Sgt. Francis "Bud" Healy, B/1/6
Recently I received an envelope from Bud and Lorraine Healy. Enclosed was the following account and a short letter. Mrs. Healy writes,
"Bud has finished writing of his experiences on Tarawa. It took quite sometime to do. He kept a clipboard under his recliner and unbeknownst to me would periodically write down memories as they came to him. This he would obviously do while I was off playing bridge with my lady friends. Finally, he presented it to me and said, 'Here it is. This is the way it has to be. I cannot put into writing all the gory stuff that came to mind.' I accepted that and understood. I gladly put it to print for him and in some small way could read between the lines and live through the nightmare that I had never been privy during our fifty-four years of marriage. I really believe he only revisited this episode of his life to please his youngest daughter, Leslie, who has been so diligent in her attempt to preserve that history that involved her father."
Left is a very happy Bud after coming home from the Pacific at the end of the war.
On the right is Bud with a .30 machine gun at Camp Tarawa in the Hawaiian Islands.
The following are my recollections of my experiences in the battle of Tarawa:
On that dark early morning of November 20, 1943, I remember getting into a rubber boat with six other Marines for a tow via a Higgins boat to the island of Tarawa. Accompanying us was another rubber boat with seven Marines. To my left was either a cutter, battleship or a cruiser (I can't remember which it was) who was firing at the island. I could see fires in the distance, and god awful noises and flashes of light. I said, "Give them Hell, so it will be easier for us." Our mission was to make certain that the two gun positions on Green Beach had been destroyed for those rubber boats that would follow behind us.
The ride into the reef was long and arduous and everyone was wet. We couldn't see too much until the tow boat told us to disconnect. We paddled over some foamy water. I guessed that it was the reef At this point we were still a long way from the beach, but the water was now calmer. To our left, nosed up to the reef was a destroyer, and another was broadside to the reef Both were firing salvos inland. We could vividly hear and see their blasts. We still had to paddle quite a few hundred yards to the beach. Nothing was happening yet and we couldn't see any other boats. We later learned that the area was infested with mines just below the surface of the water. Our light rubber boats had merely floated above them.
After a long paddle and before dawn we felt the rubber boat hit the sand on the beach. Just as we were trained, we jumped out and ran up the beach to the sea wall. We didn't know what to expect from then on. Our orders were to eventually tie in with the troops on our left. As we moved along the seawall, and whenever we came to an opening, we would toss in a grenade. There was no response. Obviously, the two gun positions had been destroyed by the heavy destroyer salvos. That portion of our mission was complete. As we continued, we saw a few bodies floating in the water. Farther down the beach there were more bodies. At this point it was getting light and we were shocked to see that the bodies were Marines.
Green Beach after the 6th Marines landed by rubber boats.
This picture was probably taken was probably taken D+1 sometime after 1800 hrs.
We finally ran into some Marines on the beach and asked what was their outfit. They just said, "Keep your heads down." They looked extremely exhausted, glassy eyed, and really ragged. As I looked around, there were three Marines in a shell hole. I looked again and, my god, there was my old buddy, Mitch (Minor) McClaughlin. We were long time friends. We had joined up together and gone through boot camp together. I had been assigned to l-B-6 Marines and he went into I company, 2nd Marines. In a daze, he was still holding his 60 mm mortar tube with a big dent in it. I looked around and found a rifle and ammo and gave it to him along with a package of "K" rations and told him to stay in the hole. I then left to make contact with my flank that had now arrived.
As it got light the sight was unbelievable. Bodies were everywhere. Our Capt.. Krueger finally got us rounded up in some order and we took up a position at the break in the seawall. We could hear a great deal of gun fire some distance from our left. The battle was obviously still in full rage.
At the end of the day at dusk, we had to dig in. Bodies were everywhere and we had to dig in where ever you could. I set-up my L.M.G. on the left flank. Darkness fell and it was really bad lying there with so many bodies everywhere. The word was passed not to give our position away.
During the night, with the Japs yelling out in front trying to draw fire, it was extremely nerve wracking. We heard some yelling and up jumped a Jap with no clothes on and white bandages wrapped around his arms and his legs. He was all greased up so that no one could grab him. He had a knife of some kind and came right at us, The Marine on my left jumped up with his carbine and let lose with an entire clip before the Jap finally fell about four feet away. I couldn't believe that it had happened so fast. The next morning, we looked at the dead Jap and the guy said, "I hit him with just about every shot. These damn carbines aren't any good."
A few of us got ready to move out from Green Beach, heading to the right side of the island. After we went over the seawall we found ourselves in a large no man's land that led to the air strip to the ocean. There were no trees. It was wide open. Capt.. Krueger formed up the battle lines and gave us the word to move out. We started out by cover and concealment type movement as we had been trained. After about 200 yards of this, the unbearable heat was getting to us. Someone stood up and started walking. We all did the same. There were a lot of puffs in the sand from sniper fire, but we kept on going until we hit the palms and bunkers. From then on it was a difficult battle. We had to move along more slowly now. From our position, we thought we would have the island before night fall. We moved along the beach side of our company past many beach bunkers. We saw that a few Japs had taken their own lives. We thought that was a good sign.
We got to a place where there was a pyramid type pillbox to my left and we set up to cover it. At this time we were getting sniper fire, but we couldn't tell where it was coming from. Capt. Krueger came into our position to see if he could help find the sniper. As I looked up from my gun, I heard a splat and Capt.. Krueger grabbed his throat and blood was coming through his fingers as he fell. We got him aid immediately and he was taken away. We sure did miss our company commander. He had done one heck of a job to get us this far. Ironically, the pillbox had been abandoned.
