Tarawa Atoll (Episode Three)

Wounded US Marine being evacuated from Tarawa, Gilbert Islands, Nov 1943

Stretcher Bearers
The sun was just beginning to set, casting long shadows across the sand. Whitie and Durby were back on the beach, hunkered down feasting on beef-n-rocks, bean and franks and chasing it down with black coffee. This first day on the atoll had been rough.  But it wasn’t over just yet. A few hundred yards away just inside the tree line, the fighting was still heavy. The Japanese were dug in everywhere. It seemed that the Naval and Air Bombardments had done nothing at all to soften them up.

The Chief Pharmacist (Navy Corpsman) was putting together a team to go forward and bring back three badly wounded and several walking wounded Marines. He and Sgt Roxberry were collecting the people they needed and of course Whitie and Durby made the team. Sgt Roxberry was from Mike Company and had been wounded earlier that day, but was now volunteering to lead the team back into the fighting and to his wounded Marines. Whitie and Durby were to act as security escorts and would lead the team and wounded back to the safe area. By the time it was fully dark, the team was ready to move out. Everyone carried carbines and pistols except for the two Pharmacist-mates. They and all the Marines however had extra ammo, water, bandages and rations.   
 
It took the team about fifteen minutes to reach Mike Company’s rear guard, well inside the trees and downed foliage.

Two walking wounded Marines from 2nd Platoon, challenged them.  There huddled in a tight group around the badly injured Marines were six others with various types of wounds. The Pharmacist-mates quickly assessed the most severely wounded, checked tourniquets, bandages and plasma bags. The three were placed on stretchers.

Sgt. Roxberry had immediately moved forward to rejoin his Platoon, leaving Whitie and Durby in charge of the stretcher bearer team. Durby took the lead with three of the walking wounded. They'd head off anyone attempting to attack from the front. Whitie was taking up the rear, guarding their flank while the other three walking wounded covered each of the stretchers.

Moving through the Battle Field in the darkness, was proving to be very difficult. The Marines were tripping and stumbling as they struggled to find their way through to the open beach. After several agonizing minutes, Durby and his small fire team arrived at the edge of the tree line.  The only thing between them and safety was three hundred yards of sandy beach. Whitie and the rest of the team came up behind Durby.

“Let's take a breather here.” Whitie suggested.

“Sounds good to me Pal.  By the way, check out that view.”  Durby was pointing toward the Pacific Ocean.

The crescent moon was high over head, giving light and life to the waves as they crashed ashore. Each time a cloud moved on across the night sky, the entire beach was flooded with light. Crossing the great open distance was going to be hairy.

The team agreed to move down near the water where the sand was much firmer. This would make movement with the stretchers faster and more stable. Durby’s fire team moved first, followed by each stretcher and assigned guard. They had timed it while there was bit of cloud cover; so far so good. Just about 40 yards to go, and they'd be home free. Whitie followed a few yards behind, watching for movement along their left flank.

Suddenly, the moon sprang from behind a cloud giving light to the entire beach. Instinctively and simultaneously everyone froze and became low to the ground. At that very moment, the team began to receive incoming fire from the brush on their left front. Durby and the lead stretcher bearer were hit. Whitie took a kneeling position and fired at the now advancing Soldiers. Durby and the other Marines returned fire, stopping several of the enemy immediately. As four remaining Japanese Soldiers charged toward Durby and the lead stretcher,  Whitie rushed forward killing one with several taps on the trigger of his carbine. Durby was wounded a second time as he shot one of the four. A nearby Marine took down another as Whitie entered the melee. The last Japanese Soldier, a young lieutenant. was standing over Durby with his sword raised above his head. Durby twice wounded, was on one knee preparing to parry the blow with his carbine. But, before the blow could be delivered, Whitie struck Durby’s would be killer square in the face with the butt of his carbine, knocking him to the ground. Whitie turned back toward his friend;

“Let me take a look”  he started

Durby’s pointing finger and wide eyes told White what he urgently needed to know. Turning full around was difficult and clumsy in the damp sand, but Whitie did it, and found himself eye to eye with the same Young Lieutenant he had just smashed in the face with the butt of his rifle. The man's left eye was cut severely, his nose was pushed to one side, broken and bleeding. Screaming at the top of his lungs, the sword once again high above his head, he lunged forward. With blood and rage in his eyes he failed to notice the Colt 1911 .45 pistol in Whitie's right hand. The two men were inches apart. Whitie easily blocked the swords’ downward motion with the carbine still in his left hand. The Colt in his right hand, bucked three times in rapid succession knocking the mortally wounded Soldier to the ground. This time permanently.

A few moments later, after passing by the perimeter guard, the team reached the Command Post at Red Beach 2.

Day one of three days of Hell was coming to a closeThere would be small skirmishes all along the beach and in the woods beyond. But for the most part, the heavy fighting would be on hold until sunrise.

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