Tarawa — D + 1
He left the transport late in the afternoon of D + 1 (Nov. 1943), accompanied by two men from his platoon and a truck driver, taking a truckload of supplies from Weapons Company ashore to the Marines on the line. He took along his demolition gear and issued arms.
Leaving the ship they proceeded shoreward, feeling their way through the coral reef that surrounds Tarawa. The usual clearness of tropical water was no longer evident as the terrific shelling of beach installations and the churning of the landing boats had turned the water into the murky gray of the coral sand. Oil from damaged boats filmed the water surface for many yards around. Marines had taken command of the pier, and the Kid's party had been instructed to report to the "beach commander" there.
Approaching the pier with other landing craft, all equally anxious to get their gear ashore, they were waved off and told to stand by. It was evident Tarawa was far from being secure, as Jap snipers were firing from hidden positions along the beach. No one paid much attention to snipers as they were engrossed in getting the material ashore to the fighting Marines.
They stood off a few yards, waiting for word to drop the ramp and drive the truck ashore. Dusk was near, and they were anxious to get ashore before dark set in. No one could land on the pier, so we were told to pull as close to shore as possible and drive the truck the rest of the way. The cox'n drove the boat halfheartedly in until its keel barely touched the bottom, then he dropped the ramp. He was afraid to jamb the hull onto the beach as he might get stuck there and not get back to his ship that night. The truck lurched forward over the ramp, burying its front end into the surf and dying on the spot as the truck's rear end was left hanging onto the boat.
"Get that damn truck out of the boat!" the cox'n yelled as the truck's weight on the ramp was swamping the craft. Thinking fast, the Kid yelled to the cox'n to reverse engines and back out from under the truck as it was taken out of gear. The boat backed away quickly, leaving the truck standing in water up to its hood, and its men wet and disgusted with the whole affair. There they were sitting in a stalled truck with night coming on and the tide rising.
By this time dusk had taken on a deepening shade and was well on its way to deep purple. It seemed hopeless to try to get the truck ashore that night and besides, moving around on the island at night was a good way to get killed. They perched themselves in various positions to get some rest, if possible.
They were only a few yards from the pier, which still had a number of bodies trapped within its pilings. The water along the beach was littered with the bodies of fallen Marines who'd made it that far before being cut down by enemy fire. It would be days before they could be cared for properly.
High but not dry
In a couple of hours the tide was up to their level. The Kid awoke with his feet immersed in the ocean's cool water. He awoke the others and they decided to make their way to the pier so, holding their gear overhead, they waded neck- deep in that stinking oily water to the wharf. As they approached the pier they were confronted by a Marine peering down the sights of his rifle, directly into their faces. The usual "Halt!" command brought them to protest and a quick reply with the password that, luckily, they remembered. They could have just as well been Japs infiltrating the area, as far as the guard knew.
They were helped up onto the pier, where they spent the night with snipers' bullets whining over their heads as they watched the Navy's shells rumbling across the night sky. They got very little sleep. As dawn came slowly to the sky, they roused themselves and made for the beach. The truck was out of their hands now, so they set off to aid the war effort.
Gaining the shore, the Kid set about finding the company or some of its elements. Stumbling along the war-torn area, he came across one of the half- tracks assaulting a large bunker constructed of layers of palm logs and con- crete. The half-track would drive forward to the bunker's very entrance, which was solidly filled with heavy timbers and such, firing point blank into it. The .75-mm shells had no big effect on the box, even though fired many times. There were no firing ports on this bunker, so no return fire was evident.
As the Kid made himself known to the officer in charge, he was immediately put to work building bangalore torpedoes. These are sticks of TNT three inches in diameter and about six feet long, used primarily to clear a path through barbed wire or detonate land mines. Bundling them into packages of three, taped together and fused with a pull-start fuse lighter, they made a formidable explosive weapon. The men would dash forward, poking the "torps" into the bunker's cracks, quickly pull the fuse starter, then run back to a safe position before the explosion. The bunker would seem to jump into the air, throwing pieces of logs and concrete in every direction. A bundle of torps had the power of 14-inch naval shells, so Marines were convinced there'd be no more return fire from this bunker.
Working with a flame-thrower operator, his pack of TNT and grenades, the Kid went to work on another bunker nearby. It was somewhat smaller than the first but definitely alive with enemy presence. After a few attacks on the box with high explosives and grenades, they were successful in bringing the Nips out into the open, where they were annihilated by Marine riflemen. One of the poor devils was hit by the flame-thrower and, as he fell, his saber went flying into the air, landing close to the Kid. He grabbed for the sword just as another Marine did, but the Kid was faster and claimed the saber, a prized possession. Later he shipped it home, along with a rifle.
Walking toward the still-remaining fighting that proceeded down the center of Tarawa, he came across a firing line that consisted of two dozen Marines in a skirmish line across the perimeter. They were advancing in the usual fashion, with the ends trying to keep up with the center. This requires some direction and command as it's easy to get the line uncoordinated and straggly. There, in the line's center, was a young Marine directing fire with all the command skills of an old salt. The Kid recognized the Marine to be one of his buddies from the company — and only a Pfc.! His natural leadership had presented itself and he a had responded at the right time and place.
Detaching himself from the immediate fighting, the Kid went exploring. Destruction was everywhere. He made his way down the island's center, around the airstrip to the site of the long-range guns the Japs had brought from Singapore and had set them up to command the sea approach. They were British naval guns of at least eight-inch caliber. Intelligence had known about the guns and had spent much time and ammunition on their demise. The now-silent guns showed the results of repeated bombings and shellings. Their bases were all torn to pieces and the barrels were sitting askew, pointing aimlessly at the sky, no longer a threat to invading Marines.
The gun emplacements around the air strip were completely demolished and still held the bodies of the Nips that had defended them. Some supply dumps were still partly intact and held Japanese rations — canned fish, dry rice, bottles of saké and beer. The Marines made themselves at home and, though the beer wasn't cold, they didn't much give a damn. There were other foods like rice cakes in tins, which went well with the fish. The Marines, as usual, collected many souvenirs even though they'd been warned to stay away from such as the Japs were known to bobby trap items. An old-but-intact bicycle was being ridden around the strip by a carefree Marine, who looked like he couldn't have been happier.
Edging back toward the beach, the Kid skirted the fighting and walked along the water's edge, which was secure by that time. The carnage from the first wave's assault was evident as the bodies of Marine dead still floated in the sea's wash, among the boats and amphibious tractors that had been torn apart in the initial landing. There was not yet time to attend to our Marine dead as fighting was still going on, although greatly diminished.
Live Marines were still mopping up gun emplacements and bunkers where the Nips were still holding out. A few captured enemy soldiers (actually, Japanese Marines!) were being held in a bomb crater, under the watchful eye of six Marines. The captives looked dejected, defeated, scared. All were half-naked and starving; such is war.
After an evening meal of C-rations and a gulp of warm water, a nice dry foxhole had much appeal. Having spent the day with Marines blasting the Nips from their well-dug defenses, the Kid was ready to retire. The day had been strenuous as there's always extreme tension within or near battle, even if you do not feel any immediate danger.