• Home   /  
  • Archive by category "1"

Tarawa Battle Case Study

Those of you who know me, are well aware that one of my favorite subjects within Marine Corps history is the development of amphibious capabilities by the Corps. In fact, I am been described as something of an “amtrac Junkie.” That is probably true. I do have an almost obsessive interest in what one colleague described as “those ungainly metal boxes.” That interest has also led me to study the battle for Tarawa at length, the first great test of Marine Corps amphibious doctrine against a heavily defended beachhead.  Any day that I get to work on an amtrac question is a good day. Any day I get a Tarawa question is a good day. But let me get a question on amtracs AND Tarawa and it makes for a GREAT day. I got such a question this week and decided to write about it.
So why Tarawa?

By mid-1943, the Japanese had lost the strategic initiative in the Pacific.  Campaigns had secured or were underway in the Solomons, New Britain, New Guinea and Bougainville. The leading advocate for greater offensive action in the Pacific was none other than Admiral Ernest J. King, Chief of Naval Operations AND Commander in Chief, U.S. Fleet. King wanted ships, aircraft and sufficient forces to launch an entirely new campaign across the central Pacific.

As Admiral Chester Nimitz and the CinCPAC planners looked toward a new offensive, the first logical objective seemed to be the Marshall Islands. There was a problem, however. There was very limited intelligence available of the Marshall Islands-little more than some submarine periscope photographs and a handful of refugee reports. Planners knew virtually nothing about defensive fortification or enemy troop strength in the Marshalls. That kind of intelligence could only be obtained by sustained and accurate aerial photography….which was not a possibility. The one thing planners did know? The Marshalls could be readily reinforced from the Japanese stronghold of nearby Truk.

There were other factors to be considered as well. In American hands, an airstrip in the Gilbert Islands could support an attack on the Marshalls. In Japanese hands, that same airstrip posed a significant threat to merchant shipping and communication between Pearl Harbor, and Samoa, Australia and New Zealand.

So the Marshalls would remain the strategic prize, but the Gilberts would have to be taken first. Previous amphibious assaults in the Solomons  had been executed against relatively large land masses that offered penetration by surprise at undefended points. These campaigns had relatively short distances between launch bases and target objectives, short enough to enable a short-to-shore landing without amphibious transports. And after the Guadalcanal campaign, subsequent landings were conducted under the umbrella of land-based air support.

Tarawa would be completely different. Operation Galvanic would feature long-range, fast-carrier strike forces, large-scale self sustaining amphibious expeditionary units and mobile logistics squadrons designed to sustain momentum. It would be the largest joint-service amphibious operation of the Pacific war to date. The target was Betio, a small fortified island of the Tarawa Atoll, defended by Japanese Special Naval Landing Forces.

Lieutenant Colonel David Shoup, Operations Officer for Galvanic was tasked with the problem of getting the Marines ashore. A cigar smoking bull of a man, with a booming voice and reportedly a foul mouth, he was also the perfect man for the moment. He studied primitive charts and expressed concern over the island’s barrier reef. He was aware of Navy experiments conducted on shallow-draft plastic landing boats. Would they be available? Spruance’s answer was “No. You’ll have to use conventional wooden landing craft.”   Shoup had a different idea. He had seen the LVT, the amphibious landing craft,  in operation during the Guadalcanal campaign. Although unarmored they were true amphibians, capable of being launched at sea and swimming ashore through moderate surf.

Shoup discussed the potential use of the LVT with Major Henry Drewes, commanding the 2nd Amphibian Tractor Battalion. Could LVTs transport the assault elements of the 2d Marine Division over the reef against Japanese fire? The answer was a mix of optimism tempered by realism. Could it be done? Theoretically yes, but only with some superhuman effort.  

Drewes, like Shoup, believed the LVT could handle the job, but informed Shoup that many of his vehicles were in poor shape after the Guadalcanal campaign. He had only 75 LVTs available. Additionally, the thin hulks were vulnerable to enemy fire and would need some sort of additional protection. That meant extra armor plating would have to be located and installed along the vulnerable, exposed cab of the vehicles. Armament needed to be beefed up to four machine guns per vehicle, including a forward pair of Browning M2.50 caliber machine guns. According to Drewes, once that was accomplished, the battalion would need to run seagoing and surf tests to see if the added weight of the armor and the armament adversely affected the metacentric height of the LVT- in short, would the added weight make them dangerously top-heavy and susceptible to capsizing.  That said, even if everything worked in favor of the Marines, there would simply not be enough of the vehicles to land all the assault elements.

Drewes, however, was aware that 100 of the new LVT-2s were stockpiled in San Diego, awaiting transportation to the Pacific. Converting the LVTs from a logistical to a tactical role made sense. Major Drewes was given everything he needed- machine guns, mechanics, contacts with automotive plants in New Zealand an island upon which to test the modified vehicles and shipping. General Julian Smith himself, would go after the LVT-2s.  He requested that 100 of them be made available for Galvanic. General Holland “Howlin Mad” Smith, commanding the Fifth Amphibious Corps, endorsed the request. Admiral Richmond Kelly “Terrible” Turner disagreed. Howlin’ Mad reduced the debate to the barest of essentials: “No LVTs-no operation.” But only 50 of the new LVT-2s were slated for use at Tarawa.

Also adding to Shoup’s worries were the tides themselves. Any study of the battle for Tarawa in inextricably linked to the tides. He had no doubt the LVTs could negotiate the coral reef at any tide but was concerned about the remainder of the American forces which would have to come ashore in Higgins boats. The water level needed to be no less than four feet over the reef. Anything less and the Marines would be forced to wade ashore through a hail of Japanese fire. A New Zealand reserve officer by the name of Frank Holland, an experienced sailor of the waters surrounding Tarawa flatly predicted, “there wont be three feet of water on the reef.” Shoup was convinced there was a good chance that the troops would be forced to wade ashore.

Intelligence gathering was key to the invasion of the Gilbert Islands. The first map that was available to planning staff was a slightly modified version of a sketch made by the 1842 Wilkes Expedition. Work by cryptologists provided valuable information on the identity, size and status of the Japanese garrison. B-24s Liberators of the Seventh Air Force provided excellent aerial photographs, that Col. Shoup later called the best of the war.  Good intelligence, however, did not change the fact that the Marines about to hit the coral beaches faced grave difficulties.  Every feature of Betio favored the defenders, from the unpredictable tides, to the fringing coral reef, to the flat terrain. Aerial photographs clearly showed the bristling Japanese defenses. According to Col. Joe Alexander, author of Utmost Savagery, the Japanese  

“could hardly have asked for a better place to make an extended stand against an American invasion. The crown jewel of his defensive system remained the protective reef itself. At low tide the reef surrounded the island with a perfectly flat, cleared field of fire. Surviving Americans would characterize it as ‘a billiard table without any pockets….In the fall of 1943, it could have been the most heavily fortified place on earth.”

Shoup and 2d Marine Division Chief of Staff Col. Merritt A. proposed a landing plan that featured a sustained naval bombardment of several days duration, advanced seizure of nearby Bairiki Island as an artillery fire base and a decoy landing. General Julian Smith took these recommendations to a planning conference held at Pearl Harbor in early October.  What transpired there stunned the Marines. Admiral Nimitz limited the preliminary bombardment of Betio to three hours on the morning of the assault. The seizure of Bairiki was ruled out as were any decoy landings. General Holland M. Smith has his own surprise. He withheld the entire 6th Marines as corps reserve.  This was, to Julian Smith, an invitation to disaster. The 2d Marine Division would make a frontal assault into to teeth of the Japanese defenses with an abbreviated preparatory bombardment and only a 2-1 superiority in troops, far less than doctrinal minimum.  

What little good news there was came from the enterprising Major Drewes of the 2d Amphibious Tractor Battalion. They HAD improved the condition of the 75 LVTs that had been used at Guadalcanal. The battalion maintenance officer, 1stLt John Speed, had solved the problems of thrown tracks and drowned engines. Steel plate tough enough to repel machine gun bullets but light enough not to interfere with the vehicle’s sea-handling capability had been located. A factory in Wellington installed the plating. Speed later recalled, “I know it worked, because coming into the beach at Tarawa when the enemy fire hit the plates it sounded like bells ringing.”

