Friday, October 21, 2011


I have been away working on the Wikipedia article on the Battle of Tarawa, and hopefully have improved it some. Tarawa is a story of uncommon courage, perseverance and commitment in the face of unbelievable danger, hardship and loss.

Among the many men that were involved there was naval officer Lt.(j.g.) Edward Heimberger. Today he is more commonly known as Eddie Albert, the actor you may remember from Roman Holiday, Green Acres, or my personal Eddie Albert favorite, You Gotta Stay Happy.

In this report he submitted, he speaks of himself in the third person, as 'the Salvage Officer', 'this officer' or simply 'the writer'. Here are some excerpts from his after action report written nine days after the first landings at Tarawa:

29 November 1943.
Activity of Salvage Boat No. 13.

Boat No. 13, Salvage, went into the water at dawn on D-Day, and worked as assistant control boat to the Boat Group Commander (Lieutenant FLETCHER), until mid-afternoon at which time orders were received to report to the U.S.S. PURSUIT in company with the rest of the boats from the U.S.S. SHERIDAN. She continued assistant control boat work under Lieutenant FLETCHER in the vicinity of the PURSUIT until dawn the following morning (D plus 1 day) at which time orders were received to land the waves on Beach Red 2. Two disabled LCVPs claimed her attention and she arrived at the Line of Departure reporting to Lieutenant FLETCHER as the LCVPs were returning.

The troops had suffered many casualties on landing and the beach was covered with dead and wounded. About 150 Marines, 100 of which were wounded, remained waist deep in the water, suffering rapidly mounting casualties from strafing by several machine gun nests on the end of the pier, in the sunken ship, and by numerous snipers in abandoned AmTracs and LCVPs. There were few boats about so Lieutenant FLETCHER and the writer took it upon themselves to aid the men. Boat No. 14, under lieutenant FLETCHER, and Salvage Boat No. 13, made three or four trips each picking up wounded men and carrying them out to LCMs from which they were transferred to ships.

On the third or fourth trip, Boat No. 13 suffered a damaged propeller and the Salvage Officer ordered her to return to the SHERIDAN with her wounded. Boat No. 14 had already left the scene carrying a heavy load of badly wounded men directly to the SHERIDAN, so it was necessary for the Salvage Officer to take over another LCVP for the next trip. For the first time the boat was strafed while picking up the wounded. There were no casualties. By this time the incoming tide was giving the wounded men a bad time of it and increased strafing was adding rapidly to the list of casualties.

Stepped up measures were considered necessary. The Salvage Officer therefore decided to take in several LCVPs in an attempt to pick up all the remaining men in the water at once. Accordingly, on that return trip, he directed the coxswain to drop him at the nearest LCVP and continue on with his wounded to the nearest ship. The writer boarded LCVP PA3-9 (uncertain about boat number) and took over four LCVPs nearby, ordering them to transfer their extra passengers to LCMs, retaining only the boat crews and to follow him to the beach.

Halfway to the beach (2,000 yards out), bullets were dropping around the boats with increasing force. This development suggested that the enemy might have added to their fire-power so some approached the area more slowly in an effort to locate the enemy's gun positions and the extent of the added fire-power. It was found to be coming from the sunken hull (thought to have been knocked out by dive-bombers an hour or two earlier) and also from a machine-gun nest at the end of the pier. Miscellaneous snipers and island-based guns were also present. All LCVPs were ordered to fire on these positions and this seemed to silence the enemy temporarily.

Because of the lay of the coral, the position of the men in the water, the tide, and the hazards of a concentration of boats, this officer decided that taking off the men with one boat at a time would be the best plan. The other boats were to lay to a few hundred yards off and attempt to keep the machine-gun nests quiet with their thirty calibers. The lead boat, LCVP PA3-9 (question), went in first and began taking on the wounded. A sniper in a wrecked LCVP about 40 feet away became a problem and work was halted a moment while the boats two 30 caliber guns worked him over. He was killed and work was resumed.

