P.F.C. Joseph Jordan, 2/8
Joe Jordan was atached to 2/8 as a direct gunfire spotter. The idea was to use the 40mm anti-aircraft cannon to silence pillboxes. Unfortunately they never got to try as all of the equipment was left on the reef under several feet of saltwater.
To the Beach:
As the amtrac reared up when we hit the reef they let go with a 77mm right through the front bottom, and boom - a hole just a few inches big in the bottom metal and an explosion in the troop compartment. Several of the guys were killed or seriously injured but I was lucky not to be scratched. The momentum carried the tractor forward into deeper water and it began to fill and sink. Needless to say everybody was excited and attempted to get away.
After a couple of feet we discovered that the water was too deep to wade and we would have to shuck gear and swim for it. About this time another tractor came to our rescue, and threw grab ropes into the water to use in dragging us to shallow water. The orders had been to ignore anyone that was down and more toward the objective, but thank goodness those young men defied the order. When the rescue tractor was a little way off the beach it got hit and the motor died.
Everyone again bailed out, and as I got to the side of the machine gun I recognized one of the machine gunners as the young man that lived next door to me as we were growing up. He was bleeding pretty good but waas alert enough to hang onto my neck as I waded in to the beach. Finally we hit dry ground and he turned loose so that a corpsman could look after him. Four years later he was best man at my wedding.
On Red Beach 3 Seawall:
The beach consisted of about ten or twenty feet of dry sand and ended on the landward side in a seawall of coconut logs. This was excellent cover for rifle and machinegun fire, but the Japs bagan dropping in mortar rounds, a very uncomfortable situation. If you lay there the mortars would get you, and if you went over the sea wall there was complete exposure to small arms fire. It was too far to swim back to the States or I may have tried that. Several feet down the beach from us was an amtrac that had gotten onto the wall and had been stopped; it was at an angle to the beach and gave cover for some of us to crawl after getting on top of the wall. A few feet inland was a deep ditch for an antitank trap and we got into it.
There was planty of cover from the small arms fire, but you had to expose part of yourself to attempt to return fire. The Jap positions were laid out so that at least one position could shoot into another position; this meant that if we attacked one, then we would be under fire from it and at least one more. We finally got enough firepower into the ditch to shoot into the firing ports of several of the machinegun nests at the same time. If you could stop their shooting for only a few seconds it would allow someone to get forward with handgrenades. By now the flamethrower teams were getting into action and were very effective, if they could get close enough - flamethrowers are only effectiver for about ten or twenty yards at most; a lot of them were killed that morning.
Tanks which should have landed early were blown up during the time they were attempting to get in from the reef; their trip required men to guide the tanks around the craters caused by the naval bombardment - those guys should have gotten a Congressional, the tank and the guide were under constant fire from machine guns and antitank weapons.
Due to the foul-up in not knowing about the reefs, landing schedules were mangled and a group of Seabees and their bulldozers arrived early. Those brave bulldozer operators thought they were driving tanks, and would pick up the blades and charge pillboxes, using the blades as armor. When they got real close to the firing ports they would drop their blades and cover the ports with sand and coral; more than one pillbox was silenced this way - and sad to say, more than one operator was killed.
By afternoon we had moved inland somewhere cloase to a hundred yards; we discovered that our flanking companies had not been as succesful and the Japs could sneak behind us and re-occupy positions that we had silenced. Orders were to move back and consolidate the line; sure enough we ran into problems with re-occupied positions and had to fight our way back.
Just before dark we were ordered to straighten the line as much as possible and dig in for the night. All hands were low on ammunition and nobody had any water left; working parties were called for to go to the beach and find both - my Sergeant volunteered me! Trip number one I managed to haul about a dozen bandoliers of firle ammunition, trip two a five gallon can of water, and trip hree several boxes of ammunition for the light machineguns. Some rations were brought in and we had a cold supper of C-rations; everyone was starved and gulped the food down.
