I came from Maysville, Missouri, a small town about 55 miles north of Kansas City, Missouri.  The war was already well underway when, at age 18, I decided to join the Marine Corps.  I had already turned 19 when the amphibious assault at Betio began on 20 November 1943.  My work was in the intelligence section of Hq Company, 1st Battalion, 6th Marines in the 2nd Marine Division.  
The Doyen-class attack transport USS Feland (APA-11) took the Headquarters Company of the 1st Battalion along with 969 men and 47 of Landing Team One of the 6th Marine Regiment from New Zealand to Betio.
USS Feland (APA-11)
We on the Feland (and others from Landing Team 1/6 carried on the USS Ormsby) were in a group of five transports assigned as “Corps Reserve” on D-Day.    
USS Ormsby (APA-49)
We, on Feland, met other transports at Efate in the New Hebrides (the present-day Republic of Vanuatu) and engaged in some amphibious landing exercises.  On 13 November, we departed for Tarawa, arriving in the night off Betio in time for D-Day operations in Operation Galvanic.
Closer to 7am on D-Day, a medium caliber shell fired from the northern side of Betio came within some 200 yards of Feland, missing our ship and prompting Feland to move out of range of shore guns.  For the morning and up to the early afternoon of D-Day, I was just hanging around waiting on Feland.  We had some lunch, and we waited some more.  We could see some smoke in the distance over on Betio, and we just wondered what was happening.  Nobody really knew much about actual conditions on Betio.
Early in the morning (0528) on 21 Nov 43 D+1, a Jap “Betty” (Mitsubishi, 2-engined light torpedo bomber) flew off our stern at an altitude of about 100 feet and dropped a torpedo or bomb, but no explosion occurred.  
Very shortly after that incident, we were notified that the “Corps Reserve” would be used to support ground action on Tarawa, and by 1230 hours we were told our destination was to be the southern half of Green Beach (the western-most side of Betio).  About two hours later, 1415 hours, “Commence Operations” was executed by the Commander of Transport Division SIX.  We anchored at Lat. 01-22.8N; Long.172-71E, and within ten minutes (1424), Feland had lowered all boats including 14 LCVPs, 2 LCPLs and 84 LCPRs to commence loading.
Within the next 1 hour and 33 minutes (1602), all boats had been loaded and met in the rendezvous area prior to the actual run in to Green Beach South.   Two hours elapsed before the 1st wave of boats hit Green Beach South with subsequent waves arriving at about ten minute intervals.
From my point of view, it was pretty hard to see a lot of the big picture of events.    It was surprising. We had about 20 minutes to put our gear together, go over the side of Feland and get into the Higgins boats.  Each Higgins boat had six rubber boats (three secured on each side). We used rubber boats (these days people call them Zodiacs or just inflatables) because they would float over the coral reefs without grounding.  We paddled because the Evinrude outboard motors were so unreliable   … they were worthless!  The rubber boats, like the ones I was in, were towed to about a half mile off Green Beach South, and in somewhat choppy sea conditions we just paddled in from there.   The landings on Green Beach South on D+1 were essentially unopposed except for some light sniper fire.  
Equipment I took to shore with me included my M1 rifle, ammo, two canteens of water, “K” rations, my combat pack and a 5-gallon water can.  No water was on the island; we had to make do with what we brought in. Somebody even put a light gun in the raft for sending Morse code messages, but it was useless.  I think we had 6 or 8 guys from my section in the same rubber boat, and with that number it was pretty crowded.  One man was 1st Lt John Phillips, my intelligence section leader, but two days after we landed (23 November) he was dead.   As we approached shore, we saw several dead Marines floating in the surf.  They had been killed in the previous day’s landings and were later counted as ‘missing.’
By the time serious combat action stopped, we had come from our landings on Green Beach South and gone all the way to the east end of Betio, the longest distance that can be travelled on that island.
Many people call the length of the Battle of Tarawa as “76 hours of hell,” but that is not accurate.  Firing continued spasmodically another several hours, and the island was not really secure until 25 November / D+5.  Looking back now, I think I was probably on Betio for five days before we left and headed out to the Harris-class attack transport USS Harris (APA-2).  I was in fine shape, and that made me a lot luckier than many other guys. I was dirty, sweaty, stinking and ready to get cleaned up get some good chow.  We on Harris arrived in Pearl Harbor on 14 December 1943.
USS Harris (APA-2)
Looking back at Tarawa now that I am 86, many memories remain, but the most outstanding memory is that of the terrible odor of dead human bodies, mostly Japs who were killed by US Army and US Navy planes and US Navy ships before Marines landed.  Dead bodies were everywhere.   It is also important to add that conditions at Tarawa were very unusual:  we were in intense, non-stop combat on the equator.  It was very hot, in the 100° – 120° range with only the water we could carry.  There were no natural water sources on Betio.  There was complete destruction of palm trees and all buildings.
Camp Tarawa was pleasant relief after Tarawa.  We had a view of Mauna Kea, and it was usually windy and chilly.  It rained a lot, and since our tents had no wooden floors, dirt often turned to mud.  We had at least one hula show each month we were there, and once we had a big rodeo put on by the people from Parker Ranch.  We had hikes to the beach and went on liberty in Hilo and Honokaa.  For training, we had lots of scouting missions into the hills and more rubber boat practices.    We even had amtrac maneuvers off a nearby island.
I could write plenty and maybe I will sometime.  I understand Tarawa is now a toxic waste dump . . . a total environmental disaster.  I blame the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps, Senate, the House of Representatives and Japan for not taking care of the place where thousands died and were buried in mass graves with very little or no markers.
Everyone, except the 2nd Marine Division Association, forgot about Tarawa.  In cooperation with the Long Beach, California newspaper, the Association built a memorial about 25 years ago and sent it to Tarawa.  Otherwise, nobody seems to remember.   But thank you for your interest and caring.
After Tarawa, I was at Saipan, Tinian and Okinawa.  At the latter, my unit and I were aboard the Haskell-class attack transport USS Mellette (APA-156).  We participated in making fake landings, all the while dodging kamikaze planes for about 10 days.
USS Mellette  (APA-156)
Medals received include the Presidential Unit Citation (Tarawa); the Combat Action Ribbon; the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Ribbon . . . basically the ones everyone received.
Ray, thank you for your service and sacrifice at Tarawa and elsewhere in the Pacific.
Your experience there was valuable and necessary for our country; the retelling of your experience is a valuable and necessary lesson for future generations.  We will remember!
Received 31 December 2010
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