P.F.C. William Haddad, H&S 2
Bill Haddad is on the left holding the Tribune. Frank Johnston is on the far right.
On November 20, 1943, I was a member of the H&S-2 radio section, communication platoon. Perhaps if enough communicators relate their memories to you, it matter of fact could result in the solution to why only fragmentary communications existed during the initial phase of the battle. A memory I am sure you can use took place aboard the A.P.A. Zeilin. While en route to Tarawa, Colonel Herbert R. Amey, Jr. C.O. 2/2 (KIA Tarawa) in an address to his men offered a humorous reason why Betio was given the code name Helen. He said, "We have named this island Helen, BECAUSE WE WANT TO GET INTO HELEN!" Naturally, the entire complement of Marines and ship's company gave out with a heavy laugh.
My initial assignment as part of a four man TBX radio team was to follow the assault waves into Red Beach Two. I am not sure of the time, but I think we went over the side about 0300 or 0400. We transferred from a Higgins boat to an amphtrac and headed for the beach. Upon arriving at the line of departure, we were told to stand by for further orders. Shortly after 0900, we were ordered to proceed to shore. On the way in, our amphtrac got hung up on a reef about 50 yards west of the pier, and about the same distance from the beach. As the driver was attempting to break free, we put up our radio to find out what was happening on the beach. We established communication with our forward echelon operator Thomas Berg (KIA Tarawa), but this contact lasted only a short while. Later, we learned that Tom's amphtrac took a direct hit while he was talking to us. At that same time, we were getting small arms fire from an old Jap relic that was grounded some 50 yards from where we were. I took several shots at the sniper on the ship and that stopped his firing. Shortly after that we broke free, but with all the confusion and chaos that existed, we decided to swing around towards the pier for an attempted landing there. Some 1,000 yards out, our driver killed his motor and we floundered in the water. During that time, our fighter planes strafed and bombed out of action the old Jap relic ship.
About an hour after our motor quit, an LCM came to our rescue. The coxswain took us to a command boat where we were ordered to proceed directly to the beach. I immediately started running and crawling my way in. Somewhere on the pier, I lost contact with the rest of my team. Actually, Sgt. "Pappy" Colburn was the leader of our TBX team. As I took cover just west of the pier, a Marine remarked to me that anyone dumb enough to do what I had just done had to be a communicator. I did not record the time I reached the beach, but it was late in the morning or early afternoon on D-day. I was with a group of 8th Marines and stayed with them until the following morning when Major Crowe, finding out who I was, directed me to our CP some 100 yards west of where I was. I inched my way along the beach until I reached a bunker a short distance west of the pier. In a deep hole on the north side of a Jap bunker, Col. Shoup had set up his command post. Needless to say, my radio team was welcomed with opened arms. However, instead of allowing us to erect our radio, Marine Gunner Barney Blassage ordered us to bury several Jap corpses that lay around the rim of our bomb hole. It appeared to me that he did this because he was angry that we did not land sooner. As a matter of fact, he had it entered in my record that I didn't land until the 21st when, in fact, I spent most of the 20th fighting with the 8th Marines. After burying the Japs, we put up our radio and went about the task of trying to establish communications with other units. At that time, bullets were flying through the air so fast and thick that the upper portion of our antenna got sheared off a few inches above the top of our shelter.
Some time later in the afternoon of D-Plus-1, I made contact with someone. I couldn't make out who it was, but I recall the operator on the other end was one of our Navaho Indians. Billyman, our Navaho, took my place. However, no messages were exchanged. A few minutes after Billyman took over, a baseball size hunk of shrapnel tore through his knee, and I went back on the set. Have you ever tried talking to a Navaho face to face? If you have, you can imagine the difficulties I encountered trying to talk to one via a radio. He kept insisting on talking Navaho, and we accomplished exactly nothing more than the initial contact. I believe this incident prompted our Comm Officer to cease using Navahos.
Shortly after dark, D-Plus-1, I was relieved from radio watch and detailed along with Pfc. Harry Davenport to search the beach for wire. We crawled all the way to Green Beach and back without finding any wire. We did find one box of radio batteries and EE-8 telephones that we brought back to our CP. Searching for something after dark is a near impossibility. Several times we were challenged to identify ourselves. The password sign and countersign was States and their Capitols. One challenger called out "Pennsylvania" and I replied "Harrisburg." About the same time, someone a short distance west of me shouted "Pittsboig!" The challenger tried again, calling out "Michigan." I replied "Lansing," and the New York yokel shouted "Detroit." I guess you know we would have had a shooting match if it were not for Harry Davenport's proficiency in the use of profanity. Upon return to the CP, that damned Blassage chewed us out for not finding more. I was told to man the generator, which I did until about 0900, D-Plus-2. I had not sleep for 54 hours and Capt. Bradshaw, our Comm Officer, ordered Blassage to allow me to have a short nap. By then, most of our stragglers reached the CP. I tried to rest, but the noise of battle and the uncertainty of everything was too much to allow me to relax.
Shortly before 1200, Gunner Blassage came to me and once again ordered me to scour the beach for whatever communication equipment I could find. This trip was no more successful than the night trip. Because of the daylight, others no doubt got whatever communication equipment may have been on the beach.
