About 80 miles southwest of Chicago, Illinois is my hometown of Streator.   
Its straight, tree-lined streets with many modest homes; a few elegant Victorian-styled homes; a lively commercial area and a rich immigrant heritage with pioneer roots in the mid 17th Century stand in marked contrast to the sandy and palm tree covered islet of Betio, part of the very remote Tarawa Atoll, out in the Pacific 6,500 miles southwest of Streator (and 2,400 miles beyond Honolulu). At 291 acres in size, Betio is less than 8% in area compared to my small hometown of Streator. The only thing in common between Betio and Streator is the abundance of silica, sand.  
Betio was the scene of the Battle for Tarawa which began on 20 November 1943, and lasted for 76 straight hours of hell.
When I was 26, I left Streator to go to Chicago for induction into the Marine Corps.  One week later I left for 8 weeks of Boot Camp in San Diego, California.  Then I was transferred to Camp Elliott, California, for 8 weeks of Intelligence School.  Our group left the States in late July almost 4 months before the invasion at Tarawa.  We left California and arrived in Waughton, New Zealand in mid-August, where I spent time at Camp Piekakariki in BN2 School, which is Combat Intelligence School.  I was in Headquarters Company, First Battalion, 8th Marines, 2nd Marine Division.
On the attack transport USS Sheridan (APA-51), our unit left New Zealand on 01 November 1943; participated in amphibious training exercises at Efate Island (present-day Republic of Vanuatu) for two days and departed Efate on a 7-day journey to Tarawa, arriving off Betio in the early morning hours of 20 November. Prior to the actual assault on Betio, I remember sharpening knives, talking with other guys and checking equipment.  
My unit, about 47 of us, was supposed to have gone ashore during the night before H-Hour on D-Day.  We were a Rubber Boat Battalion assembled for recon of the landing area and mopping up any Japanese soldiers that might have fled during the pre-assault naval bombardment of Betio.   That did not happen, though.  Reports of many U.S. casualties came in, causing us to be put into Higgins boats around 11PM of D-Day to actually make the run to the beach. With me, I carried my rifle and its ammo; 2 K-Bar knives; a bayonet; C-rations; and extra socks.  Our objective was simply to get to shore, join our outfit and engage the enemy.
The command ship lost contact with our outfit until 6AM on D+1, which meant there were 47 of us with no food, no bathroom, and all that time we were going around in circles.  Around 7AM on D+1, we were sent ashore still in our Higgins boat, but since the tide had gone out, water depths had fallen to the point where our landing craft got hung up on the coral reef about 800 yards out from the beach.  
This forced us out of the landing craft to begin wading in to the beach through water 8 feet deep in places.  We were caught in enemy crossfire coming from shore and from a scuttled ship nearby; we had to continue wading in regardless of the difficulty because the stranded landing craft was stuck and could not return.  Getting to shore was the only way to have any possibility of staying alive, and besides, that was our objective.  But the Japanese obviously had other ideas.  They had, apparently, gone out to that scuttled ship at night and were waiting for us.  We were shot at from both sides.  The water was red, full of dead and wounded.  
We had to shove dead Marines out of the way in order to get to the beach, but I managed to get ashore at about 11AM and scramble up to the seawall without a rifle or a pack, both of them lost after leaving the landing craft while wading in.
At the seawall, I needed my own weapon, but since I had already lost mine, I bent over to pick up a rifle from a dead Marine close by.  And that was when I was hit by a bullet and knocked down with a “through and through” shot in the torso.   And the bullets kept flying at us from all directions.  
A Corpsman yelled, “Get back in the water!”  This was so the saltwater could have some disinfectant effect on my wound and hopefully stop the bleeding.   So, six of us hung onto wreckage in the water, trying to remain still and pretend to have been killed.
All this time, it was very hot, with temperatures well nearing 120 degrees Fahrenheit!  If we hadn’t acted as though we were dead, we would have been shot dead.  Again, this was about 11AM on D+1.  After 90 minutes, we saw an American boat coming by through the fire from shore.  They were picking up wounded Marines from the water.  They took us to the destroyer, USS Schroeder, which itself was caught on some coral; was not in a good position to shoot and provide cover; and basically was a “sitting duck” target for Japanese fire from shore.  