Another bit of good news? The LVT-2s would reach Samoa in late October, too late for advanced training but just in time for redeployment to Tarawa. On 21 October in the seas off Samoa the Ashland ballasted down by the stern and launched fifty of the new LVT-2s. More streamlined, less boxy than the LVT-1,   they were longer, wider, more powerful and carried a greater payload than their predecessor. There was much to do in little time. Although new and improved the LVT-2s were still designed as logistic support vehicles. And were still unarmored. Moreover, they had large windows along the front and sides of the cab. Good for observation, BAD for hostile fire. There were neither facilities nor time for large-scale armor plating. Some scrounged steel plating was installed to narrow the front openings but there was little else that could be done.

D-Day approached. The 2d Marine Division left New Zealand on 1 November.   Petty Officer William J. Morgan, a Seabee, wrote in his diary, “Here we go at last…Nobody knows where.” Once afloat the troops were told where they were heading. Tarawa surprised most of the men. Petty Officer Morgan expressed concern, “This is going to be a hell of a mess and we are going to get our asses shot off.”

Despite the abbreviated planned bombardment, the Navy boasted they would obliterate the island, that the Marines would have nothing to be concerned about. “We do not intend to neutralize (the island), we do not intend to destroy it. Gentlemen, we will obliterate it.” Julian Smith was not so sure and in an angry exchange reminded the Navy “even though you naval officers do come in to about 1,000 yards, I remind you that you have a little armor. I want you to know the Marines are crossing the beach with bayonets, and the only armor they’ll have is a khaki shirt!”

On 23 November 1943, shortly after 0500, the battle began. The Japanese opened fire with their eight-inch Vickers guns. The main batteries of the Colorado and Maryland commenced counterbattery fire. Amtrackers and troop leaders riding up front had the best view of the heaviest bombardment of the war to date. The sun rose over the coral island, red and ominous. TIME correspondent Robert Sherrod, looking at the island covered in thick black smoke, thought, “Surely no mortal men could live through such destroying power.”
At 0648 the LVTs of the first wave, some 42 LVT-1s, with 700 Marines aboard, left the assembly area and headed for the line of departure. Rough seas battered the vehicles and drenched the vulnerable radio sets- in fact, few LVTS retained operation communications beyond this point.  Like so many things that went wrong at Tarawa, the LVTs failed to maintain the 4.5 knot speed of advance due to a strong westerly current, decreased buoyancy due to the weight of the armor plating and their old power plants. At 0824 the first wave crossed the line of departure and headed toward the beach some 6,000 yards away.

Despite the pounding the island had taken from both naval and aerial bombardment, the Japanese defenses were largely intact. The much-ballyhooed “obliteration’ was a bust. The final 200 yards to the beach were the most difficult, particularly for those vehicles heading to Red Beach One and Red Beach Two. Machine gunners in the first wave fired more than ten thousand rounds from their .50 caliber machine guns, spraying the pier pilings and the beach front. This was the only real suppressive fire against the beach defenses that terrible morning, and those Marines manning the machine guns were easy targets. When his gunner was killed, the valiant Major Henry Drewes stepped forward to man the gun and was immediately killed, shot through the head. He would posthumously be awarded a Silver Star.  

The final hundred yards to the beach were particularly violent. Japanese troops appeared in plain sight. The first LVT ashore was 4-9, “My Deloris”, hitting Red Beach One shortly after 0900. Very few of the LVTs managed to climb the seawall. Stalled on the beach, they were vulnerable to mortar and howitzer fire as well as small arms fire and hand grenades tossed into the troop compartment. Cpl John Spillane, who had been a shortstop prospect for the St Louis Cardinals, caught at least two and possibly as many as four grenades in midair, tossing them back across the seawall. The final grenade exploded in his hand, critically wounding him.

The second and third waves of LVTs suffered even more intense fire. PFC Newman Baird later reported, “We were 100 yards in now and the enemy fire was awful damn intense and getting worse. They were knocking out LVTs left and right. A tractor’d get hit, stop, and burst into flames with men jumping out like torches.

Despite this grim description of death and destruction, the LVTs performed their mission. Only 8 of the 87 vehicles in the first three waves were lost in the initial assault, and another fifteen were so riddled with holes they sank upon reaching deep water. But within a span of 10 minutes, 1,500 Marines landed on Tarawa’s northern shore. The most critical problem was in sustaining the momentum of the assault. Because of the neap tide, because the reef was not covered by enough water to allow landing craft to cross the reef, the assault slowed. The LVTs suffered increasing casualties. After about 1000 hours,  most of the Marines were forced to wade ashore through what has been described as a “torrent of fire”. Howlin Mad Smith later said

“At this point the failure of the bombardment to come up to the Navy's expectations became tragically apparent. Though the big guns had been taken out, there were dozens of smaller guns, from five-inchers down to vicious 37-millimeter anti-boat guns and machine guns in concrete emplacements and pillboxes. They were still operating, raining murderous fire on that half miles form reef to shore, where the men of the later waves jumped out of their boats and waded through the blood-stained surf into the swirling red hell that was Tarawa.”

The first message from Julian Smith to Howlin Mad read “successful landings on Beaches Red 2 and 3. Toe hold on Red 1. Am committing one LT (Landing Team) from division reserve. Still encountering strong resistance.” A second message from Smith  reported that heavy casualties had been suffered during the morning and added, "The situation is in doubt.”

30 hours after the Marines went ashore came a message which relayed the news from Colonel David M. Shoup, shore commander, reporting: “Casualties many; percentage of dead no known; combat efficiency: We are winning.” On the afternoon of 23 November, Howlin Mad smith received the news that organized resistance on Tarawa had ceased.
By the end of the campaign some 3,407 Marines were casualties of the battle for Tarawa. 997 Marines and sailors, mostly Navy corpsmen were dead, another 88 were listed as missing and presumed dead. The 2d Amphibian Tractor Battalion lost more than half the command. All but 35 of the 125 LVTs employed at Tarawa were lost.

In his autobiography Coral and Brass, Smith wrote

No words of mine can reproduce the picture I saw when the plane landed after circling that wracked and battered island. The sight of our dead floating in the waters of the lagoon and lying along the blood-soaked beaches is one I will never forget. Over the pitted, blasted island hung a miasma of coral dust and death, nauseating and horrifying. Chaplains, corpsmen and troops were carrying away wounded and burying the dead….I passed boys who had lived yesterday a thousand times and looked older than their fathers. Dirty, unshaven, with gaunt, almost sightless eyes, they had survived the ordeal but it had chilled their souls. They found it hard to believe they were actually alive. There were no smiles on these ancient, youthful faces; only passive relief among the dead.

There is no doubt that the conversion of the LVT from supply vehicle to assault craft made the difference between victory and defeat at Tarawa. Moreover, it was clear there needed to be more LVTs (at least 300 per division) and that they needed to be more heavily armored and more heavily armed. This ultimately led to the development of the LVT(A)-2s and LVT(A)-4s-truly armored amphibians.

In the words of military historians Jeter Isely and Philip Crowl, “The capture of Tarawa, in spite of defects in execution, conclusively demonstrated that American amphibious doctrine was valid, that even the strongest island fortress could be seized.” Smith stated simply, “my pride in the invincible spirit of the Marines was never greater. Only men with the highest morale and willingness to die rather than be defeated could have captured this well-nigh impregnable chain of fortifications.”

Home || The Book || Current News || Tarawa Stories || The Author
Tarawa Links || Tarawa Photos || Add Your Story

Betio Cemetery – Tarawa’s Missing In Action

By Donald K. Allen, DVM

Betio Cemetery – Tarawa’s Missing In Action

By Donald K. Allen, DVM

            Semper fidelis.  Always faithful.  The Marine Corps takes care of its own.  It accounts for every Marine on the battlefield, recovering wounded and bringing back those killed in action (KIA).  Today, with global positioning system (GPS) to locate graves and DNA-assisted identification, our military can bring them all home again to their families.  During previous wars, however, that wasn’t always the case.

            The battle for Tarawa is an example where many of the men lost in battle have not been accounted for to this day.  Some were known to have been KIA, their deaths or bodies having been witnessed or identified by two or more people.  Some died of wounds (DOW), and still others were listed as missing in action (MIA).

