACIFIC MEDAL with 3 STARS
A PHOTO OF THE ASIATIC-PACIFIC MEDAL COMES HERE SOON.
WORLD WAR II VICTORY MEDAL
A PHOTO OF THE WORLD WAR II VICTORY MEDAL COMES HERE SOON.
Dodson, thank you for your service and dedication. This Tar Heel is home to stay!
SEMPER FI, DODSON !
Received 25 October 2010
Return to ROSTER