Way back in December the 10th (or 11th) 1942, Ilene came to me and handed me the enclosed $2 bill. She said: “Wally if you hang onto this bill, you will never be broke!” So I put it in my billfold, and left December the 12th for San Diego , Ca. to start life as a Marine at 18 years of age.
Of course I spent my 1st Christmas away from home right there, and I will never forget that day. Just after dark I stepped outside the barracks into a misty rain, which looked almost like snow as I looked up into the yard lights. Yup, tears streamed down my cheeks, but I told myself that I am now a Marine, and they don’t cry!
After boot camp, I carried the bill in my billfold to New Zealand with me for training there, and then was transferred a couple of months later. I was put on a converted ship that had a ‘flat top deck’ on which we set up Army cots. The ship was so crammed that all we could do was eat/sleep, as there was no room for even exercising. During the 2nd or 3rd night a strong storm came up, causing ‘large waves,’ which is uncommon for the Pacific ocean (so we were told). I remember my cot shifting back and forth some, and the next morning they told us that some 2 dozen had slid off the deck, and of course they never even slowed down to look for them (remember this is ‘war time’) and life was not all that important…………
We continued on our trip, and on Nov 10th, 1943 we boarded ‘amphibious tanks’ and headed in to capture Tarawa . It was a small island about ½ mile wide and a mile long. It had been bombed and shelled so much, that they thought there will be little if any resistance—wrong! The Japanese had built concrete ‘pill boxes,’ and bunkers made of steel and concrete so thick, that the shelling did no damage to them. So when our navy started shelling , they just went into them and were safe. Even the airplane bombing did not penetrate them.
I was in the 1st ‘wave,’ and as we neared the island, our machine gunners mounted on our tanks, were firing like mad (which surprised me as there was supposed to be no resistance), until they were killed by incoming Japanese gunners fire, who had left the safety of the bunkers. As we got almost to the beach we started jumping out, and most of us did not make it because of the machine gunners. The area we landed on, had a high sea wall, so we got up against it and threw hand grenades toward the gunners, but they were ‘far enough back’ that they did no harm, and as we tried to climb over the wall, the gunners again did their thing, blocking our approach.
I could see that the tank to our left, had taken a ‘cannon type’ shell right through the middle of it, so all on it had lost their lives…………
While we were laying there, the few of us that were left, tried to figure out what to do, as there was no leadership alive. About then a couple of large special ‘Higgins’ boats, loaded with Marines, started coming in to help us out. These boats had a ‘ramp” the was lowered at the front, and as the the Marines came running out into ‘waist deep’ water, the were immediately mowed down by the Japs. All we could do was look in horror as some 300 young men died, as they had no place for cover and lost their lives. I got that ‘300 number’ from a book written by a Robert Sherrod (a reporter) in 1944. Some 970 Marines lost their lives on this small island in some 72 hours…
Fortunately, quite a ways to our right, the fighting was much less, and in several hours a beach head had been established, and Marines & equipment came pouring in. Apparently this went on all night (I had no way of knowing), and by morning the few of us left, crawled to ‘their area’ and a line was formed across the island, and we all started a drive to take over the rest of the island.
I had moved forward towards the end of one of the big bunkers, looking to get to the entrance, when a Jap soldier apparently had slipped out of the entrance, and quickly threw a hand grenade at us. I dropped to the ground, and just before getting there, I took part of the grenade in my right chest. I remember looking at the blood coming down my ‘fatigue jacket,’ and thinking: “I hope I don’t die!” I crawled back to where we had started the drive and a corpsman came to me, and bandaged me, and I think he gave me a shot of morphine, and attached a name tag (which I still have) to my ‘dog tags’. Apparently the Navy had only brought a small hospital ship to the area, thinking that it would not be used much, but it was already full, so I was put on “some other ship.”
I think I went into severe shock as I only remember watching a ‘burial at sea,’ and then the next thing I knew I was in a Naval Hospital in Honolulu . It was there that I got my purple heart, and I stayed there until after Christmas. I think part of the longer stay, was that I was suffering what they called ‘combat fatigue,’ but they have different name for it now.
Some time in early Jan, I rejoined my old squad and went into training for the next campaign, which was Saipan . This was a much bigger island and I was in the 3rd wave this time, and while the Japs were set up with mortars, etc, once we got past the beach it became a fire fight from time to time. My best buddy however lost his life from the shelling of the beach. I looked up his parents after the war was over, and told them about their son. They became lifelong friends. About the 3rd day, we moving forward to take care of a ‘nest of machine gunners.’ I had just moved forward, but one of the guys (Dick) in my squad did not make a move. I hollered to him to move out, but he said, “I can’t I’m hit.” So I crawled over to him and he told me he was not going to make it, but asked me to take his “Marine ring,” off of his finger and give it to his dad. I put the ring on my finger, and wore it until some weeks or a month (?) later.
This will be hard to believe (had I not been there, I too would maybe not believe,) but the island had grown sugar cane, so the Navy had shelled it with incendiary shells that set the fairly dry cane on fire. They did this so it was easier to see any emplacements, with out the corn blocking our view. Well, the heat from the burning caused ‘sweetness’ to run out of the stalks, and flies fed on it and began multiplying, so much so that in a few days, in the early morning we could actually hear buzzing as the flies started the day. The same thing happened at night with mosquitoes. The flies were so dense that it was impossible to eat a “C or K” ration without having to pick several of them out of the food. Well a couple of days later they sprayed the whole island at night, with planes spraying (sorta deadly) DDT (which was outlawed in America some years later), and in a couple of days there was no flies or mosquitoes to be found……..Due to the fact that we had only a canteen or 2 of water each day, of course there was no hygiene, so as a result a lot of us came down with dengue fever, then yellow jaundice followed as post infectious.. Since the island was basically secured by then, we just had to stay up on a cliff over looking the ocean, as they had not had time to set up a tent city for us to move into. They had however set up several ‘hospital’ tents, so a bunch of us sickies went some distance down to them, and spent 2 weeks there, while they treated us.
A week or 2 later we landed on a sister island name Tinian , which was largely a mopping up operation. After which training to hit Japan started in earnest. By now my ‘combat fatigue’ had gotten worse, so I was flown to a Naval hospital in Richmond , Ca. for some R & R treatment. While there I looked up Dick’s dad, and gave him the ring off of my finger, and to my surprise he told me that before Dick had left for the Marines, he bought 2 of the rings, one for him and one for Dick. So we traded rings, and I wore it for a number of years, in fact until it ‘wore through.’
After some 3 weeks or so, I was transferred to Seal Beach , Ca which was a Naval ammunition depot, and Marines did the guard duty. One day an officer came up to me and said: “Do you want to get a discharge in a couple of days, or go to a hospital and get a medical in about 2 weeks?” Of course I took the 1st option and on Dec 12th, 1945, I became a civilian again.
We honor you, Wally Loder.