MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --
During the autumn of 1943, Marines and sailors from 2nd Marine Division Reinforced, stormed the shores of an island named Tarawa.
Located in the central Pacific Ocean, the tiny island became the battle site were 1,020 Marines made the ultimate sacrifice and more than 2,200 were wounded in a span of 76 hours.
Those three bloody days became known as “The Battle of Tarawa,” one of the fiercest and most vicious battles of World War II.
On Nov. 20, veterans of the Battle of Tarawa, active duty service members and families, gathered here to commemorate and pay tribute to those who made the ultimate sacrifice during the battle.
The veterans attended a memorial service, viewed a non-lethal weapons demonstration and fired pistols and rifles.
“Shooting the rifles brought back some memories,” said Henry C. Norman, a native of Springhill, Fla., and veteran of the battle. “We first had the M-1 rifle and then they gave us the carbines, so it was very interesting to shoot the M-16 rifle.”
The veterans were greeted and escorted throughout the day by active duty Marines dressed in the Service Alphas uniform.
The veterans said they were taken back by the amount of attention they were given and the tremendous amount of respect paid to them by the hosting 2nd Marine Regiment.
“The way they treated us here was amazing,” said Bill E. Crumpacker, a native of Fresno, Calif., who fought during the Battle of Tarawa. “I never thought anybody would treat us like that. We only did what we were supposed to do; we did not do anything special, but we’re being treated like kings around here and we aren’t kings—we are just one of the boys.”
Many of the veterans were astonished that 65 years later their sacrifices and efforts were still being recognized.
“It’s amazing that a three-day battle during World War II is still being remembered,” Norman said. “But I think it’s very important for Americans to remember the past and to honor those who have sacrificed for their country.”
Crumpacker took time during the event to recall his thoughts of the battle.
“The fighting lasted only three days and it seemed to be over before it even started,” he said. “But I was so young at that time, only 17 years old, so I didn’t really know any better. I wasn’t really scared or afraid, but when you’re only 17 years old, you have a tough time understanding what’s really going on.”
The event ended with a brief tour of present-day weapons and vehicles used in the Marine Corps. The World War II leathernecks were delighted with the day’s activities, but some in attendance wished veterans of other battles would be able to take part in their “own day.”
“I would hope in the future we can do more to remember some of the other battles,” Appleton said. “It would be nice to see some of those other veterans come and be recognized in the same way.”