With your indulgence, I will fill you in on some of my background so that you can better understand what I relate later. Prior to joining H&S 2nd, I was a radio operator in the radio central, Navy Department, Washington, D.C. While there, I learned to operate every kind of radio used by the Navy, including the first radio teletype machine. I left there with a classification of high speed radio operator capable of sending and receiving Morse code at speeds in excess of 50 wpm. Upon joining the 2nd Marines, I was warned that the communications chief, M/Sgt. Barney Blassage, believed himself to be the Marine Corps fastest and best operator. If I wanted to get along with him, I was never to show him up in any way. After meeting and being interrogated by Barney, I decided that was sound advice. Several weeks after establishing our base at Paekakariki, New Zealand, Capt. Bradshaw decided to test all radio operators for speed and ability to receive Morse code. As speed increased, one by one, operators dropped out. At this time, I was under the impression that Barney was capable of 40 wpm. At least that is what he bragged about. Anyway, when I estimated we were at 30 wpm, I deliberately failed remembering what men had told me about Barney. I should have stopped at 25 wpm because the best Barney could do was 28 wpm. I was the champion, but also the loser because Barney started giving me the short end of the stick at every opportunity, including the nasty details at Tarawa at a time when the 2nd needed their best men on the radios. So much for the background.
Upon returning to the CP after my second trip looking for equipment, I found Capt. Bradshaw extremely mad at me for leaving the area without permission. I immediately blew my stack! Under other conditions, he may have had me court-martialed. No doubt he believed that I had acted under Barney's orders because he went directly to him and instructed him that for the duration of the battle, I was to be on radio watch and/or available for Capt. Bradshaw when he needed me. This took the gunner off my back for the remainder of the battle. Needless to say, I was kept on radio watch without any relief for the remainder of the battle. God knows how many messages I disposed of, but I do know I PERSONALLY TRANSMITTED THE FINAL MESSAGE INFORMING DIVISION THAT BETIO WAS SECURED AROUND 1200 D-Plus-3. In the final hours, Capt. Bradshaw kept me busy changing from one frequency to another establishing communications with stations whose code names were not listed in our battle instructions, so I can't tell you who they were.
On the afternoon of D-Plus-3, we moved to the south side of the island to set up defenses against any possible attack from Japs who might want to retake the island. Pfc. Bill Morgan and I were partners in a shell hole facing the sea. We flipped a coin as to who would get two hours sleep first. Morgan won the toss, and I remained awake while he slept two hours. I woke Bill up and had a cigarette with him. By the way, that was the first time that I smoked in my life. It took me a while to get used to the smoke. Shortly afterwards, I lay down to get my two hours of sleep. Suddenly, I had a feeling that someone was holding a knife to my neck. I lay perfectly still for what seemed like a lifetime. I could picture a Jap waiting for me to make a move. With that thought in mind, I decided to go out fighting. I made a very sudden roll, jumped to my feet and found that the supposed knife at my throat was nothing more than the claw of a coconut crab that happened to be strolling by. I looked at my watch to discover I had only been laying down for about ten minutes. From then until we left the island, I was too keyed up to fall asleep.
On D-Plus-4, we had a group picture taken, packed up all our gear and returned to the north side of the island to be taken aboard ship. Knowing that each regiment was assigned certain ships, Barney ordered me to stay ashore to see that all our communications gear was loaded before I left the island. When all the gear was sent to the assigned ship, I was ferried to the U.S.S. Biddle. The captain refused to allow me aboard, saying he had no more room for passengers. The coxswain told me not to worry, he would find a ship that would take me aboard. However, every ship we contacted said they had no room for more passengers. During this run around, we met a boat load of men, which included General Hermle. Upon hearing my plight, he told me to get into his boat and ordered the coxswain to the Biddle. Upon pulling along side, we were again told there was no room for passengers. They allowed General Hermle aboard to speak with the captain of the ship. The General was shouting and waving his finger in the captain's face. They were too far away for me to hear what was being said. Not long after that, we were allowed to climb aboard. We were told to stand by until room could be found for us below. There was none. Gunner Blassage was aboard this ship. He came aft to inform me I would have to bunk with the platoon so that he could keep track of everyone. I would have to make my own arrangements if someone would allow me to share a bunk with him. I went below to find that all bunks were occupied with sleeping Marines. In the center of one isle was a row of telephone wire drums. I placed my pack on one, climbed up, and lay down with my head resting on my pack. I recall turning over from side to side, waking up and falling asleep again, and finally a sensation that we were under way. I noticed my watch indicated 1:05 p.m. I decided I could sleep much better topside on one of the level hatch tops. Upon emerging topside, I noticed Betio was out of sight. I asked a Marine who was leaning on a rail when did we leave the island. He said, "Yesterday shortly after 1:00 p.m. Where have you been?" I actually slept nearly 24 uneasy hours. That day, a Thanksgiving meal with all the trimmings was served aboard ship for all Marines and ship's company. As survivors, we had more to be thankful for than any living person in the world. Three days at sea, the P.A. system sounded "Haddad, report to the after sick bay." I dutifully reported only to find that a cousin of mine by the name of Edward Haddad was the one paged. He was a corpsman aboard the Biddle. He and I subsequently had a good time getting acquainted. We had known of each other's existence, but had never met before. I mentioned to him that I had a sore back since the second day of the battle. Examinations showed that I had swelling in the area of the fifth and sixth vertebrae, possibly a slipped disc. I was told that with rest, the soreness would go away. It did in a few days and I was not listed as a casualty.
Needless to say, I pray to God there will not be another Tarawa.
Thanks alot for your contribution and encouragement Bill!
Bill on Tinian
copyright 2002 T.O.T.W.
Created 23 November 2002 - Updated 30 December 2003