My hometown of Lancaster, South Carolina is also the birthplace of Andrew Jackson, our country’s seventh president.  It is a beautiful, historical city in the Midlands near the North Carolina state line about 35 miles south of Charlotte, North Carolina.  From such a wonderful place to grow up, I joined the Marine Corps not long after the attack on Pearl Harbor.  The Battle of Tarawa was my first taste of combat in World War II, when I was 23.  That was followed by service at Saipan, Tinian, Okinawa and occupation duty for two weeks in Nagasaki.
From the distance of 67 plus years, what I remember of Tarawa is that I was in A Company, 1st Battalion, 8th Marines in the 2nd Marine Division.  Our entire regiment was assigned to go ashore on four different beaches, and A Company went ashore on Red Beach 2.  
I remember the eerie, thoughtful and probably worried silence among the 32 men in our landing craft as we went in.  That interior silence was to be contrasted with pretty scary sounds of cannon and machine gun shore fire from the enemy.  The smell of smoke from explosives and fires on shore wafted a long way out into the lagoon, and we knew we were in for something very serious, despite what we had been led to believe while still on board the transports.
My own equipment consisted of my rifle and a side arm; ammo; canteen; and a knapsack with food and a change of clothes all wrapped in a poncho.  I also carried a tripod for our machine gun.  Others with me carried the machine gun, boxes of ammo and cans of water to cool the machine gun.  While our unit was officially designated as a ‘defensive’ unit, I don’t know who we thought we were kidding!  It was one excellent way of trying to stay alive, and we used it very effectively for the purpose it was designed for.
By the time the battle came to an end, I was amazingly lucky – I was not wounded.  However, I was very exhausted, very dirty, hungry, and somewhat sunburned when we left Betio and returned to the transport.
I received a Presidential Unit Citation for being part of the invasion force at Tarawa.
Very importantly, I lost some good buddies at Tarawa and, in spirit at least, they will always be with me.  All of us were good Marines, and we always will be.  I know I should now be able to relate more about Tarawa, but that gets increasingly difficult.  I do know, though, that the article below this really does a good job of summarizing what I seem now to remember.  I hope you enjoy it.  It is very powerful and not perhaps the best to read for the faint of heart.
Bob, thank you for your service to our country.  Old Hickory would have been so proud of you, and so are we!  Marine, we will remember!
Tarawa Remembered
Too Many Memories
Joe M. Ratcliffe (A Survivor)
The landing on Betio Island, Tarawa Atoll, Gilbert Islands, 20 November 1943, and the subsequent 76-hour contest was one of the toughest battles ever fought by the United States Marine Corps.  All but 15 of the 4,836 Japanese defenders were killed; the Second Marine Division suffered 1,065 killed and 2,333 wounded.
It is as real as yesterday.  You can hear the terrifying noise and sounds and smells, the horrible, suffocating stench that settles like a blanket on such an assault as Tarawa.  The unceasing popping and cracking of deadly small arms fire – small bullets whizzing past on a deadly journey to some random appointment of death.  The blood chilling fluttering angry “frizz” of a high velocity shell ramming a path to some destiny of exploding destruction.  The slow-motion stuttering growl of a Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR), the premier weapon of authority, as a nearby Marine opens up on a Jap sniper high up in the mangled top of a coconut tree to your left.  The deceptively friendly low-sounding “whoosh” of a flame-thrower just ahead as a fellow Marine protects your radio position from suicidal Japs as he moves on ahead, crawling on his belly through his field of harvest in burned and smoked bodies.  The blood chilling, all too familiar “thunk” of a mortar shell being fired on its deadly mission.  Is it yours?  Or is it theirs?  Your question is answered promptly when a fellow Marine nearby takes the direct his of the incoming mortar shell, his ruptured intestines splattering against your face and helmet.
You job here is to direct ground support from bombing and strafing Navy aircraft overhead and gunfire from the heavy Navy gunships just offshore.  A liaison lieutenant hands you a grid map coordinate for an airstrike.  He falls across your legs, his face torn away by a close by Jap with a light machine gun.  Your fellow team member puts you through on one of the few radios not damaged on the way in by the salt water, to call for the air strike.  You grab a field telephone and move out, belly crawling your way forward, looking for a better and closer position from which to observe and direct the air strike already in progress.  You see the Jap coming at you.  The fellow Marine with the flame-thrower didn’t make it.  You have crawled within an arm’s length of his torn body.  The Jap is still coming. You snatch the flame-thrower handle frozen in a grip of death from the dead Marine’s hands.  You raise the nozzle, pray for at least one more shot left, aim, squeeze the little lever, and pull the trigger…it works.  The flame-thrower pops alive in your hands with a long muffled “whoosh” that seems an eternity.  You burn the Jap, by now almost on top of you, completely through at his waistline.  You are tired.  God, you’re tired.
