October 28

Today is Tuesday and we are still here at Tarawa and hoping to leave soon. The last few days the anchorage has not been much fun with a wind having come up from the West and NW and then heavy rain the last 2 days. The swells coming over the reef have made the anchorage very uncomfortable all except during low tide when the reef to our West does a good job of protecting us from the swell. Last night was especially rolly and sleep was not so good. Not nearly as bad as Sola in Vanuatu (where we spent 2 nights last month) but not great.  

Yesterday we went on a “tour” of WWII relics, landmarks and such with John, an Australian who has lived here for 6 or 8 years. He is retired from the Australian Foreign Service and was stationed all around the world during his 25 or 30 year career including places like Hanoi , Brussels , New York (at the UN) and several posts in Africa . He was also assistant consul here at Tarawa during the early 90s and met and married a Kiribati woman. He came back to Tarawa in 96 and has built himself a nice house and runs several side businesses other then the WWI tourism. He first brought us to his home and showed a 60 minute documentary about the invasion of Tarawa .  

The Japanese occupied and fortified Betio the main island of Tarawa Atoll and had about 4,500 soldiers stationed here. The US invaded with about 6,000 and the battle lasted 3 days during which time all but 17 of the Japanese defenders were killed and about 1,200 US (I can’t recall the exact number) marines were killed. It was the first amphibious assault of the war and the US made several mistakes which they learned well from and were much more prepared for the many amphibious assaults to come. Tarawa was an important stepping stone in Admiral Nimitz’s island hopping campaign across the Central Pacific as it provided an airbase in range of Kwajalein which was one of Japan ’s largest and most important outposts. From Kwaj the US were then able to attack Truk, etc., etc.  

One of the biggest problems the marines had in the Tarawa invasion was the lack of tracked landing craft. The AMTRACS were an amphibious vehicle with tracks that could also be propelled in the water. They were very new and the US had very few of them. They were able to steam right up to the coral reef which projects out a half mile from the shore and then drive right over the reef itself depositing the men right on the beach. The Higgens boats were not amphibious and were stalled at the reef edge from which point the men had to wade across the reef the final half mile out in the open in waist or chest deep water. A huge number of them were mowed down by intense Japanese fire before they even reached the beach.  

Additionally, the marines greatly underestimated the general resolve and willingness to fight of the Japanese, but of course, the Japanese also underestimated the resolve of the US Marines. One Japanese said that he was shocked and dismayed when he realized how many US soldiers were slaughtered but that they just kept coming. We saw tanks stuck in the sand just off the beach, the remains of landing craft rusting away on the reef, Japanese command bunkers and pillboxes, huge 8” gun emplacements and associated pillboxes for ammunition and just stood in awe on the beach were so many men had died. We also visited a memorial to the US Navy and Marines placed on the island in 1987. The monument contains a “time capsule” which is slated to be opened in 2143, 200 years after the battle.  

Today we have plans to complete our preparations. We have to fill one of our propane bottles and our gasoline jerry jugs. We have to buy more onions and garlic (which are the only vegetables you can buy here since the ship has not come in since last month with perishables) and more coke (our three most important provisions). We did break down and buy a load of frozen vegetables yesterday, something which we have never had to do before, but we don’t expect to find any fresh veggies until Majuro in early December and we don’t want to wait here till the next ship arrives even though that will be next week, we have just had enough of this place. We also have to visit Customs and Immigration again to get our clearance papers and we have a date to get a phone call from my mother at 11am this morning, so it will be a full day. Of course, in the afternoon we have to take down the awnings. We will probably leave Thursday morning early and make for Abiang the next atoll to the North of us. It is reported to have a lovely anchorage just inside the pass by a small mote (Polynesian for ‘islet’, though we are not in Polynesia we have picked up that term and use it now).