70th Anniversary of Battle of Tarawa

battle tarawaMEDFORD, Ore. – November 20, 2013 marks the 70th anniversary of the beginning of one of the fiercest battles of the Pacific in World War II. It was one of the first times the Americans took the war back to Japanese forces, and the first time Allied forces met really stiff resistance.

NewsWatch 12’s Ron Brown has a personal interest in this battle as well, because his father was in the middle of the naval bombardment that helped turn the tide of battle. This is his story.

The tone of the battle in the Pacific was set this week, 70 years ago, when some 35,000 U.S. sailors and marines attacked the Tarawa Atoll in the South Pacific. It was the first time in a year of fighting that the Japanese put up the stiff defense that they became famous for the rest of the war.

“This was a lot different than any of the others we’d been in because so many of the others we’d been in, it was a carrier battle,” recalled Gene Brown. “The planes did the fighting, but with this, we were right up here, especially on our ship because we were within two thousand feet of the landing beach.”

His ship was the U.S. cruiser Indianapolis, and the fighting was mostly centered on a half-acre island with an airstrip called Betio. When he returned home to Klamath Falls a couple months later, his story made front page news in the Herald and News.

“It’s just one continual blast! It’s something you can’t hardly hear, the shooting going off all the time,” said Gene.

Tarawa became the proving ground for the allies’ amphibious assault tactics. But the cost was high, despite months of planning. The unpredictable tide stranded many landing craft, and Japanese snipers took a heavy toll.

The U.S. Victory at Tarawa came just a little less than two years after the massive defeat at Pearl Harbor in 1941, and is an indication of how much the U.S. Had regained its strength after that humiliating defeat.