ROGER K. COLBY
I grew up in Smith Center, Kansas, a very small agricultural town on the Northern Plains of Kansas (as close to the Nebraska state line as it is to the geographic center of the Lower 48 states). Summers were hot; winters could be very cold both extremes were severe. My trip to the Solomons in 1942 and to the Gilberts in 1943 sure got me adjusted to severe tropical heat while simultaneously fighting and trying to stay alive!
For Tarawa, I was in L Company, 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment in the 2nd Marine Division. We arrived off Betio where the main engagement was to take place, and we were able to see our Navy and the big ships bombard Betio. It was hard to believe that many defenders could have survived that, but we were in for a big and unpleasant surprise.
In the early morning hours before the amphibious assault on Betio began, I remember assembling my gear; thinking about the pending invasion; rechecking my gear; having what I thought might be my last meal; and praying.
On 20 November 1943 as the invasion began, we were scheduled to go ashore in a Higgins landing craft in the 2nd wave to Red Beach #1, somewhere to the west of the pier. For equipment, I had with me my personal gear and a 60mm mortar. We were held up for a couple of hours with our plans, though, because we began hearing about unexpected problems those in the 1st wave ahead of us were having.
While in our holding pattern, we heard reports of Higgins landing craft running aground on the coral reefs, stranding Marines who became sitting ducks for enemy snipers. We heard of Marines having to wade in to shore, but we also heard that many of them were being picked off by enemy snipers as they struggled to shore. We could see a lot of tough combat was underway and a lot of destruction was going on by our guys. Major shore-based fire came at us from the area of Red Beach #1 as we neared the beach, and that caused us to veer sharply to the left toward the east end of the island. Out on the water, chaos and confusion was all around us. The only consolation we had, for a short while, was that the chaos and confusion on shore was much worse.
Towards the middle of the day on D+3, those of us who were left in L-3-2 were somewhere in the middle of Betio and the entire tempo and intensity of the fighting really tapered off. That same day, the remnant of my company departed Betio and headed for a transport. We were exhausted, dirty, thirsty, sunburned, ready for some good chow -- and ever so glad to be alive! In my case, miraculously, I had no wounds, but many of my buddies were wounded or dead. And the thought of that has never left me.
On 23 November, we departed Tarawa and headed to Hilo on the Big Island of Hawaii. Then and now, I think Camp Tarawa was an excellent camp. We enjoyed many visits to town and to areas around the camp. The people there were good to us in terms of healing us veterans and training replacements for buddies we had lost at Tarawa. The result was a cohesive force when we left for Saipan the next spring.
I want to take this opportunity to speak candidly: I have utter despair at the poor planning for the Battle of Tarawa. Utter despair! Just as candidly, I am extremely proud to have been associated with these civilian Marines who showed courage and initiative. This bunch of young but tough kids, many just out of civilian life, were truly remarkable. History needs to record this.
Before Tarawa, I had been in the Tanambogo-Gavutu and Guadalcanal operations. After Tarawa, I was at Saipan.
Medals and awards received by the end of the war included the Purple Heart; three Presidential Unit Citations; three southwest Pacific campaigns; a World War II Victory medal: a USMC Good Conduct medal; and not long after, my honorable discharge.
PURPLE HEART
A PHOTO LINK TO THE PURPLE HEART MEDAL COMES HERE SOON.
PRESIDENTIAL UNIT CITATION (Tarawa)
A PHOTO LINK TO THE PRESIDENTIAL UNIT CITATION (Tarawa) COMES HERE SOON.
WORLD WAR II VICTORY MEDAL
A PHOTO LINK TO THE WORLD WAR II VICTORY MEDAL COMES HERE SOON.
USMC GOOD CONDUCT MEDAL
A PHOTO LINK TO THE USMC GOOD CONDUCT MEDAL COMES HERE SOON.
Now at age 87, I look back on Tarawa remembering the most utter destruction countless dead Japs and Marines everywhere, my utter amazement at the courage of all my Marine buddies the complete disorganization of L Company and the incredible bravery and quick reorganization of our Marines into a cohesive fighting force.
I thank the Lord for my survival and the many years of memories. And I want to say thank you for this very worthy project.
Roger, we are the ones who thank you! Your spirit, grit and initiative when surrounded by chaos and confusion and your dedicated service to our country will be remembered.
SEMPER FI, ROGER !
Received 19 November 2010
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