When I was 17, I joined the Marine Corps.  I was from Ingalls, Arkansas, a tiny village that doesn’t even exist any more about 95 miles south of Little Rock.  The attack on Pearl Harbor, a surge of patriotism and those Marine Corps dress blues clearly turned my life in some very different directions when I enlisted.   My father started the Arkansas Pink Tomato Revolution in 1923, which led to the pink tomato being designated as both the Arkansas State Fruit and the Arkansas State Vegetable in 1987.  From those early years to this day, my life’s path has taken several remarkable turns.
In April 1943, I was sworn in to the Marines and took a 3-day train ride to the West Coast for boot camp in San Diego.  By November 1943, I was 19-years old and in B Company, 2nd Battalion, 18th Marines … part of the 2nd Marine Division on my way to the amphibious assault of a tiny islet in the Pacific named Betio.  Located west of the International Date Line in the eastern hemisphere near the equator almost 5,000 miles southwest of Los Angeles, California, Betio is a 291-acre patch of sand where I grew up really fast!
Nowadays, I don’t remember which transport took my unit to Tarawa, but I certainly remember standing on deck and watching and hearing the Navy’s bombardment of Betio!  It was very impressive! The noise and flashes of light were amazing!  I also remember praying and feeling rather confident that things would go well once we got on shore.  That is because we had been led to believe that preliminary shelling of the island would be and had been effective in killing most Japanese defenders.  Quickly, we found out otherwise, and all too soon we learned we were in for a terrible fight.  They were very much alive and wanted to kill us!
On D-Day, 20 November 1943, with about 30 other guys, we went ashore on Red Beach 3, along with the elements of the 8th Marines.   If I remember correctly, our jog was to serve as support for the 8th Marines.  Our battalion was a “shore party” battalion, meaning we were responsible for coordinating and moving supplies over the beach.  We were broken into support teams and temporarily assigned to support the combat forces.  There wasn’t too much to do, strictly speaking, as a “shore party,” on that first day because moving supplies was at that early stage both unnecessary and impossible.  We just did whatever we could to help.  That first night, we slept at the water’s edge; we even got caught during the night when the tide came in.   There wasn’t much sleep after that!
As we started our approach to shore, we immediately started to take fire, but fortunately we were not hit.  I don’t know whether our Higgins boat was directed to land on the end of the pier or whether it was a choice the coxswain made.  In any event, landing where we did was a fatal choice for our coxswain because he took a direct hit and the boat sank in seconds right at the end of the pier.  I looked back from the pier and saw the boat sink.  On the end of the pier, we were in defilade as the ramp on the end of the pier sloped down into the water to allow access for seaplanes. To our advantage, machine gun and rifle fire from the beach went over our heads.  To our disadvantage, mortar fire from shore was both effective and deadly.   
I just wanted off that pier, and an officer - brave beyond measure - took off his helmet and wandered around looking for a way for us to leave the pier.   Having observed where he directed us, I moved as fast as I possibly could along the west side of the pier to get off that death trap.  I have often thought this officer was Lt. Hawkins who later was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.  The airstrip on Betio was later named Hawkins Field in his honor.  That officer surely earned the Medal of Honor for his leadership without regard for his own well-being in helping us get off that pier.  I probably owe him my life.  
We finally arrived on shore at the land end of the pier, probably at about 1030. I don’t really know the exact time because, frankly, I did not look at my watch.  All the looking around I did had one purpose: to enhance my chances for staying alive!
I was part of a TBX radio unit, and besides my pack and other essentials, my job was to carry in part of that radio.  My personal equipment was probably minimal because I was only concerned about survival.
Seeing other landing craft destroyed, men wounded and killed, the seeming non-stop confusion about where to go and how to get to shore was quite shocking for this lad from Arkansas.  The violence that was brought to bear on us and which we tried to deliver to the enemy was almost unbelievable.  Our communication team supported Colonel Shoup at or near his CP.  
I had a strange job on Betio, and this might be a good place to describe it:  It turned out that the telephones (the EE-8 units) had a strange problem on Betio.  They could not receive rings when incoming calls were made, so that meant the phones had to be constantly manned in order to receive calls.  Why they brought the problem to me (a radio man), I don’t know, but I quickly figured out the problem. The salt water had shorted out an insulation strip inside.  The fix was simple – rinse the phone with drinking water, dry it and all was well!  I set up a production line I my foxhole, and after rinsing the parts, I placed them on a piece of tin adjacent to my foxhole.  When dry, they were re-assembled and thereafter worked fine.  