When Hard Tom (Lt. Thomas), heard what had happened to Krueger, he took over with his side kick, John Nicks, a former raider. He started to move us out. We got to the jungle and found that it wasn't as demolished as the rest of the island. There were more places for the Japs to hide and the advance slowed down. Dusk was approaching, however, and the action was quieting down somewhat. I thought we had done well moving up the east side of the island. I still didn't know what our losses were.
After awhile, we moved up into the thick of it. It was pretty messy at this point and it was starting to get dark. From our position at the right flank on the beach we could see all the way down to the beach. Almost, what we thought, was the end. Hard Tom came over and told the squad leader to move us over to the left flank along the air strip. It was getting dark now and some were digging in. We tried to picked the best spot out of a field of fire, but there were not too many choices. In front of me and to the left of the air strip were two beat up trucks. Then to our right the trees were pretty dense. There was a huge mound about one hundred feet away. As darkness fell, Hard Tom set up his C.P. a short distance behind us. Suddenly two Japs jumped up and out of the trucks and came at us. Hard Tom grabbed one and pistol whipped him to the ground and shot him. I got the other one with my forty-five. During the night there was some movement out in front of us and there was clanking of canteens. They were trying to make us give away our positions. The Japs sent out a few men to attack and draw fire with some yelling, but they were put down. Then some real clanking and yelling started. We saw one get up on mound, waving his sword and yelling. I think everyone on the front line took a shot at him. That was the beginning of the counter attack. Hard Tom called for some flares and it helped some, but it was still dark. The Japs came at us from all angles. We couldn't throw any grenades because there were too many trees. If you attempted to throw one and it hit a tree, it would come back at you. Therefore, we had to fight them really in close. It was hand to hand and you didn't know if they were in the front or in the back.
After the attack, we tried to get the line reorganized and see what was left. I called for more ammo for my machine gun with no luck, so my squad leader took off to find some. Finally someone dropped off two boxes of ammo. I really needed more than that.
During a lull in the battle, all I could hear were a few groans from out in front. A little while later, which seemed like hours a flare went up and I could see bodies all over the place at our front. It almost made me sick. After a while another flare went up and we could see the Japs going up to the front again. They started clanking their canteens and yelling something at us. This time we were ready for them. Although the fighting was close it was a ready rush. We just added to the mounds of bodies in front of us. Then the lull and the quiet arrived again. Hard Tom proceeded to go up and down the line checking to see what he had left and telling the guys to stay alert. Some of us hadn't slept in three days and after all that had happened the boys were really jumpy.
Finally, dawn was coming and no one was moving except for Hard Tom. He was a great leader and kept everyone on their toes. When daylight finally arrived there were not too many snipers firing, but we were too beat to move. With the arrival of daylight we could now survey our surroundings. The front of us was just one horrible mess. Empty bullet shell casings were piled high by each man. I don't think any of us realized we had shot that many rounds.
Relief was coming up and passing through our lines. We just didn't have enough men left to keep going. As they passed through, they gave us some rations and cigarettes. They said they couldn't believe what they had to walk through. Later, Hard Tom got us together and moved us to the beach area. He had us, or what was left of us, set up defense along the beach. Rations and water were brought up. That damn water really tasted good even though it was rusty. We could still hear heavy firing going on and someone said the Seabees were already working on the lower end of the airstrip.
We set up our guns in a Jap pillbox. It really gave me an eerie feeling. As night came on, Hard Tom directed us to keep an eye out toward the ocean, because they thought some Japs might try to come in from that direction. At low tide it was possible for them to wade in from adjacent islands. Well, with no sleep and looking out through a slot, everything out on the water seemed to be moving. We did take turns at watch, so some of us did get a little sleep. The next morning they brought us some "K" rations and we built a little fire to heat our rusty water to make a cup of coffee. In the "K" we had an egg and ham can and if you could beat the green flies, maybe you could get a bite to eat. In addition to the very heavy stench of death, it didn't digest too well.
We were allowed to roam around a little as long as someone was on watch. It would have been better to stay put. As I walked around all I could see were dead bodies. They were starting to take our dead Marines back to the ships and a bulldozer was starting to bury the Japs because the death smell was so bad. (I can remember that odor to this day.)
We all had another night on watch and the word came around that we'd be moving out tomorrow. We made up some more coffee with our rusty water and Tom came by and said we were going back to the ship.
I have a blank period here. For some reason, I don't remember much about the hike back to the beach or how we got out to the ship. But we did get back and the sailors treated us like kings. They let us use their showers and gave us some clean clothes. And then a place to clean our own clothes. Later we were feted with a Thanksgiving dinner, but we had trouble holding it down. The navy was top notch on that trip.
We were sent to Hawaii and way up into the boondocks. Far away from everyone. I guess they didn't think it wise to expose us to civilization. All our sea bags were dumped in a field in a big pile along with some tents. I remember sitting there and singing Christmas carols.
I'll never forget what a great bunch of guys we had and if ever the services are looking for a few good men, the Marines have them. The boys that didn't make it back, they were the ones that made it possible for us to make it back, and I have never forgotten them.
The Littlest Sarg
P.S. I went on to fight in the battles for Saipan, Tinian, and Okinawa before finally being sent home.
Thank you very much Bud and Lorraine! And also, a very special thanks to Leslie, who got the ball rolling!
copyright 2000 Wheaton, Illinois
Created 9 February 2001