When I was 21, I left home in Blue Island, Illinois (a suburb south of Chicago) to join the U.S. Marine Corps.  I went up to the train station in Chicago and, for about 3 days, rode the Rock Island Railroad to the West Coast for boot camp in San Diego.   In F Company, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines, in the 2nd Marine Division, I was a 23-year old sergeant when the amphibious assault on Betio, at Tarawa Atoll, began on 20 November 1943.
I was in the infantry, a squad leader whose job is to gain ground, engage the enemy and support others.   Looking at the bombardment of Betio from the transport off shore, we thought ‘who could ever live through that!’  But all too soon, we realized we were in for a terrible surprise!
Our trip to Tarawa was on the Matsonia or the Monrovia; I’m not really sure after all these years.  Life on board was crowded, hot and humid.  Food wasn’t great, but it did the job!  We did lots of exercises and watched several sunrises and sunsets. Like a lot of other guys, I was anticipating where we might be going and wondering about the strength of the enemy where we were going.  In the early morning hours of 20 November, we were getting instructions on the battlefield, viewing a map of Tarawa and getting our gear ready to go.  Gear I took with me to shore included my rifle, ammo and grenades, as well as my wristwatch, a wallet with pictures and a pocket knife.
When H-Hour arrived, I was in the 1st wave heading in to Red Beach 2.  Due to wrong information about the tides, water levels were very low and the coral reefs kept us from getting close to the beach.  I saw men fall into the water on the coral reef because we were exposed and had no cover.  So, while we were under enemy fire, those of us who could waded in waist-deep water to shore, landing fairly close to the big bunker located a little way inland.  Our whole battalion went ashore at that time.  I had a squad of 13 men.  The smell of gunpowder and smoke; the sound of explosions; the sound of almost continuous machinegun and rifle fire just kept going and going; the smell of oily water and blood was unbelievable.
Our job was to attack the enemy and secure the island.  We accomplished that, but really because there was so much non-stop, chaotic action, our objective became just staying alive.  If we had not made that choice, the larger, overall objective of the mission would not have been achieved.  Despite the Japanese commander Rear Admiral Keiji Shibasaki bragging that a million men could not take Tarawa in a hundred years, we got the job done … in about 76 hours!
At some point on my third or fourth day, several of us waded over to another smaller island – Bairiki, I think – where transports could get in close because there were no coral reefs there.  All told, I was at Tarawa for four days.
After the battle, I was lucky!  I had not been wounded.  I returned to the transport in good shape, but I was exhausted, tired, hungry, thirsty and sunburned.   What most people fail to realize is that all this fighting went on when temperatures were at or well above 100° and that just saps the energy out of a person so fast.   Those hot temperatures also account for the fast decomposition of bodies, and that explains why the pervasive stench of death was so strong all the while we were there.
As for Camp Tarawa, our trip to Hilo was spent trying to soothe the wounded, and we couldn’t wait until we got there and could get some good food.  We recovered enough so that some six months later, we geared up again and went off to Saipan in the Marianas.  
Before Tarawa, I had been at Guadalcanal where there were a lot of nasty and brutal fights, but there were also periods of “down time” which allowed us opportunities to catch our breath.   Tarawa was exactly the opposite.  Yes, the overall time of the Battle of Tarawa was short, but it was very intense, non-stop … something happening wherever you went … never anything resembling ‘front lines’ … shrapnel and bullets stuff flying around from all directions all the time.  In this regard, Tarawa was worse for me than Guadalcanal. And don’t forget: Tarawa was so small, too.  We had nowhere to go but ahead on that 291-acre pile of sand in the middle of the ocean.   
In short, it was hell on Tarawa.  Even now at age 91, I still remember so many good Marines dead on the beach and in the water … holes in helmet … the stench of blood and gun powder … the cries of the wounded, with some just crying and others crying out for help … seeing men die.  Tarawa was hell.  When veterans say they have gone to hell … and back, I know what they are talking about.  Tragically, some of our best young men never had the chance to come back.  They must be remembered. I will never forget that, and I hope nobody anywhere forgets that!
After Tarawa, I was at Saipan, briefly! … three days after landing, I was wounded.  Because of that, I was evacuated to the beach and then taken to a hospital ship, USS Bountiful (AH-9).
Medals received for my Marine service in the Pacific include two Purple Hearts, the Asiatic-Pacific Medal, the World War II Victory medal, the Presidential Unit Citation (Tarawa); and a United States Marine Corp Good Conduct Medal.
Minard, thank you for your service and to our country.  We respect the sacrifice you went through and are thankful you returned home to resume life as a productive civilian.   We will remember.
Received  25 January 2011
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