            Robert Sherrod’s book, Tarawa – the Story of a Battle1, lists the names and ranks of those killed and wounded during the battle.  There are 722 names of those KIA, 77 more DOW, and 151 are listed as MIA.  Many Marines were killed in the water during the assault on Betio’s north beaches, their bodies drifting out to sea on the tides.  Men aboard boats in following waves saw the floating bodies and assumed they were Japanese until they got closer and saw the camouflage uniforms of the USMC.  Some of these bodies were recovered, and some were lost.

            The “official” USMC report, The Battle for Tarawa2, by Capt. James R. Stockman, USMC, was published in 1947.  Not specifying names, as Sherrod did, Stockman lists 837 KIA, 34 “Wounded – killed,” 90 “Died of wounds,” with 27 “Missing, presumed dead,” and 2 “Wounded, missing dead.”  That gives only 29 MIA.

            Most recently, and extremely well-researched, in Utmost Savagery – The Three Days of Tarawa3, by Col. Joseph H. Alexander USMC (Ret.), published in 1995, he lists 88 Marines “Missing and presumed dead.” 

Certainly, during the battle, men were separated from their units, with some wounded ending up on various transports, and a true accounting impossible during movement to Hawaii.  By war’s end, however, a fairly accurate roll should have been compiled. 

            MIA status was also given to those who simply disappeared during the violence of battle, sometimes physically obliterated or buried by exploding shells, no trace ever being found.  There seems to be a discrepancy, though, between Sherrod’s list, the subsequent figures, and records at the Punchbowl National Cemetery in Hawaii.  His list shows 151 men MIA, while a tablet at the Punchbowl honoring those MIA or buried at sea (BAS) from Tarawa shows a total of 438.  (The American Battle Monuments Commission website lists the names of those buried in American military cemeteries around the world, and their status if MIA/BAS.  If the search results in “no records found” (NRF) the body may have been recovered and buried in a private cemetery by the family.  Some NRF results are shown for those originally listed as MIA.)  What is odd is that 351 of the men listed on the tablet as MIA/BAS were listed by Sherrod as KIA.  Just which men were buried at sea, and who are now missing instead of KIA?  The logical answer is that many of those 351 still lie in the sands of Betio.

            Burials at sea are always recorded in the deck log of the ship performing the services.  In 1943 “always” was a slightly flexible term, however, and not all ships’ deck logs were as complete as they should have been.  Most of those logs can be found today at our National Archives in College Park, MD, and I decided to see what I could discover.

            Transport Group 4 of Task Force 53 for Operation Galvanic, the assault on Tarawa in the Gilbert Islands, was made up of three groups.  TransDiv 4 was formed by the USS Zeilin APA-3, Heywood APA-6, Arthur Middleton APA-25, William P. Biddle APA-8, Harry Lee APA-10, and Thuban AKA-19.  TransDiv 18 had the ships USS Monrovia APA-31, Sheridan APA-51, La Salle AP-102, Doyen APA-1, Virgo AKA-20, and Ashland LSD-1.  In TransDiv 6 there were the USS Harris APA-2, J. Franklin Bell APA-16, Ormsby APA-49, Feland APA-11, and Bellatrix AKA-3.  Hospital ship USS Solace arrived at Tarawa to take on casualties from the previous ships on Wednesday, Nov. 24, 1943.

            Wounded men were generally brought to the transports for medical treatment, since they contained prepared medical facilities for this purpose.  The men weren’t always returned to the ship they debarked from, though, and in most cases needy casualties were brought to the nearest available ship.  It’s possible even some of the fire support ships took aboard casualties during the height of the conflict, since they all carried their own medical facilities and personnel.

            The ships’ logs and war diaries examined account for 100 men BAS.  Why the major discrepancy between Sherrod’s accounting of KIA and MIA, taken from official Navy and USMC casualty reports, and today’s MIA/BAS list at the Punchbowl?  Some explanation can be found in “Final Disposition of World War II Dead 1945-51,”4 which tells of the difficulty of recovering remains.  About 50 men of the 604th QM Graves Registration Company arrived at Betio aboard the USAT Lawrence Phillips on March 4, 1946.  Their first objective was to select a cemetery site for collection of remains from all over the island.  An area on the western end of Betio was acquired and approved by the British administrator, and named “Lone Palm Cemetery.”

            “Because of the large number of fatalities and subsequent hurried burials, most deceased servicemen rested in graves near points where they died.  Consequently, the atoll contained approximately 43 separate burial sites, the majority of which were located on Betio Island.”  The report could not account, however, for single, hasty graves that were dug in the heat of battle and became unmarked during subsequent action.  As their work progressed, the recovery team found that previous grave consolidation done by Navy, Marine, and Seabee garrison forces was confusing.

            “In some cases, the Marines had constructed a monument directly above a body or group of remains.  In other instances, no remains could be located beneath monuments.  Again, some memorial graves bore crosses with names but contained no deceased.  Sometimes, later investigations located these individuals in cemeteries on the opposite side of the island.”  The team worked for two days excavating “Grave 33,” but found no remains.  Father O’Neill had officiated during the burial of Marines in three rows at this site, and he suggested they dig in a different direction.  They found first the middle row, then the other two, but recovered only 129 remains of an alleged 400.  In “Grave 26” they recovered 123 remains, and “Grave 14” gave up 41.  “Grave 27” reportedly held 40 dead, but extensive diggings throughout the area was fruitless.

            Dental records were used when possible to identify remains, and they were reinterred with an identification tag and a copy of the Report of Reinterment in a sealed bottle.  A marker at the head of each grave held a 2- by 4-inch metal tag showing the name, rank, and serial number of the deceased.  There were also unidentified dead.  By the end of May 1946, the mission ended with recovery of 532 remains that were buried in Lone Palm Cemetery for later recovery.  Their report included recommendations for the future, such as, “That identification tags be made of stainless steel, monel metal, or some other noncorrosive metal.  The letters on the tags should be embossed, and not etched.”

            Their report also requested that all web and personal equipment be stenciled with name, rank, and serial number, and that ID tags be worn around the neck.  Finally that, “All service personnel should have some GRS training.  By doing this, it is felt that the conditions found on Tarawa would not recur.”

            Since their search of Betio there have been several accidental findings of American remains on the island.  A complete amtrac was unearthed during the laying of a new water line, and in its hold were the remains of three men.  Two were later identified.  While widening the south perimeter road in September 1999, a tree was unearthed, and among its roots were the bones and identification tag of PhM2C Raymond P. Gilmore, USN.  He had been listed as KIA, but was on the MIA/BAS tablet at Punchbowl.

            So here is what we can deduce from this archive search:  1.  Of the 77 men listed as DOW, 59 are confirmed BAS.  2.  The 151 listed as MIA are still MIA.  3.  Of the 731 listed as KIA, 32 were BAS.  4.  Of the remaining 699 KIA, 336 are listed today as MIA/BAS.  5.  If the 604th QM GRC team found 532 remains, and they were all eventually recovered, there should be only 167 names on the Punchbowl MIA/BAS plaque.

            In conclusion, it is obvious that there are many Marines and Navy corpsmen lying at rest today in the sands of Betio, perhaps hundreds.  Today the western three-fourths of the island is heavily populated, with many buildings undoubtedly built over gravesites.  If more remains are recoverable in the future, it will probably be by accident.  The Marine and Navy monument that now stands on Betio should have a bronze tablet added to one face, reading, “In Memory of the Hundreds Who Rest Here Today.”  The whole island is, in fact, a cemetery.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

Dean Ladd, who was wounded during the assault on Tarawa, and was floating in the lagoon, was rescued by a fellow Marine.  I spotted his name on a casualty list and sent him the information.  He replied, “After 59 1/2 years I can now narrow down the possibilities of who helped pull me into that LCVP when I was wounded on 11/21/43. Clues are: that person was also wounded on 11/21, was probably not in my company but most likely in the adjacent C company, had a head wound and probably was BAS also on 11/21. So it was probably Sgt. James J. Maples, C-I-8. I am checking with Ken Desiello who was also pulled up by this extraordinary “unknown Marine. “

Appendix A

Burial at sea entries from ships’ deck logs and war diaries, Nov. 20 to Dec. 1, 1943.

