tarawa 1943ramble

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November 12, 2005

Veterans Day Thought of the Moment

A while back I took this photo of a car in Salem...the sign says Tarawa 1943, "We Kicked Their Ass"...the license plate had a similar theme. I admit my first reaction was kind of snarky...the bellicose tone about a very old battle, the use of "there" for "their" in one instance.

But, it was enough to make me wonder about "Tarawa", and do a little web research. To say it was a terrible battle is an understatement...it was truly hellish, a brutal, chaotic amphibous landing by the Second Marine Division after a huge amount of naval bombardment over razor-like coral and heavy defences. (The bombardment proved to be less effective than it looked.) The Marines lost 3,0001,000 men. The Japanese lost almost 5,000, and the fact that their were only 17 Japanese survivors showed their willingness to fight to the last man.

Yesterday, Veterans Day, the Vet was standing on the same corner as this photo, holding a poster about Tarawa (complete with the ass-kicking slogan) with some people honking their support and thanks. I decided I'd like to double back and talk with him, and I'm glad I did. Oddly, I neglected to ask his name, but he was happy to chat a bit. He mentioned that he fought with Eddie Albert of "Green Acres" fame (who was awarded a Bronze Star for his actions there.) He noted (with a hint of bitterness, I thought) that despite the huge cost in securing the island the U.S. Military never did followup with the plan to use its airstrip during the war. He also said he'd been back to the beach, and you can see grenade pins on the ground to this day.

I expressed my thanks for chatting, and he thanked me as well.

Oddly enough, I kind of purposefully parked a bit over because I wasn't sure if he would object to my Japanese car, though going back to this photo I see he drives a Hyundai...not a Japanese brand, but still.

He reminded a bit of the Vonnegut novel, how some people can get "stuck in time"...he was only 17 when it happened, but maybe in someways its been a centerpoint of the rest of his life. In any event, his dedication to his fallen comrades is remarkable...I was grateful for the chance to learn more about Tarawa, as well as grateful for his willingness to put his life on the line when his country asked.