I was already 18 years old when I enlisted in the Marine Corps in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I was 20 when we hit the beaches at Tarawa.  Wounded at Saipan, I was discharged from the Marine Corps in late November 1944, returned to Minneapolis, for a few years before moving to California where I worked for Smirnoff Distilleries for many years.  Between Guadalcanal and Saipan was Bloody Tarawa, and I feel so lucky to have survived that experience.
For the entire period of my military service in World War II, my one “home away from home” was E Company, 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment in the 2nd Marine Division.
The Harris-class attack transport USS J. Franklin Bell (APA-16) took us from New Zealand for the rendezvous with the rest of Task Force 53 at Efate in the New Hebrides (present-day Republic of Vanuatu).    Shortly before dawn of D-Day 20 November 1943, Bell took her place with other transports off Betio, and I remember watching our Navy bombard Betio to soften up enemy defenses there. When shore batteries opened the action with salvos at our transports shortly after 5AM, the Bell retired out of range for the first day of battle.  Several of our units in the 6th Marines were being held in reserve, and we just waited that first day of battle waiting for further orders.  
On D+1, Bell appeared to depart her changed anchorage but instead sailed around Tarawa to debark units of the 6th Marines on Bairiki (south side, White Beach), the island immediately to the east of Betio.  This is where a Higgins landing craft with about 20 of us Marines went ashore. My equipment included a rifle and its ammo; a KA-BAR knife; a canteen; some rations; a poncho and some extra clothing.
We were supposed to go over to Betio (really only a few hundred yards to the west of Bairiki on late on D+1), but because so many landing craft and amtracs had been lost on the first two days of the battle, we did not go over to the west side of Betio (Green Beach) until the morning of D+2.
When we went to Green Beach on D+2, our landing was hampered by an abundance of coral reefs not too far off shore, and this caused some very abbreviated and conservative approaches by the coxswains of the Higgins boats.  Also, at the water’s edge, there were many bodies of both Marines and the enemy.  As a result, we debarked the landing craft and waded in with water up to our shoulders.
We really had no serious resistance at Green Beach.  Instead, our combat took place on Buariki, the northerly-most islet of Tarawa Atoll.  We were taken from Green Beach on D+4 or D+5 to a landing on Buota, a small islet over near the southeast corner of Tarawa to head off and engage a group of enemy who had fled the action on Betio.  (Ratner’s definitive description of the rest of E Company’s action chasing the enemy up to Buariki follows).
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 
The Battle for Buariki
Gene Ratner E-2-6
Many stories have been written about the famous battle for Tarawa, but were never quite complete.
Seventy-six hours after the initial landing, the battle was considered over.  The battle for Betio, the main island of the atoll, was over.  The battle for Tarawa was not.  The following is an account of what happened on the northern end of the Tarawa Atoll.
An undetermined number of enemy survivors were reported leaving Betio, heading north along the narrow atoll.  The 2nd Battalion, 6th Regiment, headed by Lt. Col Raymond Murray was pulled off Betio and landed a few islands north to cut off the fleeing Japanese.  The landing was too late.  The Japs had passed the assigned landing area and were well ahead of the pursuing Marines.
After a long, hot and exhausting chase, the 2nd Battalion headed by E Company came to a halt about one mile short of the last island named Buariki.  A patrol consisting of three squads, supported by one machine gun unit, was formed to seek out and gain information on the strength of the remaining enemy.  Approaching the end of the last island, and expecting little resistance, one squad and machine gun unit (were) cut out to be held in reserve.  The remaining 24 men continued what was considered only a reconnaissance patrol.
Suddenly the serene and gentle sounds of tropical bird calls were interrupted by a long burst of enemy machine gun fire.  Two Marines were hit.  Large columns of Japs were coming down both sides of the narrow island.  With two men down and four acting as stretcher bearers, the Marine patrol found itself highly outnumbered.  The pursued became the pursuers.  An estimated 200 Japs were outflanking the 24-man patrol.  The enemy goal was established.  The Marine patrol was cut off and surrounded.
