At age 21, I joined the U.S. Marines from Winamac, Indiana.  I was in I Company, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines when the assault on Betio, Tarawa Atoll, began on 20 November 1943.
Our unit was brought from New Zealand on the USS Monrovia (APA-31), a Crescent City class attack transport of the US Navy. On 27 October 1943, she departed Wellington, New Zealand bound for Efate (in present-day Republic of Vanuatu), the staging area for the Tarawa assault. By 20 November, she stood off that atoll as flagship of TransDiv 18.  Along with many other Marines, we checked our equipment; reviewed instructions for what we would do in the coming hours; waited for chow and talked with others in my unit. 
Of the 37 guys in my unit who scrambled down the nets on the Monrovia, only 2 left Betio alive.  On our way to Red Beach 3 in Wave #2 (to the east of the pier), our Higgins boat was blown out of the water, killing a lot of my buddies.  I found myself in the water and, somehow, managed to wade to shore near the pier, minus all my equipment lost when our landing craft was hit.  Orders were that if you ended up in the water in conditions like this, you must get rid of all extra stuff – pack, weapon, ammo and just try to avoid getting shot or drowned.
Getting close to the pier, I was somehow missed by enemy fire all around me.  I got close in and under the pier and slowly made my way toward the beach, and by ‘slowly’ I mean I hardly moved.  By the time I hit the beach, I was alive and unarmed in the middle of lots of shooting.  Whatever my unit’s objective might have been, my objective was just try to stay alive.  That was pretty hard to do when all around me were dead and dying Marines.  I found a nearby smallish pillbox and got inside with a couple of other Marines, and nearby were 4 or 5 dead Marines.  I helped myself to their gear, and that is how I was able to protect myself and get back in the action.  
I remember so well, after all these years, a buddy named Cullis Rayford Wilson. He and I hitched up with some demolition guys and got to work.  We were about 150 feet - 200 feet inland from the pier, near a very large command bunker.  I’m guessing it was somewhere between 500 feet and 1,000 feet from the east end of Betio. It was so large; I wouldn’t be surprised if it could have held at least 1,000 soldiers inside.  It was maybe 15 feet – 20 feet high (hard to remember all these details after all these years); was covered with sand; and had 3 exits.  Several palm trees were close to it, many had been blown apart or were lying on the ground.
Wilson and I were close together, and suddenly he got shot right above his heart … and he lived through that!   We couldn’t at first see where the shot came from; there didn’t seem to be any enemy nearby.  But it dawned on us that the shot must have come from a sniper up in a nearby palm tree.
We were right!  We had to get out of that area ASAP, so we just sprayed the nearby trees with our own fire, and 3 Japanese fell out of the trees, dead.  One of them must have been the one who shot Wilson.  I have just found out that he may still be alive after all these years, and I’m going to give him a call.  I can hardly believe I might be talking to him after all these years have gone by!
Anyway, on the fourth day, I left Betio.  I had not been wounded at all.  Yes, I was scratched, bruised, exhausted, hungry, thirsty, sunburned and had had almost no sleep.  But I was alive!   I think it was the USS Monrovia that took us to Camp Tarawa, but I’m not really sure.
After Betio, I was at Camp Tarawa on the Big Island of Hawaii.  We did a lot of training to get ready for Saipan.  I remember one time when, while a bunch of us were eating lunch, a couple of guys were killed while fooling around with some of the new Comp #2 explosive putty.  Off it went and they were killed instantly.  Otherwise, Camp Tarawa was a pretty decent place … nice people there.
After Camp Tarawa, I was in the action at Saipan, Tinian and Okinawa.  All were quite different battles compared to Tarawa.
By the end of the war, I received the Purple Heart (wounded at Tinian); the Presidential Unit Citation (Tarawa); and the South Pacific medal with 3 stars.  And I have these memories.  In January, 1946, I was honorably discharged and returned to my hometown of Winamac, Indiana.  I’m 89 now and can’t believe I was so lucky back in those days.
Karol, we salute you and your service to our country.  Thank you.  Your desire to live is strong and a most worthy example to those who follow of how perseverance under adversity is essential to a well-lived life. 
Received 24 November 2010
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