USS Zeilin APA-3

            Sunday, 21 November, 1943

            “1100 the following named Marines having died of gunshot wounds were buried at sea this date at Lat 01° 24’ North; Long 171° 53’ East

            1st Lieut. C.N. Dunahoe, Jr. #266531, K. Co. 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines

            M. ROE                        #812320          USMC

            W.D. MC KIBBEN    #311493            USMC

            G.M. CONNER              # 331500            USMC

            J.F. DEMARCHE   # 394 684 USMC

            James O HARA            (*)    # Unknown            USMC”

            “1930 The following named Marines having died of gunshot wounds were buried at sea in Lat 00° 55’ North Long 172° 43’ East

            Alton H. JARRETT            #272411-P       USMC

            T.R. HERBIG                          834818  USMC

            H.B. Browning                         Unknown            USMC

            A.F. JACKSON,                      Unknown            USMC”

            Monday, 22 November, 1943

            “1100 The following named man, having died of gunshot wounds, was buried at sea: L.A. MONROE, Pfc. 801820, USMC.  Lat. 01° 25’ North, Long. 172° 54’ East.”

USS Heywood APA-6

            Sunday, 21 November, 1943

            “1415 Conducted burial services at sea in position 01°-24’-20” N., 172°-55’-20” E. of following casualties of current operations:  Captain Robert Woodman ROSE, USMCR; CHACON, G., 407219, Pfc., USMC; CHODL, F.T., 397852, USMC; LEE, Wilson R., 363259, USMC; CAMPBELL, James P., 390302, USMC; WILSON, J.A., 491228, USMC; RIGGIN, James Malcolm, 481111, USMCR.”

            Monday, 22 November, 1943

            “1400 Burial services were held at sea.  Position: 01°-25’-30” N., 172°-55’-30” E., for casualty of current operations:  HIGUERA, R.A., 817396, Pfc., USMCR, F-Co., 2nd Bat., 8th Marines.”

            Wednesday, 24 November, 1943

            “0935 Commenced reembarking troops of the LT-2/8, U.S. Marines.  Held burial service at sea, in position 01°-25’-00” N., 172°-55’-00” E., for the following casualty of the current operations:  WHATLEY, R.L., Pvt., 499270, Co., “D”, 1st Bat., 8th Marines.”

USS Arthur Middleton APA-25

            Sunday, 21 November, 1943.

            “*0811 Lowered ensign to half-mast and buried at sea the following marines killed in action during the occupation of Tarawa Atoll, Gilbert Islands on 20 November, 1943:

            Name                                       Rate                 Unit                  Serial No.  

            MAURIELLO, Ugo            Sgt.                  L-3-2                 266107

            MEADOW, Wayne G.            Cpl.                  M-3-2                321944

            VEECK, W.E.               Sgt.                  G-2-2                269977”

            Tuesday, 23 November, 1943.

            “*0915 Held burial services and buried at sea McPHEE, E.M. (832539) Pvt., U.S.M.C. and VIA, W.D. (476924) Pvt., U.S.M.C.”  Ship was underway at 11 knots, steaming in formation.

USS William P. Biddle APA-8

            Sunday, 21 November, 1943.

            “1930 burial at sea of following named Marines:  Foreman, John F. 418165, Pfc, U.S.M.C.R.  Marallus, Kenneth W. 458391, Pvt., U.S.M.C.R.”

            Monday, 22 November, 1943.

            “1930 buried Nagayama, Toin, Prisoner of war at sea.”

            Tuesday, 23 November, 1943.

            “1545 dead Marine transferred to beach, Martinez, L.J. 323462, U.S.M.C. Corp.  Burned up LVT found adrift containing two burned bodies.  Sent to beach upon orders of Marine shore party.  It sunk on the way in.  Two dog tags found in LVT adjacent to the bodies gave the following names:  Green, M. 466 484 H.  Mayer, Milton J. 486 415.”

            Thursday, 25 November, 1943.

            “1900 held burial at sea for W.R. Brown, Corp. U.S.M.C.”  Ship was underway at 14 knots on course 110° T.

USS Harry Lee APA-10

            Sunday, 21 November, 1943.

            “The following named men died from wounds received in action during operation ‘Galvanic’ and were buried at sea.

            0045 – Unknown            Initial on ring WM                        Received on board dead

            0045 – Marshall, E            Unknown          276118                      Ö           Ö          Ö

            0815 – Bozarth, David B. Jr.   Sgt.            308950                      Ö           Ö          Ö

            1545 – Unknown            Initial on ring EmcB                             Ö           Ö          Ö

            1545 – Mahoney, JW            Unknown          360699                      Ö           Ö          Ö

            1817 – Gilbert, WE            Pfc                   308796              Died on board”

(WM and EmcB could have been listed in the after action reports as MIA, KIA, or DOW.  Among those with the same initials are: Cpl. Wayne G. Meadow, KIA; Cpl. Walter A. Miller, KIA; Pfc. Wilbur C. Mattern, KIA; no matches for EmcB.)

Monday, 22 November, 1943.

            “The following named men died from wounds received in action during operation ‘Galvanic’ and were buried at sea.

            0817            Price, Theron E.            Unknown          516585              Died on board

            1437            Frederick, W.E.             Pfc                   813120              Died on board”

            Tuesday, 23 November, 1943.

            “0738 Norris, Joseph M. (Unknown) 434384 USMC died from wounds received in action during operation ‘Galvanic’ and was buried at sea.”

            Wednesday, 24 November, 1943.

            “Collins, S.E. (Unknown) 390677 USMC died from wounds received in action during operation ‘Galvanic’ and was buried at sea.”

            Friday, 26 November, 1943.

            “0850 Price, Joseph Doyle 2nd Lieut. USMC died from wounds received in action during operation ‘Galvanic’ and was buried at sea.”

            Tuesday, 30 November, 1943.

            “0850 Silfies, Lester Paul Pfc 502609 USMC died from wounds received in action during operation ’Galvanic’ and was buried at sea.”

USS Thuban AKA-19

            Tuesday, 23 November, 1943.

            “1000 Picked up tank lighter to remove from screw body of a man.  Tentatively identified by belt as PHILPS, K.N., USMC, killed in action against the enemy.  Finger prints recorded for further identification.  Buried at sea in position shown in death notice.”

            Saturday, 27 November, 1943.

            “1456 The bodies of MACNEIL, R.M. (*) S1/c, 283-84-45, USN; STEBNER, W.F., PFC, 440847, USMC; WALKER, K.W. (*), F1/c, 637-21-14, USNR, who died from wounds received in action against the enemy, and that of FORCE, F.F. (*), GM3/c, 662-25-02, USNR, who died from internal injuries caused by accidental fall into hold, were buried at sea in position shown on death certificate.”

USS Monrovia APA-31

            Saturday, 20 November, 1943.

            “1520 – The following named men of the U.S.M.C. were buried at sea this date 01° 24.5’ N Lat 172° 53.5’ E. Long.

            LYONS, C.A.                 341186              U.S.M.C.R.

                        HARRIS, W.E. Jr.            521470              U.S.M.C.R.

            CABRAL, F.P.               373222              U.S.M.C.R.”

            Sunday, 21 November, 1943.

            “0655 The following named men were buried at sea.

                        MOHRLANG, J.K.,            359909,            USMC

                        WILLIAMS, N.,             349591,             USMC

                        McGUIRE, C.G.,            252058,            USMC

                        PAHL, E.D.,                 506790,            USMC

                        AZEROLO, A.F.,            366370,            USMC”

            “1840 Following named officer was buried at sea:

                        WALTER GEORGE OLSON, 2ND Lieutenant, U.S.M.C. # 268809”

            Wednesday, 24 November, 1943.

            “1500 Half masted colors and gave full military honors for the burial of Marine 1st Lt., O.A. Palopoli, 2nd Batt., 8th Marines, USMCR”

            Thursday, 25 November, 1943.

            “0835 – Nail, J.E. Jr., USMCR was buried this date at sea.  Died of gunshot wound in abdomen.”

USS Sheridan APA-51

            Sunday, 21 November, 1943.

            “1950, commenced loading LST with Marine cargo and equipment.  Seven men of the U.S. Marine corps were buried at sea while in 01-26 N and Long. 172-56 E.”

            “The following named Officers and Men were buried at sea, with Lieut. J.T. KEOWN Chc V(S) USNR Officiating, Major RICH, USMC and Captain SWANSON attending.