You remove the flame-thrower tanks from the torn body of the fellow Marine and continue to belly-crawl forward, past the dead Jap, his flesh still cooking, his clothing still burning.  Finally, you reach a better spot from which to observe and direct the air strike in progress.  Those Navy Wildcat planes are doing their job.  With each diving run, those six machine guns in the wings of each Wildcat are reducing the danger and increasing the odds of survival for the Marines on the ground.  They dive on your target time and time again, hanging in the clear blue sky with strands of tiny blue beads of the little puffs of smoke from their wing guns as they answer your desperate call for fire support.  You just lie on your back and watch.
Your brief respite is over quickly.  The fire support is flushing out Japs.  They scurry for safety.  One of them jumps into the shell hole of your position.  You are surprised.  You are scared.  You rip his face and head from his body with a full clip from your .45 automatic.  You are tired.  God, you’re tired.
Here comes another one, flushed out by the strafing planes overhead.  He is headed your way.  You trigger the last remaining shot in the flame-thrower and hold the nozzle lever down until the tanks empty completely on the head and upper body of the oncoming Jap.  You discard the empty flamethrower and belly-crawl your way back to the dubious safety of the sea wall at the beach.  On the way, you pick up a BAR and ammo off the dead body of a fellow Marine.  The sun is setting.  You’re tired.  Lots of familiar faces are missing.
Marines are assigned security positions all along the sea wall to maintain security watch through the coming night.  Daytime activities stop; the nighttime program goes into effect.  Darkness settles around that tiny spot of man-made hell like the slow motion closing of a cellar door.  
A new scene of horror:  all through the relative stillness and darkness you can hear the low murmurings of men moaning in pain, men praying, men crying, men sobbing, even men cursing.  It’s a time like none other on Earth.  You are tired.  God, you’re tired.
You have taken a security watch position just on top of the sea wall. During the early evening, the fellow Marine lying face down close by begins to cry; a low, soft, sobbing cry.  You reach out your hand to touch his back in a gesture of comfort.  Your hand presses into a warm mush of pulverized, torn flesh compliments of a Jap mortar shell.  Your stomach turns into a volcano of vomit.  You curse the Japanese.  The Marine dies.
The night grows quieter.  The dead Marine by your side is already beginning to swell.  Then, the knot in your stomach becomes red hot.  Your nostrils flare open so wide you think your nose will slit wide open.  You can actually feel the goose bumps on your body crawling around.  Out of nowhere, you can smell the unmistakable odor of Foo-Foo powder, the deodorant cologne used by Japanese soldiers worldwide.  You freeze – absolutely freeze.  You peer into the darkness, as though your bulging eyes will actually pop out, trying to turn the darkness into daylight.
There he is.  Damn, there he is, not more than an arm’s length in front of you trying to inch his way past your line to take up a gun position in one of the disabled vehicles in the shallow water behind you.  Even though he is inching along very slowly, and even though he is small, you know from past experience that he is deadly; more deadly than a rattlesnake and just as fast and quick.  You silently, but very swiftly, reach for your knife.  With one hard, quick, downward plunge, you pin him face down into the dirty, nasty sand on top of the sea wall.  Your seven-inch K-bar Government Issue knife nails him to the top of the sea wall.  He emits a low, muffled gurgle as that long sharp blade chops his neck bone apart and severs his jugular vein in one stroke.  The night is long.  You are tired.  God, you’re tired.
Daylight on the second day in Tarawa comes all too soon.  The sun is on its way up on another day with a suffocating blanket of 120-degree heat over this tiny spot of man-made hell.  Then, you hear and see the impossible.  You hear a rooster crow somewhere in the rubble.  You wonder how it has survived the massive onslaught of destruction.  Then, a lone, quacking duck waddles past.  No need to panic.  The simple explanation for this…you are simply out of your mind.  You are crazy.  Never mind, though.  No one will notice if you don’t say anything.  If it’s real, let someone else say something.  The second day on this tiny spot of hell is quite accurately a carbon coy of the first day.  More familiar faces are missing.
It is around mid-morning of the third day.  You notice suddenly that the noise is not quite as loud.  There are not quite as many Japs around.  Some Marines are actually standing up.  Some are even walking around instead of crawling.  You can actually feel the fear, and dying, and killing, and horror slowing down.  You know that it is just about over.  You are tired.  God, you’re tired.