The skill and coolness of the coxswain of this boat must be noted here. He kept perfect control of his boat against a strong current, holding her off of the wounded men and yet close enough to make possible the lifting of the men from the water and yet not ground the boat on the coral. An additional mental hazard was the fact that the boat contained about eight large drums of gasoline that were in danger of being set off by incendiaries that were penetrating the hull and ricocheting around the interior of the boat. 60 caliber, armor-piercing bullets were also found in the boat afterward. Against these difficulties the coxswain and his crew responded to orders quickly and efficiently without regard for their personal safety, and in all ways conducted themselves in a manner befitting men of the United States Navy.

Finally the last of the wounded men, thirteen in all, were lifted into the boat, leaving about thirty-five men in the water, unharmed as yet, but without rifles. They refused to come into the boat and asked this officer to bring them back something to fight with. They wanted to make another try at getting ashore. At this point the strafing became quite intense, and, there being nothing left to do, the coxswain was ordered to back off, which he did with his usual business-like precision, in spite of bullets singing around his head and crashing through the boat.

The men, meanwhile, were stamping out the incendiaries before they could do any damage. The wounded were fairly safe lying in the bottom of the boat their weight and the weight of the gasoline drums brought the deck a foot or two below the waterline. The other boats were ordered to lay to out of danger and await further orders. On the return trip, the free boat containing Colonel HALL and other officers, was observed speeding toward the beach in company with several boats. It was thought advisable to inform Colonel HALL of this added fire-power and their positions. Colonel HALL noted this information, transferred a medical officer from his boat to LCVP PA3-9 to administer to the wounded men, and ordered the writer to report to Commodore McGovern on the U.S.S. PURSUIT. This was done and Commodore McGovern ordered this officer to take the wounded to the nearest ship and report back to him.

By this time the Marines had secured the pier so the writer reported to the Chief Beach-master for orders, and then relieved Lieutenant FLETCHER in the control boat, but only for a few moments, as Lieutenant FLETCHER, although he had been going without relief or rest for three days, refused to leave his job. The writer then worked on the pier for the balance of the day for Colonel SALAZAR, and Captain FARKAS, expediting the movement of supplies wherever he was able. Snipers slowed movement of material along pier and CBM FABIAN directed the writer to report to Major COOPER and Captain WALTERS in an effort to expedite movement of certain much needed ammunition by following the order up personally from requisition to delivery. This was done, utilizing men, hand trucks, and motor trucks wherever necessary. Another sniper was killed by the writer during these movements. The following day the writer was directed to do reconnaissance on Beach Green with Major SHARPENBURG, and Lieutenant DORRANCE. Survey was made, but damaged propeller caused the boat to be hoisted aboard the U.S.S. MONROVIA for repairs. Major SHARPENBURG reported to Major ATKINSON, then to Commodore KNOWLES who directed party to report to Admiral HILL on the U.S.S. MARYLAND. This was done. Returned to pier, made report to Colonel SALAZAR. At this point orders came for the writer to return to the U.S.S. SHERIDAN. He obtained a boat and complied with the orders.

Lieutenant (junior grade), USNR.
Salvage Boat Commander.

No one wanted to drive those boats in. The Japanese were tying their best to kill them as fast as they could, and if they failed to hit them with the big guns they riddled them with 13 mm (heavy caliber) machine gun fire, the power of which the sides of the boats could not stop. Eddie Albert went back time and time again, risking his life each time.

I loved the care free characters Eddie Albert would play in his films after the war, all the more so for knowing the things he did, and did without question, for the Marines he fought alongside during the war.


  1. Inspiring, selfless heroism.

    Thanks for posting this.

  2. I like how he says "The writer boarded LCVP PA3-9 (uncertain about boat number) and took over.." and then later "The lead boat, LCVP PA3-9 (question), went in first and began taking on the wounded. A sniper in a wrecked LCVP about 40 feet away became a problem and work was halted a moment while the boats two 30 caliber guns worked him over." If you're not paying attention, you don't realize it was him in that lead boat getting shot at by the Japanese sniper hiding in the wrecked Higgins boat.

    He was quiet about it. He never thought he had done anything particularly brave, and no one knew about it during most of his career. It wasn't till his later years that this become known broadly - some function he was asked to do and he was finally willing to talk about it. Quite a guy, and one of many real good ones there that day.

  3. Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

    Your article is very well done, a good read.