            DREWS, H.C.             Major                Amph.Tr.                      USMC

            MULRONEY, T.L.                                  H-2-8                            USMC

            BLEVINS, P.J.              Pfc                   A-1-8                            USMC

            CARLI, W.J.                 Pfc                   Wpns-8                         USMC

            MAPLES, J.J.                                       B-1-8                            USMC

            WALKER, C.F.             Sgt                   B-1-8                            USMC

            BLAKESLEE, L.C.            2nd Lt.                                                    USMC”

            Monday, 22 November, 1943.

            “1900, anchor aweigh, underway on various courses and speeds to maintain position in transport area.  Two men of the U.S. Marine Corps were buried at sea while in 01-26 N and Long. 172-53 E.”

            “The following named men of the US Marine Corps were buried at sea with LIEUT. J.T. KEOWN, Chc V (S) USNR Officiating, Major RICH and Captain Swanson USMC attending:

            HODGSON, C.S.            Cpl                   H-2-8                            USMC

            LOWRY, C.V.                                                                            USMC” 

            Tuesday, 23 November, 1943.

            “1957, returned to transport area.  Various courses and speeds to maintain position.  Two men of the US Marine Corps were buried at sea while in Lat 01-26N, Long 172-53 E.”

            “The following named men were buried at sea this date.  Lieut. J.T. Keown Chc V(S)USNR officiating, Major Rich and Capt. Swanson attending.

            STRZBCKI, L.W.            Pfc                   A-1-18                           USMC  

            LOWE, C.D.                  Sgt                   A-1-8                            USMC”

            Wednesday, 24 November, 1943.

            “1740, secured from General Quarters.  One man of the U.S. Marine Corps buried at sea this date in Lat. 1-26 N Long 172-56 E.”

            “The following named man was buried at sea.  Lieut. J.T. Keown Chc V(S) USNR officiating.  Major Rich and Capt. Swanson USMC attending.

            LIND, D.H.                                          D-1-1                            USMC”

USS La Salle AP-102

            Monday, 22 November, 1943.

            “1925 . . . The following named men were found floating in water.  Pronounced dead by Medical Officer and given military burial at sea:

1.   LOYALL, L.L.                   Sgt.,             USMC,             260-225.

2.   HUNTER, D.F.                              USMC               (No identification tag).

3.   VINCENT, E.J. (*)                          USMC               (No identification tag).

            GUNTER, E. K., Pfc., USMCR, 431-213, died on board at 0645 this date as a result of bullet wound through angle of right mandible, lodged in throat.  Received on board as casualty.  Given proper military burial.”

            Sunday, 28 November, 1943.

            “JORDAN, H.K.             803-700            A-Co., 1st. Bn. 2nd Mar.

            Diag:  Gunshot wound, chest.

            Note:  Expired at 2340 22 November, 1943.”  (No indication if buried at sea.)

USS Doyen APA-1

            Monday, 22 November, 1943.

            “0645 Held burial services at sea for the following men:  ANDERVICH, E.F., 463546, USMC (rate unknown), who died at 1725 November 21st, 1943 and PIETROSILLI, A.J., Pvt. 803672, USMC, who died enroute to USS DOYEN about 2200 November 21, 1943, as a result of wounds received in action on Betio Island.”

            Tuesday, 23 November, 1943.

            “1135 Boat #15 left the ship with Chaplain and burial party for burial at sea of the following men, who died as a result of wounds sustained during action on Tarawa Atoll, Gilbert Island Group:  Lieut. C.L. McNEIL, USMCR (343281), 1st Bat. 8th Marines; LOUIS, I.J. Jr., (rate unknown) 479095, USMCR; KEES, M.C., Pfc, 322668, USMC.”

            Wednesday, 24 November, 1943.

            “1840 Buried two Marines, who died aboard, due to wounds received during action on Tarawa Island:  TWEDELL, D.J. Sgt. 299633, Co 1-A 6th Marines and SULLIVAN, H.S., Pvt. 486496, Co 3-L- 8th Marines.”

            Friday, 26 November, 1943.

            “1010 Burial services were held for CECCHINI, F.S., Cpl, (service No. unknown), Co. 1-A 8th Marines, who died from wounds sustained during action on Tarawa Atoll, Gilbert Island Group.”

            Monday, 29 November, 1943.

            “1630 Burial services were held for BUCHANAN, H.D., Pfc, 509914, Co. A-2nd Marines, who died on board from wounds sustained during action on Tarawa Atoll, Gilbert Island Group.”

USS Virgo AKA-20

            No record of any burial at sea.

USS Harris APA-2

            Monday, 22 November, 1943.

            “2130 On 2100 fathoms of water, Lat - 1°-10’ North – Long – 172 – 54 East, The bodies of the below named men, who died as a result of wounds suffered in action against the enemy, were buried at sea this date.  Services were read by Chaplain RILEY, Lt. (jg) ChC-USNR.

            HILL, Otho (none), 446171, P.f.c., Co B, 2nd Amph. Tractor Bn., 2nd Marine F.M.F. Rgt., U.S.M.C.  DAVIS, James “A” 486402, Pvt., Co. F., 2nd Bn., 8th Marine Rgt., 2nd Marine Div., F.M.F., USMC.  DE BRETAGNE, Hugo “J,” 347476, C.P.L. U.S.M.C. (all available data found).  THAXTON, “J”. “D”., 492688, P.F.C., Co.J, 3rd Bn., 8th Rgt., U.S.M.C.”

            (De Bretagne and Thaxton were also reported as being buried at sea the following day, Tuesday, 23 November, 1943, at 0415 hrs.)

            Tuesday, 23 November, 1943.

            “1119 The body of BROWN, “K” “L”  Capt., Co. “A”, 1st Bn., 10th Reg. U.S.M.C. who died of wounds received in action was buried at sea in 2350 fathoms of water in Lat 01°-33’ N. Long 174°-11’ E.  Services were ready by Chaplain RILEY, Lt.(jg) ChC – USNR.”

            “1905 The body of DANIELS, Preston Miller (*), PFC, (I.D. No. unknown), Co. ‘B’, 1st Bn., 2nd Reg. USMC who died of wounds received in action was buried at sea in 2000 fathoms of water in Lat 1°-28’ N, Long. 173°-36’ E.”

USS J. Franklin Bell APA-16

            No record of any burial at sea.

USS Ormsby APA-49

            Saturday, 20 November, 1943.

            “1140 Hoisted on board for shell hole repairs Amphib Tractor number 2-27 from L.S.T. 243 of which had on board three dead from landing operations Tarawa, Gilbert Islands.  Names of dead:  Lieut. E.J. Weldte, M.C., U.S.N.R.; G.R. Hensel, U.S.M.C. PFC and R.E. Bettick, U.S.M.C. #522273.  No tag upon remains of G.R. Hensel; information obtained from clothing.”

            “1420 Held burial services for the following named officer and men who died in action  while landing at a beachhead at Tarawa, Gilbert Islands:  Lieut. E.J. Weldte (M.C.), U.S.N.; G.R. Hensel, PFC, USMC; and R.E. Bettick, USMC, #522273.  Remains buried at sea in Lat. 01°25’N, Long. 172°55’E.”

            Sunday, 21 November, 1943.

            “1615 Held burial services for Wells, W., Cpl, 291324, U.S.M.C. who died in action while landing at a beach-head at Tarawa, Gilbert Islands.  Remains buried in Lat. 01°27’N, Long. 172°52’E.”

            Monday, 22 November, 1943.

            “0920 Held burial services for Taylor, E.C., 349401, PFC, U.S.M.C., who died in action while landing at a beach-head at Tarawa, Gilbert Islands.  Remains buried in Lat. 01°23’N, Long. 172°53’E.”

            “1815 Held burial services for Benson, J.D., 331594, Pfc, U.S.M.C. who died in action while landing at a beach-head at Tarawa, Gilbert Islands.  Remains buried in Lat. 01°25’N, Long 172°55’E.”

            “2020 Held burial services for Soyak, J.M., 364745, Pvt., U.S.M.C., who died in action while landing at a beach-head at Tarawa, Gilbert Island.  Remains buried in Lat. 01°25’N; Long. 172°55’E.”

            Tuesday, 23 November, 1943.

