I was from Vernon, Texas, a young lad of 18 when I joined the Marines.  By the time I got to Tarawa, I was 20 years old in LT3 Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, part of the 2nd Marine Division.  
Now at age 87, with this opportunity to reflect on my experiences at Tarawa, I must begin with the simple and enduring fact that after all these years, Tarawa is still the most desperate situation I was ever in!  Thank you, GOD …  I was one of three survivors of my entire unit!  How I wish I could re-establish contact with the other two.
I was brought from New Zealand to Tarawa on the attack transport USS Arthur Middleton (APA-25).  
USS Arthur Middleton  (APA -25)
I spent the early hours before dawn on 20 November 1943, fast-checking all my gear, sleeping occasionally and having steak for my breakfast!  With about 20 of my buddies in LT3-2, we were in an amtrac, supposed to land in the center of Red Beach #1 in, I think, the 3rd Wave.   With me, I took a radio transmitter and my rifle with its ammo.  
We got hung up on the coral reefs for a while and took a lot of heavy incoming fire, but we finally made some forward progress.  The amtrac was hit again, set on fire and was blown to bits just short of the seawall, killing everybody on board except two buddies and myself.  
This incident happened right in front of Major Mike Ryan.  He saw the situation was impossible and veered off further to the west to Green Beach 1.  Enough of the 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines was able to land over on Green Beach with some companies relatively in tact.  They actually cleared Green 1 the first day, but anticipating a night attack by the Japs, they repositioned themselves closer to the “Bird’s Beak.”  It was the next morning on D+1 that what was left of LT3-2 recaptured Green 1, and that opened a landing beach for elements of the 6th Marines.
I never did get to the beach; my rifle was destroyed and my clothing was on fire. I was badly burned with 2nd and 3rd degree burns, and most of my clothes were burned off.    The combination of severe burns and being in the warm salt water in air temperatures well over 100° created intense pain which I remember vividly to this day.
If I had made it to shore, my job would have involved setting up radio communications in the mid-section of Red Beach 1 to contact ships off shore when various supplies were needed and emergencies might arise.  But none of that was possible, and that meant one less radio was on shore to help the guys there when they desperately needed help.
For me, when our amtrac was hit, my part of the action at Betio ended before I even got there.  For many hours, I waited for pick-up and the hoped-for transfer back to a transport for naval medical care.  Five of us managed to get under and behind the amtrac when it was stuck on the reef.  Two of my buddies – Lazzari and Nalazek – tried on separate occasions to leave the refuge provided by the amtrac, but they were shot and killed by the enemy as they attempted their escape.  That left two others – Libby and Quenet – crouching and lying low in the knee-deep water until darkness arrived.  Then we made our way toward some rescuers.  That is how just three of us from our unit managed to survive.  I think it was to the attack transport USS Feland (APA-11) that we were eventually taken; I stayed on the Feland for almost a week before we departed for six or seven day trip to Hawaii.
USS Feland  (APA-11 )
Two souvenirs of sorts I have from the action at Tarawa are some scars from the fire when the amtrac was hit and a Purple Heart.  
When I got to Camp Tarawa, I was very busy with communications.  I remember snow atop Mauna Kea, the nearly 14,000 foot high mountain on the Big Island of Hawaii.  And I remember the weather while we there being quite cold at night.
Fortunately, after recuperating sufficiently at Camp Tarawa, I rejoined my unit sometime in January 1944, in time to go on to Saipan and Tinian in June, 1944.
Jay himself says, in a modest, soft-spoken and purposeful way, “I just tried to do my best and stay out of trouble.”
Jay, what resilience and determined spirit!  Thank you for your mental and physical strength and your courage in those most trying of times.  We will not forget what you went through.
Received 05 November 2010
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