Cpl. Robert W. Johnsmiller, I/3/2
serial # 387600
On 20 November 1943 the Marines of Item Company left the ship under the cover of darkness, climbed down into higgins boats, then after circling in the water for hours, they transferred to amtracs for the run to the beach. An armada of naval vessels were shelling the island as the marines prepared to assault the beachhead. Fifteen to twenty Marines were packed inside the landing craft from I/3/2. The Gunnery Sargeant yelled out, "Anybody sticks their head up and I'll shoot them." Then the Sargent turned and looked up over the edge of the craft. He was immediately shot through the head by a Japanese bullet.
Eventually a number of I company Marines made it to the beach but were pinned down behind the seawall. As soon as a Marine tried to go over the top they were shot. PFC Alton Harwood ended up with another marine from the same platoon, Cpl. Robert Johnsmiller. They dropped off their packs and climbed up and through an opening where the logs came together. Palm trees were burning, it was smoky, and the ground was potmarked with shellholes from the naval bombardment. They crawled together and warned one another when a Japanese grenade would land nearby. Eventually they were separated in that confusion of the fighting. Johnsmiller was wounded later that day, shot through the nose and a eye. PFC Harwod was also wounded, shot twice through his right shoulder. The next day Harwood and Johnsmiller were evacuated to a hospital ship to be taken to the naval hospital at Pearl Harbor.
Johnsmiller was awarded the Navy Cross for actions taken on Tarawa. This was probably after he was separated from PFC Harwood.
Source: Excerpted from PFC Alton Harwood account.
Telegram sent to Johnsmiller's mother informing her of his wounds on 8 January 1944.
Picture Credit: Roy Johnson
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copyright 2003 T.O.T.W.
Created 2 September 2003 - Updated 25 January 2006