From Tavares, Florida, I entered the Marine Corps when I was 19.  I was 20 when my unit, Special Weapons Group, 2nd Defense Battalion, landed on Betio with our 40mm (Bofors single-barrel on a 4-wheel trailer) and .50 cal (Browning single-barrel, high angle, tripod mount) anti-aircraft guns.
From New Zealand, our unit was taken to Betio on the Heywood-class attack transport USS William P. Biddle (APA-8), a vessel with an illustrious history of its own during World War II.  In the month before the landings at Tarawa, the Biddle travelled from Honolulu to Samoa to New Zealand, arriving at Wellington on 18 October.  She participated in practice landing exercises at Hawkes Bay, New Zealand and returned to Wellington to accept Marines of the 2nd Marine Division for the trip to Tarawa.  On 01 November she departed Wellington as part of Task Force-53, sailing for Efate (in the present-day Republic of Vanuatu) the staging area for the Tarawa campaign . . . Operation Galvanic.
On 13 November, loaded with Marines and their equipment, the Biddle sailed for Tarawa, arriving off Betio in time for commencement of the assault there on 20 November.  Shortly before sunrise on D-Day, Japanese shore batteries targeted American transports off shore. The Biddle came close to being hit, with some shrapnel actually wounding one man on board. The Biddle then weighed anchor and moved out of range of Japanese guns, and it was from that position that Marines began the longer run in to Betio beaches.
In the early morning hours of D-Day at Betio, I remember well going to Battle Stations at midnight and then going to a big breakfast of steak and eggs.  We waited all that morning on that day, while other units went to the cargo nets and scrambled down to Higgins landing craft rising and falling in the water next to us.  In the evening of D-Day, we boarded our own LCM (one variant of Higgins landing craft) with our 44mm AA guns to go ashore, but we spent all night on our LCM without actually going ashore.  We waited and waited until D+1 or D+2 (looking back over a 67-year period really challenges one’s recall of events), to reload into LCVPs (another variant of Higgins landing craft).  
Locked and loaded, in a group of about 36 men, we landed unopposed on Red Beach 3, just east of the pier.  Equipment I took with me included my M-1 rifle; 80 rounds of ammo; bayonets, a canteen and cup, a spoon (but not a mess kit); a poncho; spare boots and socks; two containers of K-rations; a toothbrush; and a photo of Mom and Dad.
Except for sporadic sniper fire, our landing was right in front of where many bodies of both Marines and the enemy were floating next to the beach.  Bodies were everywhere, floating back and forth with the wave action. The odor was terrible.
One thing I remember about that run in to Red 3 is that I got in trouble for trying to see over the side of the LCVP!  I certainly was curious, but I probably deserved being chewed out because I could have been hit if a sniper had had anything to shoot at!  We landed about 10 feet out from the seawall.
Though we were an AA unit, we really functioned as well as infantry.  Soon, though, we set up our 40mm Bofors AA at the foot of the pier, and that is where I remained until I left Betio on my eighteenth day there.
One other thing I remember was how the large command bunker was dealt with a day or so after its capture by Marines from the 2d Battalion Shore Party, 18th Marines, 2d Marine Division, led by Lt. Bonnyman.  From my vantage point, this bunker was quite long with a lot of it above ground level, and I had heard that perhaps an equal area of the bunker was below ground level as well. It was made of reinforced concrete and covered with sand and logs to make it hard to detect. It had, if I remember correctly, three exits and several vents.  Many of the enemy were killed as they fled the bunker when Bonnyman’s men attacked, but a substantial number remained inside.
A day or so later, the final act of securing this bunker began with Marines ordering remaining enemy defenders inside to surrender and then exit.  But none would do that.  So, Marines poured gasoline down the vents and set that liquid and fumes on fire.  A large explosion occurred that nobody could have survived.  The tide of battle progressed to other areas of Betio, and by the time I had arrived some of us were formed into small groups with full gas masks to enter the bunker and clean it out.  
We went in with blankets, one man on each corner, and picked up remains – really, just pieces of burned meat and broken body parts - and dumped them outside for burial.  We kept making these trips until the bunker was cleaned out.  The only way a guy could get out of that duty, after having been ‘volunteered’ to do it, was when and if he vomited into his gas mask.  The whole exercise was absolutely awful, but we finally got the job done.
At the end of my time on Betio, I was okay, but I was exhausted, hungry, sunburned, thirsty and filthy.  In all of our unit’s action there at the foot of the pier, we lost only one man out of our 12-man crew.
I left Betio on, I think, my 19th day and boarded a Coast Guard-manned transport to head northeast some 2,350 miles to Kauai, in the Hawaiian Islands, for rest, re-equipment and training.  That transport was possibly the USS Arthur Middleton (APA-25). I’m not sure now about that, but that is what I have been told. The transport we took to Kauai posted numerous signs around the decks and corridors of the ship reading “OUT OF BOUNDS.”  Because of that, several of us gave the ship the nickname USS Out of Bounds.  We did not go to Camp Tarawa.  
Looking back on what happened at Tarawa, I would have to say that apparently the main benefit of Tarawa was to demonstrate how NOT to attack a heavily fortified island.
After Tarawa, my next action was at Okinawa.
I received the Presidential Unit Citation (with 1 star for being at Tarawa); Pacific Theater ribbon with 2 stars; a World War II ribbon; and – a few years ago – the Navy & Marine Corps Combat Action Ribbon.  I also have so many memories that just don’t go away.  Earlier this year, I was asked to consult with a documentary film crew for History Flight who were going back to Tarawa hoping to recover Marine bodies.  
Cary, this grateful nation thanks you for your dedicated service.  Recent events in your life demonstrate that your service to your country continues well into your 87th year, giving more proof that “Once a Marine, Always a Marine” rings true for you.  We will remember.
Received 26 November 2010
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