            “1647 Held burial services for Hopp, Carl, 273179, (rate unknown), U.S.M.C. who died in action while landing at a beach-head at Tarawa, Gilbert Islands.  Remains buried in Lat. 01°25’N, 172°55’E.”

            Sunday, 28 November, 1943.

            “0910 Held burial services for Giba, John, 437421, Pfc, U.S.M.C.R. and Wallace, C.E., 493382, Pfc, U.S.M.C.R., who died in action during landing operations at Tarawa, Gilbert Islands.  Remains buried in Lat. 01°28’N; Long. 172°55’E.”

USS Feland APA-11

            No record of any burial at sea.

USS Bellatrix AKA-3

            No record of any burial at sea.

USS Solace

            Friday, November 26, 1943.

            “0355 TROWBRIDGE, Kenneth E., 416598, Pfc., USMCR, (Co. A – 10th), died in this vessel at 0355, this date of WOUNDS, GUNSHOT, Back.  #2576  Key Letter K.  Not due to own misconduct.  CIRCUMSTANCES OF OCCURRENCE:  1.  Within Command.  2.  Work.  3.  Negligence not apparent.  4.  Wounded in action against an organized enemy.”  (No indication that he was BAS.  Hospital ships have morgues, and his body may have been taken to Hawaii.  Also, he is not found in Sherrod’s list.)

*  These six names were not found anywhere in Sherrod’s list.

1.  Sherrod, Robert.  Tarawa: the story of a battle, Fredericksburg, TX: The Admiral Nimitz Foundation, 1944.  207 pp.

2.  Stockman, James R.  The Battle for Tarawa, Historical Section, Div. of Public Information, Headquarters, USMC, 1947.  87 pp.

3.  Alexander, Joseph H.  Utmost Savagery – The Three Days of Tarawa, Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1995.  304 pp.

4.  Steer, Edward, and Boardman, Thayer M.  “Final Disposition of World War II Dead 1945-51”  QMC Historical Studies Series II, No. 4; Historical Branch, Office of the Quartermaster General, Washington, D.C., 1957,  pp. 398-403.

Semper fidelis.  Always faithful.  The Marine Corps takes care of its own.  It accounts for every Marine on the battlefield, recovering wounded and bringing back those killed in action (KIA).  Today, with global positioning system (GPS) to locate graves and DNA-assisted identification, our military can bring them all home again to their families.  During previous wars, however, that wasn’t always the case.

            The battle for Tarawa is an example where many of the men lost in battle have not been accounted for to this day.  Some were known to have been KIA, their deaths or bodies having been witnessed or identified by two or more people.  Some died of wounds (DOW), and still others were listed as missing in action (MIA).

            Robert Sherrod’s book, Tarawa – the Story of a Battle1, lists the names and ranks of those killed and wounded during the battle.  There are 722 names of those KIA, 77 more DOW, and 151 are listed as MIA.  Many Marines were killed in the water during the assault on Betio’s north beaches, their bodies drifting out to sea on the tides.  Men aboard boats in following waves saw the floating bodies and assumed they were Japanese until they got closer and saw the camouflage uniforms of the USMC.  Some of these bodies were recovered, and some were lost.

            The “official” USMC report, The Battle for Tarawa2, by Capt. James R. Stockman, USMC, was published in 1947.  Not specifying names, as Sherrod did, Stockman lists 837 KIA, 34 “Wounded – killed,” 90 “Died of wounds,” with 27 “Missing, presumed dead,” and 2 “Wounded, missing dead.”  That gives only 29 MIA.

            Most recently, and extremely well-researched, in Utmost Savagery – The Three Days of Tarawa3, by Col. Joseph H. Alexander USMC (Ret.), published in 1995, he lists 88 Marines “Missing and presumed dead.” 

Certainly, during the battle, men were separated from their units, with some wounded ending up on various transports, and a true accounting impossible during movement to Hawaii.  By war’s end, however, a fairly accurate roll should have been compiled. 

            MIA status was also given to those who simply disappeared during the violence of battle, sometimes physically obliterated or buried by exploding shells, no trace ever being found.  There seems to be a discrepancy, though, between Sherrod’s list, the subsequent figures, and records at the Punchbowl National Cemetery in Hawaii.  His list shows 151 men MIA, while a tablet at the Punchbowl honoring those MIA or buried at sea (BAS) from Tarawa shows a total of 438.  (The American Battle Monuments Commission website lists the names of those buried in American military cemeteries around the world, and their status if MIA/BAS.  If the search results in “no records found” (NRF) the body may have been recovered and buried in a private cemetery by the family.  Some NRF results are shown for those originally listed as MIA.)  What is odd is that 351 of the men listed on the tablet as MIA/BAS were listed by Sherrod as KIA.  Just which men were buried at sea, and who are now missing instead of KIA?  The logical answer is that many of those 351 still lie in the sands of Betio.

            Burials at sea are always recorded in the deck log of the ship performing the services.  In 1943 “always” was a slightly flexible term, however, and not all ships’ deck logs were as complete as they should have been.  Most of those logs can be found today at our National Archives in College Park, MD, and I decided to see what I could discover.

            Transport Group 4 of Task Force 53 for Operation Galvanic, the assault on Tarawa in the Gilbert Islands, was made up of three groups.  TransDiv 4 was formed by the USS Zeilin APA-3, Heywood APA-6, Arthur Middleton APA-25, William P. Biddle APA-8, Harry Lee APA-10, and Thuban AKA-19.  TransDiv 18 had the ships USS Monrovia APA-31, Sheridan APA-51, La Salle AP-102, Doyen APA-1, Virgo AKA-20, and Ashland LSD-1.  In TransDiv 6 there were the USS Harris APA-2, J. Franklin Bell APA-16, Ormsby APA-49, Feland APA-11, and Bellatrix AKA-3.  Hospital ship USS Solace arrived at Tarawa to take on casualties from the previous ships on Wednesday, Nov. 24, 1943.

            Wounded men were generally brought to the transports for medical treatment, since they contained prepared medical facilities for this purpose.  The men weren’t always returned to the ship they debarked from, though, and in most cases needy casualties were brought to the nearest available ship.  It’s possible even some of the fire support ships took aboard casualties during the height of the conflict, since they all carried their own medical facilities and personnel.

            The ships’ logs and war diaries examined account for 100 men BAS.  Why the major discrepancy between Sherrod’s accounting of KIA and MIA, taken from official Navy and USMC casualty reports, and today’s MIA/BAS list at the Punchbowl?  Some explanation can be found in “Final Disposition of World War II Dead 1945-51,”4 which tells of the difficulty of recovering remains.  About 50 men of the 604th QM Graves Registration Company arrived at Betio aboard the USAT Lawrence Phillips on March 4, 1946.  Their first objective was to select a cemetery site for collection of remains from all over the island.  An area on the western end of Betio was acquired and approved by the British administrator, and named “Lone Palm Cemetery.”

            “Because of the large number of fatalities and subsequent hurried burials, most deceased servicemen rested in graves near points where they died.  Consequently, the atoll contained approximately 43 separate burial sites, the majority of which were located on Betio Island.”  The report could not account, however, for single, hasty graves that were dug in the heat of battle and became unmarked during subsequent action.  As their work progressed, the recovery team found that previous grave consolidation done by Navy, Marine, and Seabee garrison forces was confusing.

            “In some cases, the Marines had constructed a monument directly above a body or group of remains.  In other instances, no remains could be located beneath monuments.  Again, some memorial graves bore crosses with names but contained no deceased.  Sometimes, later investigations located these individuals in cemeteries on the opposite side of the island.”  The team worked for two days excavating “Grave 33,” but found no remains.  Father O’Neill had officiated during the burial of Marines in three rows at this site, and he suggested they dig in a different direction.  They found first the middle row, then the other two, but recovered only 129 remains of an alleged 400.  In “Grave 26” they recovered 123 remains, and “Grave 14” gave up 41.  “Grave 27” reportedly held 40 dead, but extensive diggings throughout the area was fruitless.

            Dental records were used when possible to identify remains, and they were reinterred with an identification tag and a copy of the Report of Reinterment in a sealed bottle.  A marker at the head of each grave held a 2- by 4-inch metal tag showing the name, rank, and serial number of the deceased.  There were also unidentified dead.  By the end of May 1946, the mission ended with recovery of 532 remains that were buried in Lone Palm Cemetery for later recovery.  Their report included recommendations for the future, such as, “That identification tags be made of stainless steel, monel metal, or some other noncorrosive metal.  The letters on the tags should be embossed, and not etched.”