The First Night Red 3:
Orders were for one man in each hole to stay awake. There was also a good chance that the Japs would pull a banzai and attempt to drive us back into the lagoon - wounldn't have been too hard to do, as we were all exhausted and had lost about half of our forces. I do not know the name of the ship but in just a few minutes we heard the sound of a destroyer coming our way.
I thought that they ran aground to establish a firing platform, but have never heard anything to verify this. Anyway, those gunners sat there all night and pounded any target that we called for, and saved our rear ends. Several times we could hear the Jap troops beginning the banzai chant, and would call for fire towards that location. To this day I believe that we would have been overrun that night if not for the that naval gunfire. There was very little sleep and almost no rest that night.
2nd Day, One Pillbox at a Time:
Things had to be better today than yesterday! We were probably 50-100 yards in depth from the ocean - that was a lot deeper than day one. Water, rations and ammo were more plentiful, and we continued to work on one pillbox at a time all day; now we had some artillery on the island, at least two tanks were helping, and several halftracks were running around. I don't mean that it was developng into a walkaway, but it was better. I do remember that we got across the airfield taxiway and recaptured all of the territory that we gave back on the pullback. Casualties were again heavy, but we were getting more speedy help from the corpsmen. No one can ever brag about the Navy medical corpsman enough, they were the best troops around and could not do enough to help the wounded; they were the bravest men I had ever seen.
Banzai! The Last Gasp:
Early on the night was fairly quiet, but after a few hours we could hear banzai chants from our new unit's direction. This was followed by heavy firing, screams, cursing and you name it. The Japs had pulled a banzai with about 900 of their remaining troops and had hit the company front. Those guys had to hold, and they did. Any Japs that got through their front were handled with bayonets and K-Bars in the secondary line. Those Marines did an outstanding job that night. They were supported by landbased artillery and naval guns also. This fight lasted a couple of hours. Everything agian quieted down enough that we got some rest.
Aftermath - Burial Detail:
One detail was left, and that was to clean the dead out of the area and place them in the mass grave. Corpses were everywhere and had been burned alost black in the sun. We worked to identify the folks from our unit, and placed them in the trench covered by their ponchos. For a good friend we scraped a shallow hole for him to lie in. The burial ceremonies were very solemn and lasted about thirty minutes. Then bulldozers pushed sand in on top of the bodies. Someone also had to get the dead off the barbed wire barricades on the reef, and any that were left in the water. They had been dead at least two or three days and this was almost the center of the hottest area of the earth. Guess who drew this detail from my squad? Finally we got them all into a trench; and were told that the compnay was going to move to the next island for the night, but that the cleanup detail would stay on Helen until morning. We would then be evacuated and goto a rear area for regrouping and retraining.
After three nights of very little sleep and four days of very tiring work everyone was just worn out. By dark we had found places to stretch out and were sound asleep. We knew that there were a few stragglers left and we should have posted a watch, but that is from hindsight. I was sleeping with my back to a coconut stump and was rudely awakened by someone crawling over me. Then my left shoulder was on fire. One of the stragglers had crawled into our area and was doing a job on my back with a bamboo handled knife with about a 6 inch blade [which hit] the bone of the left shoulder blade and slid several inches through the flesh.
Needless to say, I let out a scream which probably woke the guys on watch in the battleships; it also woke a couple of the guys close to me, and they killed the Jap. Again, the wonderful corpsman were there almost immediately, and slept the rest of the night in a cot with a blanket. [I was] evacuated the next morning and went to a hospital ship; then to Pearl Harbor Navy hospital; then to the States, for repair to the bone that had been damaged.
Thanks to Joe Jordan for giving permission to use his Tarawa memoir that
was printed in Derrick Wright's A Hell of a Way to Die.
Semper Fi Joe!!!
copyright 2000 T.O.T.W.
Created 6 May 2001 - Updated 8 Setember 2003