[Mr. Masters has given special permission to use portions of Once A Marine Always A Marine (1988), his wartime memoirs, to serve as the basis of this report for the Living Tarawa Veterans Roster.  His gesture is most appreciated.]
My hometown was Chicago, and my parents’ house was really close to the Municipal Airport.  I graduated from high school in June 1939.  With a strong interest in the U.S. Marine Corps and a similar interest in aviation, I enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps on 24 July 1939, a time when the Corps was an elite military organization of about 18,000 active-duty men.  Entry requirements were stringent, higher than the other services, and all of that appealed immensely to me, to do my best and be with the best in the service of our country.
With $6.10 in my pocket for meals, I was sent by train to the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego for boot camp.  
MCRD sd,ca early 1940s
Marine Corps Recruiting Depot in San Diego, as Mike knew it
Training was as tough as any Marine boot will tell you.  “Boots,” as recruits were called, went through strict and demanding training and indoctrination procedures:  the GI haircut; receiving a bucket of toilet articles (including a bag of Bull Durham tobacco and paper since we were not allowed brand cigarettes); summer khaki uniforms and blue cover-all fatigues (the kind farmers wore); olive-green dress uniforms, with Marine emblems; two pairs of ankle-high shoes that laced up; tropical pith helmet; World War I steel helmet and army pack; and finally, a ‘03 Springfield bolt-action rifle still covered with cosmoline grease. 
SPRINGFIELD 1903 rifle
US Model 1903 Springfield rifle, caliber .30-06
We were taught that our rifle was always our own personal responsibility wherever we went.  “You are a Marine first!  That rifle is now a part of you and is the only friend you have.  Your life may depend upon it some day!”  For mistreatment or improper use of our rifle, penalties were severe.  Simply by accidentally calling our rifle a gun could cause swift and very humiliating repercussions when drill instructors corrected such inappropriate use of the language in front of fellow boots.  Witnessing a drill instructor’s tirade on a poor boot was a lesson we definitely remembered!
In August 1939, I graduated from boot camp in the 24th Platoon, and that opened doors to a number of specialized career opportunities.  I chose the prestigious three-week Sea School and, ultimately, was assigned to the battleship USS Tennessee (BB-43).  Some of my Sea School graduates were assigned to the USS Arizona which was sunk some two years later when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, and I will never forget those men.  
Some of the others from my recruit class were sent to defense battalions on Wake, Midway and Guam where they made history defending those islands against Japanese landings.  Those who survived on Wake and Guam and were sent as prisoners to Japan.  
I left the Tennessee in mid-November 1941 and was on liberty at home in Chicago when my mother told me she had heard a radio report that some Imperial Japanese Navy vessels had left the Inland Sea for unspecified destinations.  Something very ominous seemed to be underway by the Japanese!
USS Tennessee (BB-43)
Mike Master’s ‘home’ between mid-October 1939 and mid-November 1941
Courtesy:  permission to use above photo from Bill McWilliams (USAF, Colonel, Ret),
author of SUNDAY IN HELL: Pearl Harbor Minute by Minute (2011);
Little did anybody know or even predict at that time that within three weeks some Japanese aircraft carriers would launch aircraft onto unsuspecting US Navy ships at Pearl Harbor.   That attack, which severely but partially crippled operational capabilities of the US Pacific fleet stationed there and resulted in the deaths of nearly 2,400 people, was what triggered America’s declaration of war against Imperial Japan.  My former ‘home at sea,’ the Tennessee, was damaged but returned to duty almost eight months later and valiantly earned 10 battle stars before the war ended.  I have had many occasions to contemplate what I missed by being transferred from the Tennessee so shortly before the attack on Pearl Harbor.   
My liberty in Chicago was finished very shortly before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and I returned to the West Coast for several weeks to Yerba Buena Island (where the San Francisco Bay Bridge is anchored on its route between San Francisco and Oakland, California) to wait for my next assignment. 
In February 1942, orders came and I left Yerba Buena to go to the Marine base in San Diego.  Expecting to be transported to the docks to waiting transports, we instead headed east across the Bay Bridge to Oakland, to an old secluded railway station which had obviously not been used in years.  With secrecy and urgency, we boarded a troop train whose cars looked as if they hadn’t been used since World War I.  They had none of the comforts anybody would associate with passenger coaches.  They were converted steel boxcars with several square windows and a plain square door on each side.  Each car had a mixture of hard seats and benches, with a head at each end.  Not surprisingly, these cars were called “cattle cars.” 
In San Diego, I was eventually assigned to a platoon of assault engineers in Company D, 2nd Battalion, 18th Marine Regiment (Pioneers), attached to the 2nd Marine Division.  [Mike’s 2nd Battalion was the 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion whose mission was to “enhance the mobility, counter mobility, and survivability of the Marine Division through combat and limited engineering support.”
By June 1942, I was on my way to the Solomon Islands on the USS President Hayes  (APA-20) where, beginning on 7 August, I was part of America’s first ground offensive of World War II. The next day I was in the landings on Tulagi Island, very close to Florida Island.  Actually, our landing was at a village named Sesapi which later became the Patrol Boat (PT) base from which our future president John F. Kennedy operated for a while.