I grew up in Trempealeau, Wisconsin, a small village on the banks of the Mississippi River about 50 miles east of Rochester, Minnesota.  I was born the same year as World War I ended and was 22 when I signed up with the Marine Corps a year or so before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.  
Before Tarawa, I had already been in the action at Gavutu, Tulagi and Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands.  That was pretty ugly there.  We then went to New Zealand for rest, refit, training of new recruits and procedures in preparation for Tarawa.  By the time we actually arrived at Tarawa, I was 24, one of the older guys there at that time.
Frankly, that night before the amphibious assault of Tarawa began, I remember being very worried and scared shitless.  Things did not look good, and a guy has only so much luck.  I was in F Company, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marines in the 2nd Marine Division.  In fact, I am one of the last three or four guys who were part of the original F/2/2 guys to form that unit in late 1941.  With my usual pack, a .45 cal pistol, a Thompson submachine gun with 100 rounds of ammo, I was with a group of about 10 guys who went ashore in the 1st wave to Red Beach 2 on D-Day, 20 November 1943.
On our way to the beach west of the pier, one of the craft right behind us was blown up.  All or nearly all of the guys in that boat were killed.   I never made it to the beach in any seriously meaningful way, though, because I was wounded in the face by shore fire while manning the .50 cal on our craft. All in all, the ride in was noisy, painful and just a plain stinking awful day.
Our goal was to secure the beach, but since I was wounded, I never really did any of that.  My total time on Betio during the Battle of Tarawa lasted about 5 minutes!  As soon as the others I was with in the ride to the beach were dropped off on shore, I was taken right back to the transport I had come from earlier in the morning!   To this day I remember climbing up the cargo nets.  I was a bloody mess, literally.  To help myself lighten my load while climbing up, I stopped halfway and dropped some things in the water, including a Japanese sword I had found on the beach near to where I had landed.   I understand my family is not too pleased with my actions at that point, but my choice was simple:  me or the sword.  I have a beautiful, large and loving family because I made that decision!  
In view of how I was wounded, I became very focused on a new my goal: just fight to stay alive under the new conditions I found myself in. The wound covered a fairly large area:  most of my teeth were gone, as was part of my tongue.  Half of my left jaw was gone…just gone…none of it left.  I couldn’t speak intelligibly from that point onward for a long, long time.  I lost lots of blood, and I depended totally on others to help me through the reconstructive surgeries that followed.  Yes, I am grateful to be alive. I am very thankful I had so many good people caring for me. And I am grateful for the family I love.
Many young guys left the States to go to war, and so few returned.  They are the true heroes!  I never got to Camp Tarawa, though I have heard of it.  From Tarawa, I was taken to the Pearl Harbor Naval Hospital and then was taken to the US Naval Hospital in San Diego, California.  Over a period of 18 months, I was hospitalized and went through five or more reconstructive surgeries…at least that is what I remember.  
I will always be proud that I serve and that I was a U.S. Marine.  It is so true when you hear people say, Once a Marine, Always a Marine.
Medals and awards I received during the war include the Presidential Unit Citation for participating, even if for only a few minutes, in the Tarawa campaign; the Purple Heart; and seven other medals.  Things got better, though, when I received my honorable discharge. I am very proud of that. Things got even better, too, because I consider the extensive medical help I got to repair my wounds to be a hard-earned award from the military.   But far and away the best thing I have from the war is my bride from New Zealand!  She and I met in New Zealand after Guadalcanal, and we are still together after 67 years!  
[One of Harry Eichman’s sons added the following: “I have attempted to transmit Dad’s words for you.  I am one of his 4 sons and am also a former U.S. Marine.  It is now – and has constantly been – difficult for Dad to express his feelings or even speak of the war.  This opportunity has been good for all of us in the family.”  Harry’s son Tom is also a U.S. Marine with service in Vietnam.  Thanks for your service, Tom.  Tom further relates that yet another generation of Eichmans have served and presently are serving in Iraq.  Thanks to you “youngins’ for your service, too!  The Eichman Family certainly are a group of loving and patriotic people of whom all can be proud.]
Harry, thank you for your service.  Your efforts contributing to victory at Tarawa are every bit as important as those of others who were there.   Your efforts at Guadalcanal and Tarawa set a superb example for your children, your grandchildren and many other Americans.  Your sense of duty and grit are admirable and create a story that will help us remember.  
Received 23 November 2010
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