Marines remember Tarawa heroes
By Pfc. Bernadette L. Ainsworth
| | November 26, 2003
BETIO, Tarawa Atoll --
Sixty years after one of the bloodiest battles in the Pacific during World War II, Marines from U.S. Marine Corps Forces Pacific and the 2nd Marine Division returned to Tarawa to honor more than 1,000 killed.
The ceremony began at the Battle of Tarawa Memorial, which was dedicated to the Marines and Sailors wounded and killed, during the 76-hour attack, changing the face of amphibious warfare forever. This coming after Imperial Marine Japanese commander in charge of the defense of Tarawa, Rear Admiral Keiji Shibasaki haughtily predicted, "A million men cannot take Tarawa in 100 years."
It took about 4,000 Marines and Sailors three days.
"The Japanese enemy was tough, but we were tougher," said Harry Jackson, a Tarawa veteran, who was one of the first 1,500 Marines to storm the beaches of Tarawa.
Jackson was one of many prestigious guests that attended and spoke at the ceremony.
During his speech, Jackson recalled the U.S. entering the war in 1941, continuing through the Pacific Island hopping campaign, and most importantly, fighting for the Tarawa Atoll.
Because of the way in which the Japanese were dug, the air support provided before the attack did very little to disrupt the 4,700 Japanese defenders.
That problem was compounded by a low tide, which made it impossible for the Higgins boats to get over the coral reef. Stuck on the reef, Marines became an easy target for Japanese machine guns and mortars as they waded to shore.
That's when the Marines employed hundreds of the newly introduced amtracs. The Japanese were expecting the vehicles to get stuck on the reef, just like the Higgins boats. They were surprised when the tracked vehicle rolled right over it. Although the vehicles made it over, Japanese bullets pierced the lightly armored vehicles.
As he spoke of the battle, Jackson recalled the ferocity of the Japanese enemy, never giving up, even when their battle was lost.
In the end, the Marines won, and Betio, the southern most island in the Tarawa atoll was officially declared secure at 1:10 p.m., Nov. 23. The island, which was soon used for a landing strip was bought with the blood of more than 1,000 Marines and Sailors killed and 3,000 wounded.
A Marine firing squad honored the courageous Marines with a 21-gun salute.
"We are here today to honor our fallen Marines, (both) United States Marines and Japanese Marines. They were a great enemy," said Jackson.