Marines Hit Tarawa One Year Ago Today
Daily Palo Alto Times, Monday November 20, 1944
Combat Correspondent John B. Garrett, now with the public relations department of the coast guard stationed at Cleveland, Ohio, was aboard an assault transport which landed elements of the 2nd marine division at Tarawa a year ago today. He herewith gives an eye-witness account of the landing along with a stirring tribute to the marines on the first anniversary of the bloody battle.
By John B. Garrett,
Specialist first class
Coast guard combat correspondent
A year ago the marines hit Tarawa. They landed with high optimism; there wasn't a man among them who wasn't in high spirits, for they had seen the task force pour its heaviest shells into the island for interminably long hours. And they knew that the Army Air Force had been pounding the island for days with block-busters and daisy cutters (anti-personnel bombs).
The contagious feeling of optimism was summed up by a corporal in a special weapons unit just before he slid down the sally net of the transport: "Man, I feel sorry for those little yellow dogs on the island!" Ringing in his ears were the final words of Marine Major Schoettl: "Hit the beach boys, and give. 'em hell!"
They did just that
And the Marines of the 2nd division did just that but that three day assault, victorious in the end, resulted in more casualties, in relation to number of men involved, than the marines had ever hereto suffered in a landing of this type.
As dawn broke, the Higgins boats, which had been milling around in the black of pre-dawn, pulled up on the lee side of the transport and received their passengers. Riding low in the water, these craft churned off to a hypothetical place called the "line If departure." They waited there.
From the bridge of the transport, we saw them through our binoculars, until smoke drifted out from the island and obscured them from view. When we could see them no longer, we went about our business on tie boat. But suddenly the Jap shore batteries opened fire and a geyser of water shot up abeam of us and quite close. Another went up aft. Our ship decided to Circle out of range; then came back a short while later.
Out of their holes
While this somewhat minor show was going on, the marines in the assault waves were beginning to get their first glimpses of war in its most fiendish and hellish forms. The Japs had come out of their holes - they had set up everything in their arsenal and were preparing to annihilate the first, waves of invaders.
They nearly succeeded, too.
It was later estimated that about 1,000 marines started that momentous assault - but it was only a small group of probably 100 to 300 men who waded through the graveyard of fire to the beach and seized control of a narrow strip.
This surviving group of men held the island, alone and under frightful conditions, for most of the first afternoon. Behind them, in the sea, floated the bodies of hundreds of their buddies.
Worst of nightmares
Back on the transport, we had started to receive casualties. The attitude and expression on the faces of these men revealed more than a thousand words could describe - they had been through the worst of nightmares.
It is impossible to describe lucidly or even coherently the course of the three-day battle. I remember getting in a Higgins boat at noon the second day and hitting the Tarawa jetty under no worse than sporadic fire.
And I remember trailing along with a patrol of six marines into the jungle. The men had already reached that stage known "trigger happy" - a sense of nervousness which causes men shoot at almost anything moves, especially if it looks like a Jap. The sun was casting sharp shadows from the coconut tree, directly along the patrol's path. Suddenly, one of the marines, in one single motion, leveled his carbine and poured a stream of bullets into a tree top. He had seen the shadow of a Jap sniper tied in a tree, along the path. The sniper, however, had been killed the day before by other Marines.
I lived on the island for the next two days and saw the marines swoop victoriously over it. I saw some humor, too, but only on this rare occasion when I stopped to hear a marine sergeant instructing a line of Jap prisoners in the English Language. "Now say 'Tojo eats dog'," the sergeant instructed his prisoners. And the Japs, oblivious of the meaning of the sentence, repeated the phrase time and again.
Vivid scenes live forever
There were many unforgettable scenes - scenes which after a year still remain vivid in memory and are best forgotten. But out of that bloody shambles we came away with the knowledge that the road to Tokyo, no matter what obstacles it presents will inevitably be traveled American forces. For us, Tarawa was a bitterly won victory; for the Japs it was the handwriting on the wall.
Combat correspondents are always told not to overwrite and to forego personal expressions of opinion, but here is one who, on this first anniversary of the Battle of Tarawa, wants to let his hair down long enough to pay his respects to what is unquestionably one of the best and most gallant outfits of men this country has under arms today - the 2nd division of the United States Marine Corps.
Coastguardsmen under fire at Tarawa
US Coast Guardsmen driving their invasion barges into shore under fire at Tarawa,
as sketched by Coast Guard combat artist Ken Riley.
Thanks to Les Groshong 3/HQ/8, for sending this article.
copyright 2001 Wheaton, Illinois
Created 9 November 2001