(Letter to the Editor sent in to the Vindicator and published Sunday, Dec. 21, 2003)
For the past 59 years, at this time, I remember Christmas Eve 1943. One month earlier we left more than 1,000 dead Marines and more than 2,000 wounded on the beaches of Tarawa Atoll. For this surviving Marine, the Christmas Eve that followed was a mixed bag of feelings. What lifted my spirit and feelings was the following happening.
A counter-attack was expected. We were prepared. On Christmas Eve 1943, a formation of Japanese bombers rained bombs down upon the main island of Betio. We Marines and the natives on the adjacent island of Buariki took shelter in the coconut-log bunkers. We waited, we listened. We heard the explosions and suddenly, Christmas carols. It's true! The natives were singing Christmas carols in their native language, but the melody was the same as ours! I recognized many of them, and the one that brought tears to my eyes was “Silent Night” mixed with the exploding bombs!
I left Buariki island on Jan. 20, 1944, but never forgot that Christmas Eve or the Marines who died there.
I called Louis after reading his letter, and he added more to his story.
On another night the natives performed their war dance for us. They are terrific dancers and singers, and the whole action of the dance was quite impressive. When they were done, they asked us to perform our Marine war dance. We were a little embarrassed, since we didn't have a dance, but we sang the Marine Corps Anthem instead.
I have another, humorous, memory. I was in the sick ward with a bout of malaria, laying in my cot in the stifling heat. Down at the other end of the tent a Marine called out, “Bedpan.” A little later he called out again, “Corpsman! Bedpan!” A little more time passed and I heard the Marine call out, “Never mind.”