Sunday, November 10, 2002

Battle of Tarawa veteran David Stanton of Boise, Idaho, stood by Joe Rosenthal's 1945 photo of the flag-raising on Iwo Jima at a Parker Ranch exhibit on Wednesday. A Marine Corps victory at Tarawa led to the creation of Camp Tarawa on the Big Island and the later victory at Iwo Jima.

Big Isle exhibit
remembers win and
aftermath of Tarawa

A Hawaii training camp helped
prepare Marines for victory at Iwo Jima

By Rod Thompson

WAIMEA, Hawaii >> In December 1943, members of the U.S. Marine Corps 2nd Division arrived in Waimea on the Big Island from a costly victory over the Japanese at Tarawa atoll in the Gilbert Islands.

Their new home in Waimea became known as Camp Tarawa. As the 5th Division came to train at the camp, the battle-hardened veterans of the 2nd Division passed on lessons learned at Tarawa. That was credited with helping the 5th Division win the Battle of Iwo Jima in 1945.

The best-known image from Iwo Jima, Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal's photograph of five Marines and a Navy man raising the American flag on Mount Suribachi, has now sparked a Camp Tarawa exhibit continuing to the end of the year at Parker Ranch headquarters in Waimea.

Some 50,000 Marines trained over a two-year period at the camp, on the edge of a cowboy town of 400. The Camp Tarawa experience included entertainment by movie star Betty Hutton, a baseball game with New York Yankees star Phil Rizzuto, a rodeo pitting Marines from Texas and Oklahoma against Parker cowboys, and the camp mascot, a lion named Roscoe, bought from the Los Angeles zoo for $25.

Maj. Gen. Keller E. Rockey saw 17-year-old Ethel Chong Andrade dance hula and decided she was good for troop morale.

"This is my gal and I want her every Friday, Saturday and Sunday," he said. He paid her $5 a day.

These memories came to light because Rosenthal gave a signed copy of his Mount Suribachi photo to Hartwell Carter, wartime manager of Parker Ranch. In 1994, the photo came into the hands of Alice Clark, a Waimea resident and friend of Carter's widow, Rebecca. Clark wanted to know more about Camp Tarawa.

"There was absolutely nothing in the state archives," Clark said. There was also very little in Marine Corps archives.

"That was the wake-up call," Clark said. "Man, we've got to do this."

Her efforts led to the placement of a 20-foot-long monument at the former entrance to the camp in 1998. She chaired the creation of the Pacific War Memorial, a larger-than-life sculptured version of Rosenthal's photo, erected at the Kaneohe Marine Corps Base in 2000.

She inspired the current Parker exhibit and continues taking oral histories from Marines who served at Tarawa and on Iwo Jima.

One Tarawa veteran was David Stanton of Boise, Idaho, who turned 80 on Friday.

"The tides were wrong," Stanton said at the opening of the exhibit Wednesday, recalling the Tarawa battle. Up to their necks in the sea, taking machine-gun fire, they had to "wander in" over reefs to reach Betio island at Tarawa atoll, Stanton said.

Naval artillery fire that was supposed to cover them stopped 25 minutes early, said Kaneohe commander Col. Richard Roten. The shells were fired at the wrong angle and skipped off the narrow island into the sea.

"It's (Tarawa atoll) about the size of Waimea Airport," Roten said.

The Marines lost up to 75 percent of their force in the first wave, but they took the island in 76 hours. U.S. casualties, mostly Marines but also some Navy personnel, were put at 1,115 killed or missing and 2,292 wounded. Estimates of Japanese killed vary from 4,000 to 5,000. Captured Japanese numbered 146.

After Tarawa, the Marines were sent to a half-constructed Army camp in Waimea. "There was no chow, no blankets," said veteran Bill Thompson. "The Army wouldn't give us a dime. We had to steal everything we had."

They killed fish for food by throwing quarter-pound TNT charges into the ocean, he said.

In time, the Marines finished their tent city and brought prosperity to Waimea. The built a dam above the town to ensure a good water supply and installed generators for electricity, said Parker trustee Carl Carlson. "They made Waimea a modern town," he said.

Learning from the mistakes at Betio, they practiced amphibious landings at Hapuna beach, now a state park. "They created amphibious doctrine used all over the Pacific," Clark said.

Eventually, America's long-range B-29 bombers could hit Japan, but if they got shot up, they needed an intermediate place to land on the return flight, Roten said.

The intermediate place was Iwo Jima. Marines suffered 26,000 casualties in the 36-day battle to take the island, including 6,800 dead, Roten said. But the subsequent availability to crippled B-29s saved 27,000 crewmen, he said.

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