One Square Mile Of Hell: The Battle For Tarawa
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It's the end of a story that began more than 70 years ago on \"one square mile of hell.\" That's how Marines who stormed the small, remote Pacific island chain of Tarawa on Nov. 20, 1943 described the atoll.
CORCORAN: I thought, I kind of hoped they had got knocked out before they hit thewater. They went off the side of the bridge and then the tank ended up upsidedown. And I am thinking, man, that would be a hell of a way to go. And Iremember we ended up securing that bridge because we didn't want anyone comingacross and blowing those bridges. We needed those bridges. I remember getting,that is when we got up real close and personal with a lot of Iraqis that had touse that bridge with their vehicles. And I remember there was a couple huts oneither side of this foot bridge. One of them got bull dozed down. The other one01:10:00we had to look inside. It was like a candy store. Yeah, stuff like that. Therewere some Bedouins nearby and we ended up giving the kids the pop and the candy.They didn't really come close enough for me to touch. They would come closeenough to grab what they wanted, and then they took off. Everybody was scared. Idon't know if they were abused by Iraqis, or scared by us. Who knows You know.I got some pictures of that. We ended up giving them as much food as we could,our MREs. And then we started to resent them, after a while. Because somethingthat was going on with the battles, I remember that. A lot of the trickery thatwas going on. Got to the point where it was the thought that, if they lookedbetween the ages of sixteen and sixty, don't ask questions. Just shoot, becausethey'd shoot you on the street, anyway. Especially during the battle of AnNasiriyah, because what was happening, a lot of them would sit up on the01:11:00balconies, and when you walked by, they would have an AK down there, and they'dshoot at you. And they would put the AK away. Or they had mortars that you couldwatch. I had a buddy of mine say, his FO couldn't see in his binos. Well, whatwas happening, people would walk by and pick up a mortar shell, and walk by thetube as if they were walking, and drop it in the tube and keep walking. It wasthat kind of stuff that was going on. Just confusing stuff. Clothes, uniforms,even after the battle, you could tell, a lot of young men with short cut hair,no boots or shoes on, or they cut the boots down to look like shoes. We ended uptrying to stop a lot of them. As much as possible. We ended up doing thatbridge, the bridge operation. That lasted a couple of days. The CBs came in. Ithink they had to repair the damage, and damage control the bridge. They endedup relieving us in place and we ended up moving on to a place called Al-Kut. We01:12:00were chasing down this Iraqi armored division. They were probably now at aboutforty-five, fifty percent of strength with what air power had taken down. But weended up chasing them almost to Iran. I think we were fifteen miles outside ofIran. Fifteen or twenty miles. We ended up staging, they had a lot of armor,too. They were pretty powerful and we weren't sure what they were going to do.The whole task force didn't go after them. Only a select group. One artilleryunit and then a bunch of, you know, some infantry, LADs - Light Armored Vehicles- and they ended up stopping. So we stopped, and dug in. But I dug in deep thatnight. I knew they had stuff that could range us, too. I remember digging inreal deep. I dug in so deep it was above my head. I had to put a step in thereto get out. And I didn't know. And the next morning they were still sitting inplace. So they sent out some LADs to find out what was going on. It was prettyfunny because you could hear the engagement. You know, you could hear the LADs01:13:00shooting with their twenty millimeter cannon, dip-dip-dip. You know, and anexplosions. And hear the radio conference. \"What is going on Some of thevehicles are abandoned. Locals said the Iraqis were here yesterday. Whatever.And they took off, and left the vehicles out here.\" \"What is going on Ah, theboys, they are just having a little bit of fun, sir. Cut that shit out!\" Youknow. That was a good ice-breaker, you know. Just going out there and doingthose things, shooting up the vehicles. I know going through a lot of that,whoever got a chance out there, pictures, or anything of Saddam, they wouldshoot. Paintings, they'd end up shooting. Murals. There was a lot of that shitall over the country. We ended up getting digs in and shooting the stuff up.The, as Al-Kut, we were pretty concerned with that, being sent out there, not afull force. Seemed to be after that, things started to slow down a little bit01:14:00for us. We weren't really running into as much, every so often we would havesome issue. Someone setting up a mortar somewhere, and we'd take them out. Aftera while, it got to a point where you were engaged in too much combat that youwere actually looking for combat. And if we were in