            Their report also requested that all web and personal equipment be stenciled with name, rank, and serial number, and that ID tags be worn around the neck.  Finally that, “All service personnel should have some GRS training.  By doing this, it is felt that the conditions found on Tarawa would not recur.”

            Since their search of Betio there have been several accidental findings of American remains on the island.  A complete amtrac was unearthed during the laying of a new water line, and in its hold were the remains of three men.  Two were later identified.  While widening the south perimeter road in September 1999, a tree was unearthed, and among its roots were the bones and identification tag of PhM2C Raymond P. Gilmore, USN.  He had been listed as KIA, but was on the MIA/BAS tablet at Punchbowl.

            So here is what we can deduce from this archive search:  1.  Of the 77 men listed as DOW, 59 are confirmed BAS.  2.  The 151 listed as MIA are still MIA.  3.  Of the 731 listed as KIA, 32 were BAS.  4.  Of the remaining 699 KIA, 336 are listed today as MIA/BAS.  5.  If the 604th QM GRC team found 532 remains, and they were all eventually recovered, there should be only 167 names on the Punchbowl MIA/BAS plaque.

            In conclusion, it is obvious that there are many Marines and Navy corpsmen lying at rest today in the sands of Betio, perhaps hundreds.  Today the western three-fourths of the island is heavily populated, with many buildings undoubtedly built over gravesites.  If more remains are recoverable in the future, it will probably be by accident.  The Marine and Navy monument that now stands on Betio should have a bronze tablet added to one face, reading, “In Memory of the Hundreds Who Rest Here Today.”  The whole island is, in fact, a cemetery.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

Dean Ladd, who was wounded during the assault on Tarawa, and was floating in the lagoon, was rescued by a fellow Marine.  I spotted his name on a casualty list and sent him the information.  He replied, “After 59 1/2 years I can now narrow down the possibilities of who helped pull me into that LCVP when I was wounded on 11/21/43. Clues are: that person was also wounded on 11/21, was probably not in my company but most likely in the adjacent C company, had a head wound and probably was BAS also on 11/21. So it was probably Sgt. James J. Maples, C-I-8. I am checking with Ken Desiello who was also pulled up by this extraordinary “unknown Marine. “

Appendix A

Burial at sea entries from ships’ deck logs and war diaries, Nov. 20 to Dec. 1, 1943.

USS Zeilin APA-3

            Sunday, 21 November, 1943

            “1100 the following named Marines having died of gunshot wounds were buried at sea this date at Lat 01° 24’ North; Long 171° 53’ East

            1st Lieut. C.N. Dunahoe, Jr. #266531, K. Co. 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines

            M. ROE                        #812320          USMC

            W.D. MC KIBBEN    #311493            USMC

            G.M. CONNER              # 331500            USMC

            J.F. DEMARCHE   # 394 684 USMC

            James O HARA            (*)    # Unknown            USMC”

            “1930 The following named Marines having died of gunshot wounds were buried at sea in Lat 00° 55’ North Long 172° 43’ East

            Alton H. JARRETT            #272411-P       USMC

            T.R. HERBIG                          834818  USMC

            H.B. Browning                         Unknown            USMC

            A.F. JACKSON,                      Unknown            USMC”

            Monday, 22 November, 1943

            “1100 The following named man, having died of gunshot wounds, was buried at sea: L.A. MONROE, Pfc. 801820, USMC.  Lat. 01° 25’ North, Long. 172° 54’ East.”

USS Heywood APA-6

            Sunday, 21 November, 1943

            “1415 Conducted burial services at sea in position 01°-24’-20” N., 172°-55’-20” E. of following casualties of current operations:  Captain Robert Woodman ROSE, USMCR; CHACON, G., 407219, Pfc., USMC; CHODL, F.T., 397852, USMC; LEE, Wilson R., 363259, USMC; CAMPBELL, James P., 390302, USMC; WILSON, J.A., 491228, USMC; RIGGIN, James Malcolm, 481111, USMCR.”

            Monday, 22 November, 1943

            “1400 Burial services were held at sea.  Position: 01°-25’-30” N., 172°-55’-30” E., for casualty of current operations:  HIGUERA, R.A., 817396, Pfc., USMCR, F-Co., 2nd Bat., 8th Marines.”

            Wednesday, 24 November, 1943

            “0935 Commenced reembarking troops of the LT-2/8, U.S. Marines.  Held burial service at sea, in position 01°-25’-00” N., 172°-55’-00” E., for the following casualty of the current operations:  WHATLEY, R.L., Pvt., 499270, Co., “D”, 1st Bat., 8th Marines.”

USS Arthur Middleton APA-25

            Sunday, 21 November, 1943.

            “*0811 Lowered ensign to half-mast and buried at sea the following marines killed in action during the occupation of Tarawa Atoll, Gilbert Islands on 20 November, 1943:

            Name                                       Rate                 Unit                  Serial No.  

            MAURIELLO, Ugo            Sgt.                  L-3-2                 266107

            MEADOW, Wayne G.            Cpl.                  M-3-2                321944

            VEECK, W.E.               Sgt.                  G-2-2                269977”

            Tuesday, 23 November, 1943.

            “*0915 Held burial services and buried at sea McPHEE, E.M. (832539) Pvt., U.S.M.C. and VIA, W.D. (476924) Pvt., U.S.M.C.”  Ship was underway at 11 knots, steaming in formation.

USS William P. Biddle APA-8

            Sunday, 21 November, 1943.

            “1930 burial at sea of following named Marines:  Foreman, John F. 418165, Pfc, U.S.M.C.R.  Marallus, Kenneth W. 458391, Pvt., U.S.M.C.R.”

            Monday, 22 November, 1943.

            “1930 buried Nagayama, Toin, Prisoner of war at sea.”

            Tuesday, 23 November, 1943.

            “1545 dead Marine transferred to beach, Martinez, L.J. 323462, U.S.M.C. Corp.  Burned up LVT found adrift containing two burned bodies.  Sent to beach upon orders of Marine shore party.  It sunk on the way in.  Two dog tags found in LVT adjacent to the bodies gave the following names:  Green, M. 466 484 H.  Mayer, Milton J. 486 415.”

            Thursday, 25 November, 1943.

            “1900 held burial at sea for W.R. Brown, Corp. U.S.M.C.”  Ship was underway at 14 knots on course 110° T.

USS Harry Lee APA-10

            Sunday, 21 November, 1943.

            “The following named men died from wounds received in action during operation ‘Galvanic’ and were buried at sea.

            0045 – Unknown            Initial on ring WM                        Received on board dead

            0045 – Marshall, E            Unknown          276118                      Ö           Ö          Ö

            0815 – Bozarth, David B. Jr.   Sgt.            308950                      Ö           Ö          Ö

            1545 – Unknown            Initial on ring EmcB                             Ö           Ö          Ö

            1545 – Mahoney, JW            Unknown          360699                      Ö           Ö          Ö

            1817 – Gilbert, WE            Pfc                   308796              Died on board”

(WM and EmcB could have been listed in the after action reports as MIA, KIA, or DOW.  Among those with the same initials are: Cpl. Wayne G. Meadow, KIA; Cpl. Walter A. Miller, KIA; Pfc. Wilbur C. Mattern, KIA; no matches for EmcB.)

Monday, 22 November, 1943.

            “The following named men died from wounds received in action during operation ‘Galvanic’ and were buried at sea.

            0817            Price, Theron E.            Unknown          516585              Died on board

            1437            Frederick, W.E.             Pfc                   813120              Died on board”

            Tuesday, 23 November, 1943.

            “0738 Norris, Joseph M. (Unknown) 434384 USMC died from wounds received in action during operation ‘Galvanic’ and was buried at sea.”

            Wednesday, 24 November, 1943.

            “Collins, S.E. (Unknown) 390677 USMC died from wounds received in action during operation ‘Galvanic’ and was buried at sea.”

            Friday, 26 November, 1943.

            “0850 Price, Joseph Doyle 2nd Lieut. USMC died from wounds received in action during operation ‘Galvanic’ and was buried at sea.”