You are preparing to leave this horrible, unbelievable, stinking piece of man-made hell.  You stand up straight on your feet for the first time in three days.  An artificial sense of comfort, albeit momentary, falls around you.  You stink.  God, how you stink!  You are pure maggot bait filthy.  You’ve had bowel movement in your britches.  You’ve pissed constantly in your clothing.  You, as well as other nearby Marines, have vomited all over your clothes several times.  Your clothing is saturated with dried blood, some still wet, soured and rotting.  You still have tiny remnants of ruptured intestines and small chunks of other body arts clinging to your helmet and clothing.  However, the putrid stench of your own person is somewhat smothered by the horrendous stench coming from the mangled, rotting bodies and body parts around you.  Three days of blistering 120-degree tropical heat and sun have literally cooked the flesh of these bodies and body parts.  The scene is as ghoulish as the raw guts of Hell itself.
The decaying flesh has sent off gas reaction inside the rotting blackened bodies, swelling and bursting like overripe watermelons, creating strange and eerie noises that even now chill your blood.  You can stand on any spot of the ghoulish hell, face in any direction, and spit on a dead and rotting body or body part of a dead man.  You are tired.  God, you’re tired.
You feel so all alone.  You’ve become aware slowly of a strange sensation of horror.  You feel a gripping, smothering, suffocating, blanket settling down inside your body.  You feel as though your emotions, as well as your very soul, are gone.  You are cold, so very cold.  It is 120 degrees in the shade, and you are cold, though in a trance, deep in an unemotional realization of unanswered questions.  Unanswered questions of journeys not yet taken, of places not yet named, of perfect creations of Hell not yet known.  How many more such places will there be?  Will you see them all?  Home is a place somewhere, somewhere not in your world, but somewhere.  It’s a place where others are, a place where others know…Where?  You are lonely.  God, you are lonely.
Time passes, unrecognized, slow motion time.  You become much better at your work.  You receive bonuses of rank, medals, commendations, and citations for your prowess and efficiencies in what you do.  You are regarded as one of the best of a special breed.  Your journey goes on.  Your unanswered questions of long ago become answered slowly, one by one, one after another.  One by one, those places of mystery are named.  One by one, new creations of hell are set into motion.  Kwajalein, Saipan, Tinian, Guam, Iwo Jima.  Each time you embark on a new destination for Hell, you know you’ve been there before.  Just a different name, a different place.  Prayerfully, you let God know about each new place for when he searches for your soul.  After each return from your destination of Hell, you train new faces.  Always new faces, faces that replace new faces.  Too many new faces.  Too, too many places.  You are tired.  God, you’re tired.
Home.  Home is lost.  Home will never be.  Time has stopped; time is standing still. Only the creations of Hell are moving, marching forever forward.  Hiroshima, then Nagasaki.  The cartwheel of Hell stops.  It is over.  Listen to the stillness.  Time begins to move again.  Softer, quieter, unfamiliar time.  Journey’s end.  You are out of grid maps.  Grid maps; the instructions and blueprints for the creations of Hell.  There are no more grid maps.  You are looking at a horrific destruction of what used to be the city of Nagasaki.  Dust, huge piles of dust, huge fields of dust, fading off into shambled buildings, on into the reality of vengeance.  On into the reality of a final tribute to the vendetta of revenge and punishment for the treacherous assault on the innocence of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese Empire.  
You can almost hear a silent chorus as shouts of praise and appreciation come up from the waters of Pearl Harbor.  Coming up from the many hundreds of American men and women trapped and dead in the mud and ships at the bottom of the harbor by the vile, sneaky, and treacherous assault of the Japanese on that peaceful Sunday morning, December 7, 1941.
Your cartwheel of Hell has stopped turning.  You have been away too long.  You’ve learned too many things.  You’ve come from a world of complete horror, death, and destruction at the same time of a world of total dedication, complete trust, and pure honest friendship.  You have now been discharged into a totally unfamiliar and deceptive society.  Major adjustments are necessary.  Your new journey has begun.
Years, many years, pass.  Some memories fade; some even disappear completely.  Even so, there are many times when you peer into the invisible darkness.  You stare at the faceless images and forms, moving about in a kaleidoscope of mysteries.  Who are they?  Where are they?  Are you one of them?  Once again, as yo have done so many times before, you curse the Japanese.
The USS Arizona, with almost 100 American Sailors and Marines still aboard, remains in the oily mud on the bottom of Pearl Harbor.  Along with the USS Arizona are many thousands of American men and women including soldiers, sailors, Marines, and civilians scattered throughout 6000 miles of the Pacific Ocean.  Honest sleep settles around you like a warm blanket of peace.  You feel total and complete comfort.  Comfort in the assurance that Almighty God in Heaven Above can and will restore your soul.
Received 26 November 2010
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