Thursday, November 09, 2006

Veterans Day / Bloody Tarawa

I'm going to be traveling this weekend, so I thought I'd offer my Veterans Day post a little early.

Last year, I collected 11 stories of veterans of many countries in their own words.

In April and June 2006, I interviewed Leon Cooper, who was an ensign aboard the assault transport USS Harry Lee (a converted liner) and served as a boat officer on a Higgins boat during the Tarawa invasion. He told me his story, and I offer a recording of it here, in two parts (2 MP3 files).

This month is the 63rd anniversary of the Battle of Tarawa. The lack of a round number on the date doesn't mean the event isn't worth reflecting on. In November 20-23, 1943, US Marines, Sailors, and Airmen engaged in a fight that would provide the home front with its first bloody shock of WW II. More Americans were killed at Pearl Harbor, true, but that was due to enemy action and sparked outrage at the new enemy. At Tarawa, with the US on the attack against 4,000 entrenched Japanese defenders, more than 1,000 US servicemen were killed in less than three days. More than 2,000 more were wounded. Grieving American mothers were calling publically for Admiral Nimitz to be fired. History does not record what the Japanese mothers thought of their war leaders. The Japanese defenders died almost to a man. History has even less to say about the 1,000-plus Korean laborers killed on the island.

You'll want this map.

And here are some useful photos of the battlefield.

Leon Cooper is the author of "90 Day Wonder: A Darkness Remembered," a semi-autobiographical account of his experiences in the Pacific War. Here is a post about some of my impressions of his thoughts about Tarawa and the island-hopping campaign. I don't necessarily agree with all of his conclusions, but hey, he was there. I wasn't.

Over the course of the next few days I will add additional supporting links, so please check back.


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