The man in charge of that rescue operation was a guy named Eddie Albert Heimberger, who after the war became known to the public as Eddie Albert, the actor.  His coxswain was Larry Wade.  They put 39 of us wounded aboard the Schroeder that day.  A sailor on the Schroeder named George Thomas took care of me.  I was put into bed and knocked out with some drugs.  When I woke up about 3 hours later, the ship had been able to free itself from the coral and was now firing at Japanese shore emplacements.  So, rescued by Eddie Albert, taken to the Schroeder and then transferred back to the USS Sheridan, now having been converted to a hospital ship, we left Betio on 24 November, and us wounded guys were taken to Pearl Harbor for recuperation.
How do I know all these events between being wounded and my return to Hawaii? In 1994, while attending the 2nd Marine Division Reunion at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, I met Larry, Eddie and George, and that is when I finally learned all the details of my rescue.  We have been friends ever since … though, sadly, Eddie died back in 2005.  Eddie did everything he could to help us, putting himself at great and continuing risk in the process.  
At the hospital in Pearl Harbor, I was in a group of about 50 wounded Marines awarded the Purple Heart by Admiral Chester W. Nimitz.  He was the Commander in Chief, Pacific Ocean Areas (CinCPOA), with operational control over all Allied air, land and sea units in the Pacific Area.  I still remember him as a decent and nice guy.
Eventually, I was able to rejoin my old outfit on the Big Island of Hawaii, at Camp Tarawa.  We were there training for our next landing.  Beginning there at Camp Tarawa, I had a job as a Battalion Mail Clerk, as well as being in BN2 Section and a Radio Operator.
After Tarawa, I was at Saipan; Tinian; Okinawa; back to Saipan; then off to Iheya and Aguni (two small islands between Japan and Okinawa); then back to Okinawa; then back to Saipan in July 1945, to train for the occupation of Japan’s Kyushu Island.  From at least later September to early December 1945, I was stationed at several locations on Kyushu, including several weeks in Nagasaki – the city where the second atomic bomb was dropped on 09 August 1945, 3 days after the other atomic bomb had been dropped on Hiroshima.
The Japanese announced their decision to surrender on 10 August 1945; the actual surrender ceremony was conducted on the deck of the USS Missouri (BB-63) in Tokyo Bay on 02 September 1945.  I left for home on 09 December 1945, and I was honorably discharged from the United States Marine Corps on 17 January 1946, to return to Streator, Illinois.  Ah, yes! HOME! … in the midst of beautiful prairies, rivers and everything that I loved and had longed for all the time I was out there in the Pacific.
For me, Betio symbolizes so much that is negative and full of death, but Streator symbolizes all that is positive and full of life. There could not be two more disparate places on Earth than Betio and Streator, regardless of how that difference might be calculated.  My short stay on Tarawa nearly killed me, but I was lucky because of the nature of my wound and because Eddie Albert rescued me.  Almost three years later, I came home to Streator more grateful than ever to live life fully.  My ‘vacation’ from home had been a harrowing detour through hell. But I managed to come home at last!
Dean, ‘for meritorious conduct in the performance of your duties while serving for nearly three years as a member of a Marine infantry battalion during operations against the enemy in World War 2’ … ‘for your courage, loyalty and devotion to duty serving as an example to your comrades and contributing materially to the success of your units’ … ‘your conduct was in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service,’  we thank you.
That paraphrase of the recognition of this 93-year old Marine’s service to our country (in a Letter of Commendation from his Division Commander, General Leroy P. Hunt, during the Occupation of Japan) rings true.  Our lives are better because of the protection you and others in our Armed Forces gave us during the War.  Your sacrifices, courage and love of our country will be remembered.
Through you, the memory of Eddie Albert, George Thomas and Larry Wade lives.  Your comrades from BN2 section also live:  McKewon, McCrae, Lopez, Frost, Steigles, Lannon, Moser, Woods, Lt. Simpson, Lt. Wilson and Colonel Hayes.
Received on 30 November 2010
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