[This report has three main parts:  Elwin's early years as an enlisted Marine, with a special focus on the Battle of Tarawa; his ongoing career as a Marine officer through to his retirement from the USMC; and his post-military commitments to near the end of 2013.  Sources include a lengthy questionnaire, several exchanges of emails and telephone calls, and, with Elwin's permission, generous access to his memoirs - Did I Do Enough? available through www.amazon.com.]
Originally from Waldo, Arkansas, Elwin lived in Shreveport, Louisiana during junior high and senior high school, graduating from Fair Park High School on 28 May 1941.  His high school’s motto was “Courage and Wisdom.”   Elwin has repeatedly proved that family values learned as a young person and extended through high school were a superb foundation for character-building values developed later in the U. S. Marine Corps.
Elwin Hart’s alma mater, Fair Park High School in Shreveport, Louisiana
Three days after high school graduation, Elwin enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in New Orleans.  Prior to this point, Elwin had held one job: “I had no experience in anything except a paper route.” Elwin Hart, email to author, August 23, 2013.
At that time, Elwin was 16 years old, and 5 days away from his 17th birthday.  Elwin says that the normal minimum age for enlisting in the Marine Corps has always been 17, with parental consent. “My Dad just fibbed … (in any case, joining the Marine Corps) was probably the luckiest thing that ever happened to me.” Foreshadowing events at Tarawa, one very fortuitous biographical fact in Elwin’s story already appears in this report, but more about that later! Elwin Hart, email to author, June 30, 2013.
A 1,500-mile train ride to the West Coast brought Elwin to California for the start of a twelve-week boot camp at Marine Corps Recruit Depot  (MCRD) in San Diego.  
MCRD sd,ca early 1940s
Marine Corps Recruiting Depot, San Diego, 1941
Upon completion of boot camp, Elwin was sent to the twelve-week Radio Telegraph Operators Course, also at MCRD San Diego.   He learned International Morse Code and was trained in the operation of TBX radios and other radio equipment used in the Fleet Marine Force.  Elwin Hart, email to author, August 23, 2013.
Upon completion of his Radio Telegraph Operators Course, Elwin was assigned to the Second Battalion, 8th Marines (2/8) and lived in barracks at Camp Elliott until he left for American Samoa on 6 January 1942.  He was, at this time, a private earning $21 per month, plus $5 per month for shooting expert with a rifle.
Elwin Hart, email to author, June 30, 2013.
Camp Elliott barracks 1941
Some of the Camp Elliott barracks, fall 1941 
(USMC photo)
Elwin reports that he was in Long Beach, California when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, and announcements soon went out that all Marines had to return to MCRD as soon as possible. Hitch-hiking with a buddy, Elwin hustled back to MCRD San Diego.
Then, one day short of one month after the attack on Pearl Harbor, 2/8 embarked on 6 January 1942, on the SS Matsonia from San Diego (in convoy with the SS Lurline and the SS Monterey, all owned by the Matson Lines).  As Elwin says, the Matsonia was bound for some unknown destination way out in the Pacific, “but, for security reasons, we weren’t told anything specific … we lived in staterooms and the dining room still had 4-man tables with waiters.” 
Richard W. Johnston, Follow Me! (New York: Random House, 1948), 14.
Matsonia was the 1926 incarnation of a vessel by that name.  It had originally been called the SS Malolo, but its name was changed to SS Matsonia in 1937.  She was requisitioned by the US Navy on 21 November 1941 and served as a high-speed troop transport throughout World War II.  She was returned to Matson Lines in 1946.  In 1948, she was sold to a subsidiary of the Home Lines where she operated under the name of SS Atlantic. In 1955, she was transferred to another Home Lines subsidiary (the National Hellenic American Line) operating under the name of Queen Frederica until late 1965 when she was sold to Chandris Lines (still called the Queen Frederica) under whose ownership she remained until mid-1977 and was sold for scrapping which finished in 1978 – after fifty years of service and over thirty-six years after Elwin’s trip to American Samoa.  
Matsonia main restaurant
Matsonia’s Main Restaurant with 4-man tables with linen tablecloths
SS Matsonia – as Elwin Hart knew her for his January 1942 trip to American Samoa 
Length: 582’ Width: 83’ Service Speed: 21 knots
Initially, on departing San Diego, Elwin admits to some relief knowing that their destination was not a combat zone.  After a little over two weeks of high-speed, zig-zag travel on a southwest heading for about 4,800 miles, Elwin and 2/8 arrived at Pago Pago (often pronounced “Pango-Pango”) on Tutuila Island, the largest and most populous island of American Samoa.  USNS Pago Pago had been shelled by a Japanese submarine less than 13 days before Elwin’s arrival!  Thus began Elwin’s first overseas experience in World War II.