East St. Louis, Illinois was my hometown when, at age 21, I joined the U.S. Marines.  For three days across the western states of America, I took the train to San Diego, California for boot camp.  In June 1942, I think, we left Diego on the USS Crescent City (APA-21) bound for Guadalcanal, with stopovers in the New Hebrides and Tulagi in the Solomons before arriving at the Canal.  I was at the ‘Canal until that campaign was finished in February of 1943.
After Guadalcanal, I was for about eight months on the North Island in New Zealand to which the 2nd Marine Division relocated for rest, replacements and re-equipment opportunities presented by Uncle Sam. This relocation also prepared us for the upcoming campaign which we later learned was to be at Tarawa Atoll.
At Tarawa, I was in Regimental Weapons, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Regiment, attached to the 2nd Marine Division. We were a demolitions unit.  Our job was to set up and detonate explosives on and in pillboxes, bunkers, obstacles of any kind … wherever a lot of quick and large-scaled destruction was needed.   In that capacity, we went to the assistance of troops wherever they might need us. This I did to the best of my ability.  
Again, we were on the USS Crescent City, the vessel that brought us from New Zealand.  I’m pretty sure of that as I knew this ship well from when it took me previously to the ‘Canal.  On that earlier trip, I had cut a hole in a vent pipe whish was still there but repaired over.  I also remember how, when we left the ‘Canal, Crescent City signaled (with its horn), “Well done, Marines!”  
USS Crescent City  (APA-21)
Life on those transports taking us to Tarawa had a lot of similar routines. At sea, there is a lot of boredom and repetition.  It is filled with loading machine gun and ammo; breaking down and reassembling weapons; and exercises.  Mealtimes  were one long line, stepping over guy wires and hawsers.  The most you have to do is read and smoke.  I spent my time in the forward gun tub with the sailors on watch.  It was fun to watch the ships on the horizon and to dodge the big waves that sometimes would splash up over the bow.  
On the early morning of D-Day (20 November 1943), we sat below decks and listened to the swabbies lowering boats into the water.  We were impressed with the way they did their job on a vessel in precautionary low-light conditions. As far as I remember, a lot of us sat about reading or playing cards beneath the bulkhead lights.  Some guys just dozed.  Nobody prayed.  It was quite calm.  All day on that first day, we stayed aboard our transport, but we were called in on D+1.
That is when four other guys and I in our unit went ashore in an LCT, a variant of the Higgins boats.  We were in a truck with loads of gear (water; ammunition for machine guns; TNT, primacord and fuses; and a box of grenades).  
At about 1600 before dark, we landed close to shore on Red Beach 2, about 50 yards from the beach and a few yards from the west side of the main pier.   We had no particular beach in mind for our arrival; we just wanted to get ashore!  We attempted to off-load our truck at that point, but it stalled out because the water was too deep for it.  We stayed with it for a while. We ordered the cox’un to drive the boat out from under the truck, which he did!  But we were still some distance from the beach, where the pier took a turn and headed away from the area.   
On the rising night tide, we were caught in a risky position: The truck was stalled … unmovable … in water that was getting deeper as the tide rose. This situation forced us to make our way to the pier.  We had to get to land because the situation with the truck was bad and deteriorating, partly now because night had fallen.  We abandoned the truck only when the tide forced us to wade in chest-deep water over to the pier, holding our rifles and other gear over our heads.  There was no danger in leaving the truck:  it was dark and the truck wasn’t going anywhere
Our arrival at the pier, though, brought a new problem:  The pre-determined password for the entire division was “Chesterfield,” but would we remember it?  We were challenged by a Marine on the pier; he had his rifle trained on us and he meant business!   Fortunately, we remembered and passed his test.  I’d hate to think what might have happened if we had not remembered that password!  
We spent the night at the place where we got on the pier, within just a few yards away from the beach. We lay on the pier trying to sleep but inescapably we couldn’t sleep because of the loud and erratic noise of gunfire.  Sniper bullets zipped over us as we lay there.  
In the early morning light, we saw the shore to the west of the pier – all across Red 2 and over to Red 1 -  covered by a mass of dead bodies floating in the surf.  Shooting was everywhere, seemingly in all directions; there were no front lines.  We made our way to where we thought our company was and eventually found them.   They were working with the 75mm gun on a large blockhouse perhaps one or two hundred yards inland.  I wouldn’t say it was the biggest bunker on the island, but it was big.  
Thinking back on it now, I seem to remember this bunker being near the landing strip. Anyway, I was commanded to make up some charges of Bangalore Torpedoes (TNT in long, round cylinders, used primarily as barbed wire cutters). I made a bundle of them (three in a bunch) and fused them to go off quickly.  Right after assembling these Bangalores, I helped place them into the big blockhouse under assault.  In no time at all, the torpedoes blasted open the bunker and I would think that all the men inside were killed.
I saw the results of the explosives on this bunker.  They shattered the entrance, and I don’t remember seeing anybody coming out of there alive!  The concussion killed them!  Just possibly, some Japs might have endured the explosives; if so, they would have run out of the bunker … only to be killed by Marines waiting there.  I actually got my saber while working with a flamethrower who dislodged a group of Japs from a gun nest near the bunker.  As they came charging out, they were hit by the flamethrower.  The officer who held the saber let go of it as he went down … and I claimed it!
However, this Weapons unit I was in on this bunker job was only a part of our overall Weapons unit.  Where the rest of the company was I don’t know. Like most operations in the Battle of Tarawa, units became scattered and most action was done at the small-scale, even individual, level.  I was not with Dex Greer’s company or working with him; he was with a group that got stuck on Black Beach over night.
All told, I was on Betio about 24 hours.  I had a job to do; I did it; and I did the best I could.    I came ashore late in the day of D+1, worked all of D+2 and was sent aboard ship in the afternoon of the next day.  I wasn’t wounded.  I was in no great pain.  I got off easy!  Was just dirty, hungry and tired out.
As I said, I was at Guadalcanal before Tarawa.  The ‘Canal was a long drawn-out affair, but Tarawa was a very intense, non-stop combination of firepower and individual effort in the midst of continuous chaos.  
After the battle and the island was secured, I left on D+3 in the afternoon, unlike other groups of my company that got stuck on Black Beach 2 over night.  The Crescent City was still off shore, and we departed that day for Camp Tarawa on the Big Island of Hawaii.   It was okay there -- cold at nights with some good liberty time in Hilo.
After Camp Tarawa, I was assigned to guard duty for 1944 and then was reassigned to Jacksonville, Florida until the war ended.  Later in September 1945, I was discharged and … OOORAH!  I returned to civilian life.    Over the years, I worked in various factories and actually returned to hair-dressing, which I had done before signing up.  It was where I fit best, and it sure made for a far better life than laboring in factories!  After the war, my wife and I did a lot of travelling to England, Scotland and over on the Continent.  Life has been pretty good!  OORAH!  AND MORE OORAH!
Lin, you are a resilient, purposeful and hard-working guy who, regardless of wrapping up Bangalore Torpedoes or women’s hair has had many hair-raising experiences!  What breadth of human experience!  Thank you for your service.  Thank you, also, for your wealth of writing about your wartime experiences.  Because readers deserve to know more of that rich legacy, here is the link to your works:    A LIVE LINK TO MR. COOK’S WEBSITE WILL APPEAR HERE SOON.
Received 23 January 2011
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