Last year Charles Scott received a request from the son of a deceased Marine who served with him in the Pacific. Bill Salmon wanted to know more about his Dad's service, for his father never related any of his Marine Corps experiences with him when he was alive. So Charles sat down and wrote, “What Did You Do In the War Daddy?”
I really don't know where to start on telling you about the experiences of your Dad and myself with the 2nd Defense Battalion.
Originally the battalion had three AAA batteries - Dog, Fox, and Easy - equipped with 3-inch guns. I got on the truck belonging to Dog Battery. That's how it was determined what outfit you went into in the early days of the war. This was March 20, 1942, in Pago Pago, Samoa. Your Dad was not in the same replacement battalion as I was in. I think he came later.
As the war progressed and more replacements came over, the battalion increased by two batteries, Love and Mike. I was transferred from Dog to Love. Shortly thereafter, 90mm guns replaced our 3-inch guns. Again, as the war progressed and Samoa became a virtual fortress, the high brass decided to reduce the battalion back to three batteries. That is when I was transferred to Fox Battery. I am sure that was when your Dad and I first met. I don't recall any specific details about your Dad, except we were on the same gun.
Life on Samoa was very boring to say the least, but we worked hard, not only on the guns, but also on the docks unloading ships. Samoa was the jumping-off place for the 8th and 10th Marines when they went to Guadalcanal. I was on that rock for 18 months and thought I would be stuck there for the duration. I remember writing a letter home telling my parents I would be doing more for the war effort by working at Boeing in Seattle than I was out in the Pacific. Needless to say, the letter never got past the Captain, who wasn't too happy about my attitude.
Then in early October 1943 things began looking up as far as leaving Samoa was concerned. Rumors were flying around to the effect that us old timers were going home. Ha! Little did we know what was in store for us!
The first couple of days in November 1943 gave us a clue that something was going to happen. A flotilla of 12 LSTs came into Pago Harbor. Soon we were put to work loading our entire battery on LST No. 20 (strange I can remember the number). The Coast Guard manned the LST. As I recall, we loaded hundreds of boxes of 90mm artillery shells, 90mm guns, all of our radar gear, boxes of C-rations, and hundreds of 5-gallon water cans. In addition, we had to load a few trucks and tractors for towing the guns. We bolted our .50-caliber machine guns to the top of the deck of the LST.
I didn't realize you could get so much equipment on one LST. The other LSTs were loaded with the other 90mm batteries, some 155mm guns, searchlight batteries, some 40mm guns, and plenty of ammunition, plus all of our sea bags.
We left Samoa Nov. 8, 1943, and I remember having no regrets seeing Samoa disappear over the horizon as we sailed away, without the slightest idea where we were going. I guessed we would head west toward New Caledonia or New Guinea. I wasn't even close by my guess. Who ever heard of the Gilbert Islands at our age?
Our convoy consisted of 12 LSTs all bunched together, and I guess our top speed was about 12 knots. I was surprised at the accommodations on the LST as compared to a regular troop ship. The bunks were only three high, compared to six on a troop ship. Also we received three meals a day as compared to two on a troop ship. Even though the bunks were only three deep, most of us found an empty spot on deck and slept there at night. Needless to say, as we neared the equator, it got too hot to bear. The odd thing about a LST is that id does not plow through the water as a regular ship, as it has no prow to speak of. It sort of wallows from side to side, which encourages a lot of seasickness. Fortunately I never had a problem with seasickness, regardless of the type of ship I was on.
We had an uneventful trip from Samoa to the Ellice Islands, just slow and hot. I don't recall seeing another ship or plane on that leg of our trip. We pulled into the harbor of Funafuti on Nov. 13 and dropped anchor. The B-24 bombers of the 7th Air Force took off for their daily bombing runs to Tarawa, which proved to be ineffective as we found out later.
We had been in the harbor a couple of days and a bunch of us were up on deck at night, when all of a sudden the airfield on Funafuti just lit up. The Japs had flown in under the radar and dropped bombs on the gasoline storage tanks plus some planes. We never heard the details, be we were ordered below deck until the raid was over. That was our first experience with any enemy action.
We spent a few days in Funafuti harbor doing nothing. I remember the captain of the LST (who was at least an ensign) opened the doors of the LST and lowered the ramp so we could all go swimming in the warm, salty water.
We left the Ellice Islands on Nov. 15, 1943, with all 12 LSTs bunched together. A couple of days later one of the LSTs broke down with engine trouble. I think we spent an entire day, 11 LSTs circling the ailing LST, until they got it repaired. That particular day I remember the largest number of ships I had ever seen pass us up. It was the battle group, consisting of carriers, battleships, cruisers, and destroyers. That was quite an impressive sight for a twenty-year-old kid. I don't remember seeing the other troopships, however.
We found out shortly where we were going. Our CO, Captain Jones, laid out a large map on the deck, which showed us Tarawa Atoll, and Betio in particular. I remember his words, 'This island is 800 yards wide at one end and 100 yards at the other, plus there are 5,000 Japs on it.'
We were able to witness the merciless shelling and bombing of Betio from our vantage point out at sea. We heard the radio traffic from the carrier pilots as they dive-bombed specific targets. I truthfully couldn't see how one could survive that type of shelling. How wrong everyone was. Coconut logs and steel reinforced concrete bunkers offer lots of protection. I do remember the Japs firing 5-inch guns at the Maryland. The Maryland responded with one broadside that took out the gun emplacement.
I'm going to skip the disastrous landing part, as we luckily were not part of it. You may get that from some of the survivors of the initial landing. Ironically, Major General H.M. (Howlin' Mad) Smith, the commander of the V Amphibious Corps, said, 'Tarawa was a mistake.' It should have been bypassed and left to die on the vine.
Anyway, on the morning of the 24th of November our LST headed for the beach. We got as far as the reef and that was it. We were 500 yards from shore. The doors of the LST opened and the ramp was lowered. I am 6’ 1” tall and when I went into the water it came up to my chin. Our packs helped us stay afloat for a while and everyone discarded those cumbersome gas masks. We held our rifles over our heads and started wading to shore. When we got to the shore, we were exhausted, so we just collapsed in the sand until we were rested enough to continue. It had been decided that Fox Battery would set up at the narrow end of the island.
I wondered how we were going to get our guns ashore after the experience we had. When the tide went out the LST was high and dry, so no real problems were encountered in unloading it. We worked hard and fast to get our guns in place. Not an easy task in the heat and the stench we had to contend with. A bulldozer dug a trench for each gun and then we surrounded them with sandbags. This made a good air raid shelter as well as a gun emplacement.
I'm not going to go into the sordid details of what we had to do to dispose of the carnage left on the atoll; you'll just have to use your imagination.
We experienced 12 air attacks during November and December, but I can truthfully say I don't know if we shot down any Jap planes. The first raid caught us by surprise; the radar wasn't working and we lost a few gasoline dumps.
We left Tarawa in April 1944, being relieved by some Army outfit. However, I think your Dad stayed with the battery through Okinawa. When I went to Okinawa I found Fox Battery and a lot of the guys that were on Tarawa were still with the battery. It was like a family reunion.