a town, we would actuallyhang our weapons outside the vehicle, you know, like we were driving through thecity. A lot of people would come up to greet us, piling into the streets. Waveto us like we were the victors. Like we were their saviors. It was really kindof an eerie thing. After a while, you felt like you didn't want to hang yourweapon out because somebody might try to pull it. And as weird as that sounds,the things that kind of go through your head, we weren't going around pointingweapons at people. At children, or anything. But you were hoping that some ofthem would show their true colors. You know, something like that. I don't thinkwe really believed that it was over. You know, at that point in time. There was01:15:00fun times there, too. They had a lot of women. Women didn't really get a lot,wearing the veil. So we would always go by and get their attention, and wave andwhistle. And they would kind of cover up the face, sort of laugh, however theydid. Like a proper woman from Japan, you know, didn't really look at you. Kindof bowed down. That is kind of, well, that is what it was like. You know. Andthey had really beautiful eyes. It seemed like the Iraqis were really big intoeyes. You know, whenever you would see a painting or see a bus and there wouldbe an eye painted on it. Seeing those eyes was really weird. You know, you'dwave. And we'd pull over after going through the city, and talking, \"Did you seethat woman, she was eye-balling us.\" Really beautiful, green emerald eyes. Someof them you really couldn't really tell. Their faces would be covered up. Youcould tell there was a lot of wear. Maybe just from abuse and the sun, or thattheir lives were. And their feet, and the kids running around. Washing in the01:16:00streams. And they had water buffalo. I am thinking, it that a water buffalo.Vietnam water buffalos, but not Iraq. But, sure enough, water buffalos. Kidsriding on the back of donkeys. And you know, bare foot. We tried to hand out asmuch food as we could but then it got to the point where some bad things werestill happening and, you know, you do as you might. We did. We really went overthere with the best intentions, you know. Do all this, look back down, and thinkthat is why we went over there with the right reasons. Well, maybe not. Did wehave good intentions I think we did. But we knew we were over there and we knewwe were doing good, because you see how the people were living. And it is justhorrible. And you knew going into the cities who had power, who was part of theparty and who wasn't. Because the way they lived. You know, people have livedlike peasants like, literally, with string light wiring that they could hooktogether, and that is how they would hook up the power to their house. And it isliterally like spliced pieces of wire. A piece of copper here and a piece of01:17:00something else there, and another piece of copper, spliced together, for powerto the house. And it was just, odd, you know. And how they lived in their homes.And then you get in to see like the Baath Party headquarters, some that we wouldtake out, and you would see how those people lived, too. And it was high on thehog. And there was no middle. It was like one way or the other. After Al-Kut, wewere told to hold the rear. Bagdad didn't turn out to be the big battle of thatoperation. It turned out to be Alnazerea. Bagdad was a big deal because we endedup taking the capital, but I remember looking back on that. And they wanted usto stay back, and I felt that we kind of got cheated. We were there, but I thinkthat we were like the bastard step-child, you know.
HA: Not really, because I was giving them the straight dope and having gone through the infantry school, in their own school, I knew my stuff plus the fact, at Rutgers the ROTC, it was all taught during my time by infantry officers that had been in World War I. So, I was well grounded in things that, on a company level, what the infantry does. I mean, I wasn't about to be telling them how to run a battalion, or anything, but, I knew what how the battalion ran companies and the companies ran platoons. As an aside to show that they really did, I guess, respect what I was doing is, that our weekends started noon time on Saturdays. We'd rent a taxi, get to DC, get on the train and take off for New York or New Jersey, and this class had graduated that Saturday and they were all on the train and in those days, I guess, drinking was more popular than it is now and I happened to be on the train, too, and they all came up offered me a drink and told me how they enjoyed what the hell I was doing, which was basically the rifle platoon in attack, the rifle platoon in defense and attack of a fortified position. Now, that was where, on one week I would build a bunker, like the Japs had on Tarawa, and the following week I'd run the program to blow it up, and we fired machine guns at it and a flame-thrower, and finally, the demolition charge and I nominated myself to be the one to carry the demolition charge and I woul