RAYT. HARRISON
From Houston, Texas, I joined the Marine Corps on 20 December 1941.I was 19 years old and was sent to San Diego for bootcamp.The attack on Pearl Harbor had just happened and I was eager to do my part in defending our country.
I had already been in the Solomons at Tulagi (between 08 August and about 22 September 1942) and at Guadalcanal (between about 22 September 1942 and 01 February 1943). I spent several months in New Zealand.††
At Tarawa, I was 21 when I and in E Company, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, manning a .50 cal machine gun on an amtrac.In the pre-dawn hours before H-Hour I was on, I think, the USS Zeilin, where we had a good breakfast of steak and eggs at about 3:30AM.A short while later we watched the pre-assault Navy bombardment of Betio.Going ashore at Betio, I was in a group of about 20 in the 1st Wave to Red Beach 2.
The amtrac I was in was in the water enroute to shore for about 3 Ĺ hours, trying to stay in line with other amtracs for a coordinated landing. From the reef on in, we were under heavy antiboat-gun and machine-gun fire. Company E managed to reach Red Beach 2 about 200 yards to the west of the pier, but enemy fire was so intense that only a shallow foothold on the western part of the beach could be established.Our landing on Red 2 was made at about 9:20AM, that fateful Saturday morning on 20 November 1943.
Our amtrac, with several others, was supposed to be used to return to pick up more Marines and ferry them to shore, but as those amtracs returned, most of them were shot up quite badly and destroyed.Those who survived the destruction of their amtracs had to wade in about 500 yards to shore.
I know others remember the noise of the action going to shore and in their immediate landing areas, but I donít.When I see war movies and hear all the noise, it does not seem real to me.I did not hear that when I was in action.I guess my mind was on other things.††
When I got to Red 2, all the equipment I had with me was my backpack (about 10-12 pounds), containing my poncho, sox, shorts, toothbrush, mess kit and a box of K-Rations. I had one clip in my 45 and 2 clips on my belt, each clip holding about 7 or 8 rounds.This was only for personal protection as I was on the machine gun.My platoon was supposed to come in with the 3rd Wave with our guns, and I was supposed to get out of my amtrac and go about 100 yards down the beach toward the pier to meet my platoon when they came in with the 3rd Wave.
But that did not work out because I was wounded while in the amtrac going to the beach. The Japs were firing on us.Bullets hit the side of my gun and small fragments of them hit my hands and the left side of my face. So, after one day on Betio, I was evacuated I think back to the USS Zeilin. I donít remember too much about my trip back to Hawaii. I did not see my platoon until I was released from the Aiea Naval Hospital in Honolulu. My wounds were rather minor, as it turned out, and I havenít had a need for further care in the post-War years.The care given to me at the naval hospital was good; we were well cared for.††
My stay in the naval hospital coincided with Christmas 1943, and that certainly brought up the spirits of us Marines there.Eventually, I went to Camp Tarawa on the Big Island of Hawaii.I didnít know who of my platoon had survived until I got there, but they didnít know if I had survived either.How could they know? They had not see nme for one month, and my sea bag had been marked MIA. All of them thought the worst had happened to me, and I had thought the same about them. It was good to see them and be with them again.
I must tell everybody about my Platoon Sergeant, Barney Grommes and what he did on our run in to Red 2.†† Enemy fire hit him in the arm, and the other gunner was hit in the face.All the amtrac crew were killed.
We thought no one else would make it to shore, but a few of us did.One survivor tried to back the amtrac off the sea wall.He got only about 40 yards when it became inoperable.During the day, the Japs shot at us and the amtrac many times.Bullets came through the thin metal sides.One man was killed, and another was hit and paralysed from the waste down.Barney Grommes made the decision to leave the amtrac at 8PM and, in the dark we worked our way back to the edge of the reef.We used life belts to move the wounded.Finally at the edge of the reef, we were picked up by a Higgins boat.It too was shot up pretty bad and was slowly sinking, but it got us onto a destroyer.I was later transferred back to the USS Zeilin which eventually took us wounded Marines to the naval hospital in Honolulu.
Barney Grommes is now about 91 years old.He was the Senior NCO in our amtrac, and his actions may have saved some of us.I have not seen him in 67 years, but I think of him often.Recently, I received information about how to contact Barney, and I may have a chance to reconnect with him finally.††
Two of my very close and dear friends were killed at Tarawa.They are James G. Leland (from Arkansas) and Marvin E. Young (Iím not sure where he was from).We were all PFCs at the time.
After Tarawa and my recovery at the Aiea Naval Hospital, I was able to rejoin my unit at Camp Tarawa and was with them when we went in at Saipan and Tinian.Camp Tarawa was across the Big Island of Hawaii from Hilo, and I did not go on liberty much.We had everything we needed in camp.We even had a rodeo one Sunday.The stock were from the Parker Ranch.
My medals include the Purple Heart; the Presidential Unit Citation for Tarawa (with 2 stars); the Asiatic-Pacific medal with 4 stars, one for each campaign victory over Japan; the Victory over Japan medal; the Combat Service Medal; the Navy/Marine Combat Action Ribbon-American Theater medal; and the USMC Service Medal.††
I was discharged at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina on 26 December 1945.After my service, I started a construction and lumber company in Houston and retired from that company in 1995.††
Ray, thank you for your distinguished service during World War II for our country.Vicariously, we also thank, admire and appreciate your close friends James G. Leland and Marvin E. Young for their service and their ultimate sacrifices.††
SEMPER FI,RAY !
Received 14 November 2010
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