            Tuesday, 30 November, 1943.

            “0850 Silfies, Lester Paul Pfc 502609 USMC died from wounds received in action during operation ’Galvanic’ and was buried at sea.”

USS Thuban AKA-19

            Tuesday, 23 November, 1943.

            “1000 Picked up tank lighter to remove from screw body of a man.  Tentatively identified by belt as PHILPS, K.N., USMC, killed in action against the enemy.  Finger prints recorded for further identification.  Buried at sea in position shown in death notice.”

            Saturday, 27 November, 1943.

            “1456 The bodies of MACNEIL, R.M. (*) S1/c, 283-84-45, USN; STEBNER, W.F., PFC, 440847, USMC; WALKER, K.W. (*), F1/c, 637-21-14, USNR, who died from wounds received in action against the enemy, and that of FORCE, F.F. (*), GM3/c, 662-25-02, USNR, who died from internal injuries caused by accidental fall into hold, were buried at sea in position shown on death certificate.”

USS Monrovia APA-31

            Saturday, 20 November, 1943.

            “1520 – The following named men of the U.S.M.C. were buried at sea this date 01° 24.5’ N Lat 172° 53.5’ E. Long.

            LYONS, C.A.                 341186              U.S.M.C.R.

                        HARRIS, W.E. Jr.            521470              U.S.M.C.R.

            CABRAL, F.P.               373222              U.S.M.C.R.”

            Sunday, 21 November, 1943.

            “0655 The following named men were buried at sea.

                        MOHRLANG, J.K.,            359909,            USMC

                        WILLIAMS, N.,             349591,             USMC

                        McGUIRE, C.G.,            252058,            USMC

                        PAHL, E.D.,                 506790,            USMC

                        AZEROLO, A.F.,            366370,            USMC”

            “1840 Following named officer was buried at sea:

                        WALTER GEORGE OLSON, 2ND Lieutenant, U.S.M.C. # 268809”

            Wednesday, 24 November, 1943.

            “1500 Half masted colors and gave full military honors for the burial of Marine 1st Lt., O.A. Palopoli, 2nd Batt., 8th Marines, USMCR”

            Thursday, 25 November, 1943.

            “0835 – Nail, J.E. Jr., USMCR was buried this date at sea.  Died of gunshot wound in abdomen.”

USS Sheridan APA-51

            Sunday, 21 November, 1943.

            “1950, commenced loading LST with Marine cargo and equipment.  Seven men of the U.S. Marine corps were buried at sea while in 01-26 N and Long. 172-56 E.”

            “The following named Officers and Men were buried at sea, with Lieut. J.T. KEOWN Chc V(S) USNR Officiating, Major RICH, USMC and Captain SWANSON attending.

            DREWS, H.C.             Major                Amph.Tr.                      USMC

            MULRONEY, T.L.                                  H-2-8                            USMC

            BLEVINS, P.J.              Pfc                   A-1-8                            USMC

            CARLI, W.J.                 Pfc                   Wpns-8                         USMC

            MAPLES, J.J.                                       B-1-8                            USMC

            WALKER, G.F.             Sgt                   B-1-8                            USMC

            BLAKESLEE, L.C.            2nd Lt.                                                    USMC”

            Monday, 22 November, 1943.

            “1900, anchor aweigh, underway on various courses and speeds to maintain position in transport area.  Two men of the U.S. Marine Corps were buried at sea while in 01-26 N and Long. 172-53 E.”

            “The following named men of the US Marine Corps were buried at sea with LIEUT. J.T. KEOWN, Chc V (S) USNR Officiating, Major RICH and Captain Swanson USMC attending:

            HODGSON, C.S.            Cpl                   H-2-8                            USMC

            LOWRY, C.V.                                                                            USMC” 

            Tuesday, 23 November, 1943.

            “1957, returned to transport area.  Various courses and speeds to maintain position.  Two men of the US Marine Corps were buried at sea while in Lat 01-26N, Long 172-53 E.”

            “The following named men were buried at sea this date.  Lieut. J.T. Keown Chc V(S)USNR officiating, Major Rich and Capt. Swanson attending.

            STRZBCKI, L.W.            Pfc                   A-1-18                           USMC  

            LOWE, C.D.                  Sgt                   A-1-8                            USMC”

            Wednesday, 24 November, 1943.

            “1740, secured from General Quarters.  One man of the U.S. Marine Corps buried at sea this date in Lat. 1-26 N Long 172-56 E.”

            “The following named man was buried at sea.  Lieut. J.T. Keown Chc V(S) USNR officiating.  Major Rich and Capt. Swanson USMC attending.

            LIND, D.H.                                          D-1-1                            USMC”

USS La Salle AP-102

            Monday, 22 November, 1943.

            “1925 . . . The following named men were found floating in water.  Pronounced dead by Medical Officer and given military burial at sea:

1.   LOYALL, L.L.                   Sgt.,             USMC,             260-225.

2.   HUNTER, D.F.                              USMC               (No identification tag).

3.   VINCENT, E.J. (*)                          USMC               (No identification tag).

            GUNTER, E. K., Pfc., USMCR, 431-213, died on board at 0645 this date as a result of bullet wound through angle of right mandible, lodged in throat.  Received on board as casualty.  Given proper military burial.”

            Sunday, 28 November, 1943.

            “JORDAN, H.K.             803-700            A-Co., 1st. Bn. 2nd Mar.

            Diag:  Gunshot wound, chest.

            Note:  Expired at 2340 22 November, 1943.”  (No indication if buried at sea.)

USS Doyen APA-1

            Monday, 22 November, 1943.

            “0645 Held burial services at sea for the following men:  ANDERVICH, E.F., 463546, USMC (rate unknown), who died at 1725 November 21st, 1943 and PIETROSILLI, A.J., Pvt. 803672, USMC, who died enroute to USS DOYEN about 2200 November 21, 1943, as a result of wounds received in action on Betio Island.”

            Tuesday, 23 November, 1943.

            “1135 Boat #15 left the ship with Chaplain and burial party for burial at sea of the following men, who died as a result of wounds sustained during action on Tarawa Atoll, Gilbert Island Group:  Lieut. C.L. McNEIL, USMCR (343281), 1st Bat. 8th Marines; LOUIS, I.J. Jr., (rate unknown) 479095, USMCR; KEES, M.C., Pfc, 322668, USMC.”

            Wednesday, 24 November, 1943.

            “1840 Buried two Marines, who died aboard, due to wounds received during action on Tarawa Island:  TWEDELL, D.J. Sgt. 299633, Co 1-A 6th Marines and SULLIVAN, H.S., Pvt. 486496, Co 3-L- 8th Marines.”

            Friday, 26 November, 1943.

            “1010 Burial services were held for CECCHINI, F.S., Cpl, (service No. unknown), Co. 1-A 8th Marines, who died from wounds sustained during action on Tarawa Atoll, Gilbert Island Group.”

            Monday, 29 November, 1943.

            “1630 Burial services were held for BUCHANAN, H.D., Pfc, 509914, Co. A-2nd Marines, who died on board from wounds sustained during action on Tarawa Atoll, Gilbert Island Group.”

USS Virgo AKA-20

            No record of any burial at sea.

USS Harris APA-2

            Monday, 22 November, 1943.

            “2130 On 2100 fathoms of water, Lat - 1°-10’ North – Long – 172 – 54 East, The bodies of the below named men, who died as a result of wounds suffered in action against the enemy, were buried at sea this date.  Services were read by Chaplain RILEY, Lt. (jg) ChC-USNR.

            HILL, Otho (none), 446171, P.f.c., Co B, 2nd Amph. Tractor Bn., 2nd Marine F.M.F. Rgt., U.S.M.C.  DAVIS, James “A” 486402, Pvt., Co. F., 2nd Bn., 8th Marine Rgt., 2nd Marine Div., F.M.F., USMC.  DE BRETAGNE, Hugo “J,” 347476, C.P.L. U.S.M.C. (all available data found).  THAXTON, “J”. “D”., 492688, P.F.C., Co.J, 3rd Bn., 8th Rgt., U.S.M.C.”

One thought on “Tarawa Battle Case Study

Leave a comment

L'indirizzo email non verrà pubblicato. I campi obbligatori sono contrassegnati *