February 13, 2011
My father, Joe Bartolomei Sr., fought at Tarawa and told this story to me many years ago. You hear a lot about the Marines at Tarawa but hardly anything about the Navy.
He was with the Navy Beach Battalion serving aboard the USS Harry Lee APA-10. He loaded into his LCVP while it was still dark. As he made his way to his jump off point for a landing on Red Beach they went past the battleship Maryland just as she fired a 16" salvo. Before they hit the beach his boat hung up on a reef and stopped. While sitting there he was leaning up against a bulkhead when he got up to look out. Just then a bullet hit right where he was sitting. Had he stayed where he was sitting the bullet would have hit him in the face.
When he looked out over the bow he saw the Marines in front of his boat wading back out into the water yelling "Go back, go back, there're all dead." With Jap mortar rounds landing all around them another boat pulled up alongside and a Marine officer asked what they were doing. When they said the boat was hung up on the reef he asked what they were carrying. He told him a bulldozer and .30 cal ammunition. The officer said they didn't need the bulldozer but needed the ammo really bad. So they jumped over the side and with as much ammo as they could carry waded over to the pier pushing bodies out of the way as they went.
They made their way under the pier to the beach and dropped off the ammo. Before going back to the boat for more they huddled under the coconut log sea wall to catch their breath. He said everyone was behind the sea wall praying. They ran down the length of the pier with machine gun bullets hitting the pier right behind them as they ran. As they were standing on the end of the pier a bunch of Marines with fixed bayonets were poking a big Jap soldier to the end of the pier as a prisoner. The Jap kept turning around and spitting at them until he got to the end when he dove off the pier and started to swim away. The Marines just filled him full of holes.
He went thru the war aboard the Harry Lee and earned 6 battle stars. He told me many stories of his war experiences. I wish I would have had him write them all down. Sadly, my dad passed away in 1996.