Thanksgiving Prep 1943 Tarawa Style
The common theme in American culture is that the week of Thanksgiving is full on mad rush of preparation of food, decorations, and festivities. Pies are thrown in the oven, turkeys are stuffed, and the wise ones’ start drinking and watching football early. However, for the men in the United States Marine Corps circa 1943 Thanksgiving week took on an entirely different meaning. Make no mistake that preparations were made, but those preparations involved a long salvo of Naval guns pounding the Tarawa Atoll. Rather than pies thrown in the oven, men were crammed into hot landing crafts headed for 4,000+ entrenched Japanese soldiers who valued death over defeat. Of the 18,000 Marines headed into the fray, more than 1,000 would never see Thanksgiving Day alive, as for the 4,000+ Japanese defenders, a little more than a baker’s dozen would leave the island alive. The real estate involved was only two miles long and merely 800 yards at its widest point. The Japanese bragged the Marines couldn’t take the island with a million men in a hundred years; however, it only took the United States Marine Corps 76 hours and a Thanksgiving week from hell to do the impossible.
November 20th 1943
As dawn broke on Saturday morning, the Japanese Naval guns opened fire on the fleet surrounding the island. The United States Navy responded to the rude interruption of their operations with a salvo of its own. The Battleships Colorado and Maryland greeting the island with its own shells, one of which found its way into a Japanese ammunition depot. The massive explosion silenced the guns and proved America’s policy “if you shoot at them they will shoot at you back” was in full effect.
Next came the Naval air bombardment dropping massive amounts of ordinance on the tiny island. For hours they prepped the Japanese like a Thanksgiving Day turkey ready for its demise. The Japanese were well entrenched, dug in, and seemingly fearless at what was to come next. Unfortunately for the Japanese, 18,000 of the United States Marine Corps finest came with our guns blazing.
The Marines approached the lagoon and as if mother nature as trying to throw the soon to be massacred Japanese a solid favor, the tide failed to come in. The result was landing craft that couldn’t clear the surrounding coral reefs and were stuck in the Japanese kill zone upon approach. Undeterred, the Marines dismounted and waded through chest-deep water under heavy fire. The Marines had hit the beach; Saturday gave way to Sunday as the Marines inched forward against a determined enemy willing to fight until the bloody end.
November 21st 1943
As the sun rose it became clear that over 1,500 Americans had been killed and two Medals of Honor had already been earned by the brave Marines involved. The Marines pressed forward one pillbox at a time. Demolitions, flamethrowers, and grenades were on the menu for the Japanese this day. The day prior, Staff Sergeant William J. Bordelon had destroyed three enemy pillboxes by his own hand. Crawling underneath the withering fire, he launched the explosive into the pillbox gifting violence to the enemy. Sadly, Bordelon would never see Thanksgiving 1943, he was struck down by machine-gun fire on his fourth pillbox, he earned the nation’s highest military honor that day.
On November 21st, Lieutenant William Hawkins could be seen charging up to 8 Japanese machine gun positions alone. Despite being wounded twice, he killed the inhabitants of over 6 defensive positions before he himself was struck down by enemy fire. Hawkins earned the Medal of Honor for his actions that day while demonstrating the type of courage it took to take every piece of ground. The Japanese soldiers who felt America couldn’t take the island in 100 years were hauling ass with the United States Marine Corps hot on their tail.
November 22nd 1943
As the third day dawned, the two-mile island was a burning heap of sand and ash, yet the Marine Corps was wrapping up the last of the resistance. Lieutenant Alexander Bonnyman was leading the charge throwing the best demolitions he could put together against the stubborn Japanese. When he came across a bombproof bunker, he crawled under withering fire to approach its opening, inside were over 150 Japanese soldiers determined to take out as many Americans as possible. Luckily, LT Alexander Bonnyman hastened the Japanese soldiers meeting with death, saving countless Marine lives.
LT Bonnyman threw demolitions at every opening and entrance, he devastated the fortified the Japanese position. He then mounted the concrete bunker and he poured fire upon any Japanese attempting to flee the position. While covering the enemy with withering fire upon the edge of the bunker so his Marines could catch up, Bonnyman was struck by enemy fire and fell upon the emplacement where he had just taken out over 150 of the enemy. Bonnyman was awarded the Medal of Honor and gained the eternal respect of each Marine who witnessed his actions that day.
The Inevitable End
Keeping up with a pattern that would define the Pacific theatre in World War II, the United States Marine Corps took back every piece of land they wanted. The Marines wanted Tarawa and 76 hours later it was theirs. The defeat of the Japanese at Tarawa kick-started the island-hopping campaign that would take the Marines to Iwo Jima, Okinawa, and beyond.
For the Marines of 1943, Thanksgiving week would take on an eternal and distinct meaning. As we all dig into Turkey, pie, and football, let us not forget the brave men who went to battle on Thanksgiving Day 1943, many never made it home to celebrate another holiday.
On this Thanksgiving, as we all enjoy our family, food, and prepare to take over the retail world to score the best presents for our loved ones, remember all the brave men and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice in order to keep our country safe over the years. We here at Guardian of Valor and Grounds of Valor are thankful for our brothers and sisters who were brave enough to raise their right hands to protect America. “We don’t fight because we hate who’s in front of us, we fight because we love the ones behind us.” Happy Thanksgiving and God Bless America.