There was only one practical problem.  There was a sniper who had a good view of my “drying area” and when I reached up to put parts there, I had to be quick in order to survive.  Fortunately, he was a rotten shot, and I was young and quick.  I thought he might be in a palm tree, so I opened up with my carbine at all the nearby palms, until Colonel Shoup yelled, “Cease Fire!”  I thought it was an appropriate thing to do.  Looking back on this incident, those shots turned out to be the only shots I fired in anger during WWII!  As it turned out, the Jap I describe here as a sniper was firing from a hole in the ground, and someone else got him.
The length of time I was actually on Betio was three days, leaving there late on D+2, 22 November 1943.  During that time, I would estimate about 95% of the men in my unit were still alive.   I was pretty tired, thirsty and dirty, but at least I did not have any wounds.  Ironically, my departure from Betio was from the pier where I almost was killed when we landed three days before!   We were on an LCVP back to a transport, but as I said, these days I just don’t remember what transport that was.
We arrived on the Big Island of Hawaii in the first few days of December, and all I can still say about Camp Tarawa is that it was pleasant and we had lots of training. I still want to thank the Parker Ranch for their welcome.  The ranch people were extremely hospitable and welcoming.  I particularly remember the rodeo and the barbecue.  One day I was sitting on the porch of the country store with a group of Marines and local people.  A strikingly beautiful woman walked down the road.  My comment was that she “was the most beautiful woman I ever saw.”  The return comment from a cowboy was, “My wife!”  So, of course, I replied, “Congratulations!”  My organization was later transferred to an old POW camp near Hilo, and we worked on the docks.  I really enjoyed Hilo.
After Tarawa, I stayed with B-2-18 on Saipan and Tinian, but after Tinian the communicators were transferred to a new organization called 2nd Joint Assault Signal Company (JASCO), a unit comprised of those with the shore party missions; air-to-ground fire support; and naval gunfire support.
I certainly have memories of Tarawa, and most of those are just awful ones – far too many to repeat these days. But in comparing my experiences on Tarawa with my experiences on Saipan, Tinian and Okinawa, I would have to say that Tarawa was for me much more intense, brutal and deadly.  Of course, combat is a highly individual experience, and some fighters probably found extremely deadly experiences in the other battles.  
Medals received were the normal ones for us those days, including the Presidential Unit Citation for our performance at Tarawa.  In the post-War years, I was in the Army and received  the Legion of Merit,  Bronze Star,  and two Army commendation medals.
I was honorably discharged and mustered out from the Marine Corps in April 1946 at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.  That fall, I entered Ouachita College (later University) in Arkadelphia, Arkansas, about 65 miles southwest of Little Rock.  Essentially, that put me right back home near to where I had lived before joining the Marine Corps.  I went into the ROTC as a Junior because of my prior service, and therefore was commissioned at the end of my sophomore year.  I went into a competitive tour for one year, was successful and changed over to a Regular Army lieutenant at the end of the tour.  At that point, I was transferred over from infantry to signal corps and spent all the rest of my career in that force, retiring as a Lt. Colonel in 1967.
In the US Army, I served as a Platoon Leader in the 51st Signal Battalion, first in the States and then in Korea.  My platoon’s function was radio relay, and, therefore, I spent most of my time in the mountains.  I received the Bronze Star for this service.
Upon return to the States in 1952, I was assigned as Radio Officer for Harry Truman in the White House; later, I served in the same capacity with Dwight Eisenhower.  I was privileged to accompany Harry Truman on his Whistle Stop campaign in 1952, doing 18,500 miles in 45 days – a remarkable experience.  
After a normal service school, I was assigned Company Commander in the 63rd Signal Battalion in Austria – another wonderful experience.  After that I served in a United Nations Command in Italy.  In 1959 I was allowed to go to Texas A&M College to pursue a degree in Electrical Engineering with a specialization in computers.  I became one of about six specialized computer professionals in the Army and spent the remainder of my career in the computer field.  For the work I did in Germany on my final assignment, I received the Legion of Merit.  
After retirement, I worked for the Burroughs Corporation in the international arena.  After seven years, I resigned from Burroughs and became an independent consultant, working many years overseas in various places in Europe and Libya, Abu Dhabi, England, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela.  
After returning from Europe, I set up a company in Midland, Texas which prospered until the market crashed in 1986.  That freed me up to work in technical fields for schools throughout Texas.  
As a career in this retirement, I am working on humanitarian water projects with Rotary International (primarily in Central America).  As they say, a rolling stone grows no grass!  I love being active in whatever I do.
Dean, thank you for your long service to our country.  We admire your idealistic spirit; your inclinations to take on big challenges; your goal-oriented sense of vision helping you to rise to new opportunities; and your repeated examples of committing yourself to improving the world for others.  We will remember.
Received 25 November 2010
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