By the start of the Battle of Tarawa on 20 November 1943, I was a 22-year old young fellow from Cleveland, Ohio in the Regimental Weapons Company, 2nd Regiment in the 2nd Marine Division manning a 37mm anti-tank gun. A three-week trip from New Zealand on the Harris-class attack transport USS Zeilin (APA-3), with a rendezvous at Efate in the New Hebrides (then, under joint administration by Great Britain and France; the present-day Republic of Vanuatu) to join Task Force 53, brought us to Tarawa Atoll one full day before the battle began.
USS Zeilin (APA-3)
Our unit, consisting of about 20 guys, boarded landing craft on D-Day intending to go ashore in the 4th wave. There was a lot of confusion prior to proceeding down the line of departure and at the various points where landing craft would begin their runs to their respective beaches. This confusion made us a bit late, but we finally made it, even passing up some boats in the 3rd wave. One amtrac we passed was, just a few second later, hit by a Jap gun and sunk.
Approaching the beach, we saw many, many dead Marines along the shoreline, and due in large part to the intense heat, dead bodies emitted really terrible odors. We were supposed to support the 2nd Battalion of the 2nd Marines, but we were ordered across the island to join E Company of the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Regiment who had already lost about 160 men out of their initial complement of 210. This was the first time I had heard bullets aimed at me! Some of our crew got hit, but they were not killed.
After 3 nights and 4 days, we found ourselves over on the southwest corner of Betio, near the two 8 coastal defense guns. I was so exhausted, filthy, hungry and thirsty. All that time the daytime temperatures were well above 100. When we came back to the north / lagoon side of Betio, our Company Commander was shocked. He thought all of us were dead, but we really hadnt lost many at all!
I thought then that all battles must be like Tarawa. It had been my first amphibious landing, and I had come in alone along the side of the pier where the footing was difficult, especially considering the enemy was shooting at us all the way in! Not only that, but there were lots of dead Marines, and we did not want to trip over them.
I returned to Hawaii on the USS William P. Biddle (APA-8). After the unreal heat at Tarawa, the balmy breezes of Hawaii were just what the doctor ordered.
USS William P. Biddle (APA-8)
But, arriving at Camp Tarawa was another story. There, we had cold nights and warm days. I remember spending lots of time on the beach, and that tended to make up for the cold we experienced at the camp, which was located up higher on the slopes of Mauna Kea.
By the time World War II was over for me, I had fought at Tarawa, Saipan, Okinawa.
I had earned the usual medals. By the time the Korean War began, I was there also for about 2 years. My last rank was Gunnery Sergeant, and I am proud to be a Marine!
Looking back on events at Tarawa now as an 89-year old Marine, I want to put things in perspective: it took 3 transports to get the 2nd Regiment to Tarawa, but it took only 1 transport to take us to Hawaii.
George, we thank you for your service. Your performance and love of our country shall not be forgotten.
Received 17 December 2010
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