What happened during the next 60 seconds could be described as the dramatic Moment of Truth.
The weapons of the two opposing forces went silent.  The Japs were moving in for the kill.  The Marines braced for the attack.  The 30-second silence was broken by words coming in loud and clear from the enemy position, “We died tomorrow, you die tonight.”
The words were answered by the sweet sound of an American .30 caliber machine gun.  The Japs, unaware of the approaching squad, were caught by surprise.  The southern perimeter of the Jap cutoff line was riddled, creating an escape route for the trapped patrol.
United, and back at full strength, the Marines were still in danger of being overrun by superior numbers of the enemy.  With the excellent leadership of Lt. Rudd, PltSgt Charly Harris and platoon guide Sgt Jerry Wachsmuth, a retrograde action or fall back was initiated (the idea of which came from Sgt Wachsmuth) and the Marine patrol returned to battalion with their wounded buddies.
The Japanese, resigned to the fact the coming rising sun would be their last, set up a surprise of their own.  Rather than fall back to the original line of resistance at the far end of the island, they dug in and set up a defense line less than 100 yards from the Marines’ overnight encampment.
The following morning, the 2nd Battalion, headed by E Co., encountered the enemy sooner than expected.  Walking headlong into a hail of machine gun fire, the men of E-2-6 were hit hard.  Fighting was close.  Some Japanese, experts in the art of camouflage, took advantage of the heavy jungle terrain, popping up in the center of the Marine attack force.
With the support of F and G Companies, the fight lasted approximately one hour.  The Jap contingent, estimated at about 200, was wiped out, but not without a price.  Thirty-two Marines were killed, 65 wounded.  Eight of the 32 KIA were survivors of the previous night’s patrol.  Among them was patrol leader Lt. Rudd.
The battle for Buariki was over.  All in all, 232 men died and another 654 were wounded in the one hour battle on the tiny islet of the Tarawa atoll’s northern tip.
Stories will continue to be written about Tarawa and the bloody fight on Betio, but what of the place called Buariki and what happened there?
SOURCE:  “Follow Me” Volume XXXI, NO. 1, p. 12
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 
So, actually, I was on Betio for only about 24 hours, but what happened on Buariki more than made up for the rather slow start for E Company’s role in at Tarawa.  When Tarawa was secured, I had been lucky.  I was unscathed.
Shortly after the action at Buariki, I left for Camp Tarawa on the Big Island of Hawaii, some 2,500 miles to the northeast  (equal to the distance from San Diego, California to Hartford, Connecticut!) for rest, re-equipment and training for our next campaign which turned out to be at Saipan.  That began in mid-June 1944.
My memory of Camp Tarawa was great!  I had a liberty once to Hilo and generally enjoyed Hawaii.
On D-Day at Tarawa, the 2nd and 8th Marine Regiments were hit hard.  We felt left out.  To make up for it, we were assigned to the 1st wave, Red 1 (left flank) at Saipan.  Our casualties there were heavy.  
At Saipan on Day 10, an enemy bullet hit me, entering through my right shoulder, travelling through my arm, puncturing my right lung and creating a large hole in my back.  The enemy traditionally used soft-nose bullets creating extensive damage.  I managed to crawl back to our lines, was put on a stretcher on a jeep and was taken for surgery on a vessel off shore.   
That incident ended my military career!  After the War, that injury made me quite susceptible to colds and pneumonia, and I was given a 100% disability allowance.  I was honorably discharged on 24 November 1944, and returned to Minneapolis.  And that completes the ‘in between’ part of my story, at least as far as my short and traumatic time at Tarawa.   At age 87, my memories of Guadalcanal, Tarawa and Saipan are still very clear.
Gene, your spirit, supportive regard for you buddies and devotion to duty are examples of what a Marine offers his country.  We thank you for your service.  Our country is the beneficiary because brave people like you committed to its defense.
Received 29 November 2010
Return to ROSTER