Sgt. Robert L. (Bob) George, A-1-10
Serial # 317323
The early morning hours of November 20, 1943, found me as a nineteen year old Machine Gunner with the 10th Marines field artillery with one battle behind me (Guadalcanal). I was in the 5th wave rendezvousing with the other boats of that wave about 9:00 A.M. Our Higgins boat could not get over the coral reef, so we were trapped under heavy enemy fire. For several hours the coxman ran up and down the reef trying to find a way in. Late in the afternoon he finally made it to the end of the long pier, which was burning profusely, whereupon the boat sank. Trying to drag my 50 Cal. Machine Gun up onto the end of the pier using my carbine as a crutch, the carbine fell through a hole in the pier leaving me (I thought) defenseless for a long time, which in reality was probably only a few seconds. I then realized there were dead Marines all around me who would have no further use for theirs.
The end of the burning pier broke off leaving us scrambling for a toehold. We only salvaged one Machine Gun and one box of ammo. As it darkened we realized we were silohetted as targets for the enemy, so we started working our way toward the beach.
There were no front lines, so it took us all night long to get to land. We were able to roll off the pier onto Red Beach 2 around 4:30 in the morning. Laying behind the seawall the tide was out and the beach was wall to wall Marines extending out to the edge of the water. Until daylight we didn't realize about half of them were dead.
With only one Machine Gun and one box of 100 rounds of ammo left, which was only a few seconds of firing time, we threw the back plate of the Machine Gun into the ocean leaving it inoperable. We then became small pockets of infantry for the next 2 days until we were able to join up with the rest of our outfit. While I was on the beach I watched the succeeding waves of Marines trying to get in with their rifles over their heads being cut down by enemy fire. It was such a helpless feeling not to be able to help until we were finally able to get over the seawall.
At one point an officer (I never knew who he was) had me and three other Marines go down the pier hand over hand in the water holding onto a rope to bring back some ammo. We had to leave all our gear to do this, including our rifle, because of the extra weight of the ammo. If I remember right the only thing we had was our helmets. After bringing in 2 belts of 30 Cal Machine Gun shells wrapped around our necks we were gasping for breath When we arrived back on the beach, this officer sent us out again.
That pier was close to 800 yards long which meant much of the time we were fighting to keep our noses above water as it was over our head. Not only did we have to go out that far, but also get up onto the pier while ducking Jap shell fire. I think I was the only one to survive that second trip. Looking over my shoulder (I had been in front on the second trip) I didn't see any of them.
The next 2 days we fought almost hand to hand. The many acts of courage of these young Marines I witnessed are too numerous to mention in this short narrative, however in the book I have written, called Too Young to Vote, I describe some of these heroic actions from Lt. Dean Hawkins down to our battery's famous duck "Siwash" who became the picture of the week in Life magazine a few weeks later.
At the end I was drafted with seven other men who had also lost their outfits for grave registration. These are my worst memories. We had 100s of young Marines whose bodies were bloated and floating at the waters edge. We learned right from the start that you had to be careful how you handled these bodies. The tropics had done their job. The first one I came to I pulled on his hand and started toward shore when he suddenly became lighter. I looked down and was holding only his arm where it had separated from the shoulder. The smell was horrible. It was all over the Island, but at that point it was all I could do to keep from crying or throwing up or both. Most of the dead were teen-agers.
The Marines would fight bigger and longer battles at greater loss of men, but per square foot, none of them would compare with little Betio in the Tarawa Atoll. Around 6000 men (Marines and enemy) lay dead in an area smaller than Central Park. Every American should have to stand on the end of that pier and see the carnage to realize the price you pay for freedom.
copyright 2001 Wheaton, Illinois
Created 28 June 2001 - Updated 29 July 2003