I was a 19-year old Chicago lad 19 from Chicago when the assault on Betio occurred on 20 November 1943.I was with an independent, detached Signals Company Headquarters unit in V Amphibious Corps Reconnaissance Company from Camp Catlin, located in Honolulu.
When D-Day at Betio happened, I was already on the Narwhal-class submarine USS Nautilus (SS-168) to scout out Abemama (75 Ė 80 miles southeast of Betio).The purpose of our mission was to determine the extent of Japanese forces there.††
USS Nautilus(SS-168)
(0į 24' 0 N, 173į 52' 0 E)
About two months earlier, Nautilus had sailed from Pearl Harbor on her sixth war patrol on an intelligence-gathering mission in the Gilbert Islands area.On 18 November, she was back in Tarawa waters to investigate weather and surf conditions just prior to the amphibious assault on Betio.†††
At about 2200 on 19 November (as transports were arriving off Betio), Nautilus was mistaken for a Japanese ship and was fired on by destroyer USS Ringgold (DD-500).
USS Ringgold(DD-500)
Nautilus was hit by a 5-inch shell in her conning tower, forcing her to submerge and wait until Ringgold departed. Nautilus later surfaced to complete temporary repairs and resumed her mission of delivering 78 of us on Abemama.Our delivery was effected around midnight the night of 20-21 November when Nautilus lay a little under two miles off the south end of Abemama.†† We embarked in our rubber boats to get to shore.I was one of those 78 who in the next day or two searched for and cornered the Japanese defenders.††
On the afternoon of 22 November, Nautilus provided very accurate fire support to us on shore trying to bring the small enemy garrison out of their bunkers. Nautilus killed 14 and then the remaining 10 or 11 committed suicide. By the time the main assault force arrived on 26 November, Abemama had been secured and preparations to turn it into an air base for the upcoming Marshall Islands campaign began.
At Betio n D+3, I was again on Nautilus returning to Tarawa.Nautilus lay a mile or so off the west coast of Betio.There, about 25 of my unit came ashore in rubber boats on Green Beach. Our unit was part of what was then called a Force Reconnaissance Company.My job was mainly in communications with that unit.All I had with me in the way of equipment was my M-1 rifle, its ammo, a KA-BAR knife and a telephone backpack.
We had a hell of a time just getting in to Green Beach.We encountered a lot of enemy rifle fire coming from several directions on the beach.If I remember correctly, some of that fire was from the coastal defense guns. I still believe we were just plain lucky to have got in.Confusion about the best approach and where to land was a continuing problem because, while we were trying to avoid being hit, we were also trying to find routes to shore through the coral reefs and do this without running into barbed wire.When we finally arrived at the beach, things werenít much better than the ride in.Explosions were everywhere; we could barely move in any direction.I was just plain scared.
I think we were on Betio several days, but now I donít remember exactly how many.What I do remember, though, is that when the fighting stopped we were basically in the same position as where we had landed.
I must have had some injuries, but nothing too serious and nothing permanent.My main recollection and my main problem, though, was that I was incredibly exhausted, thirsty, sunburned, scared, upset and confused.Everything was so confusing.You could say we were all very messed up mentally.
In fact, I just couldnít handle things at the end, and I just wanted to forget about it all.Even now, 67 years later, I still canít handle it.I just canít talk about it.I hope you understand.I was just one of the lucky ones, I guess.Many guys never came home!
I donít really remember how I got back to Camp Catlin in Honolulu.†† Possibly, it was once again the Nautilus that took me back to Pearl Harbor, arriving there in early December. I know, though, I never went to Camp Tarawa.Several months later, I was back on detached communications duty at both Saipan and Tinian, doing the same stuff as at Tarawa.††
Looking back on this time, I got no medals then and I wouldnít want any now.I still wear my memories of Tarawa, such as they are:bad ones, confusing ones and terror-filled ones.I donít need no medals.Just say I still have post-combat problems with emotions.
Donít get me wrong:despite the negative effects of my time in the Pacific, I still believe all of that made me appreciate life and the country we have.God Bless America!††
Fred, it is obvious your emotional wounds from Tarawa continue to have a greater negative impact on you than your physical wounds. At age 86, your memories remain so raw and painful.May you find peace and freedom to experience some happiness.†† Just as you say God Bless America, we trust that America blesses you for your service. We will remember you and your story in the overall context of all the guys who were there.In that sense, your words are a very important part of that story.
Received 22 November 2010
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