|HARRY W. EICHMAN
up in Trempealeau, Wisconsin, a small village on the banks of the Mississippi
River about 50 miles east of Rochester, Minnesota. I was born the same year as World War I
ended and was 22 when I signed up with the Marine Corps a year or so before
the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.
Tarawa, I had already been in the action at Gavutu, Tulagi and Guadalcanal in
the Solomon Islands. That was pretty
ugly there. We then went to New
Zealand for rest, refit, training of new recruits and procedures in
preparation for Tarawa. By the time we
actually arrived at Tarawa, I was 24, one of the older guys there at that
that night before the amphibious assault of Tarawa began, I remember being
very worried and scared shitless.
Things did not look good, and a guy has only so much luck. I was in F Company, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marines in the 2nd Marine Division. In
fact, I am one of the last three or four guys who were part of the original
F/2/2 guys to form that unit in late 1941.
With my usual pack, a .45 cal pistol, a Thompson submachine gun with
100 rounds of ammo, I was with a group of about 10 guys who went ashore in
wave to Red Beach 2 on D-Day, 20 November 1943.
way to the beach west of the pier, one of the craft right behind us was blown
up. All or nearly all of the guys in
that boat were killed. I never made
it to the beach in any seriously meaningful way, though, because I was
wounded in the face by shore fire while manning the .50 cal on our craft. All
in all, the ride in was noisy, painful and just a plain stinking awful day.
goal was to secure the beach, but since I was wounded, I never really did any
of that. My total time on Betio during
the Battle of Tarawa lasted about 5 minutes!
As soon as the others I was with in the ride to the beach were dropped
off on shore, I was taken right back to the transport I had come from earlier
in the morning! To this day I
remember climbing up the cargo nets. I
was a bloody mess, literally. To help
myself lighten my load while climbing up, I stopped halfway and dropped some
things in the water, including a Japanese sword I had found on the beach near
to where I had landed. I understand
my family is not too pleased with my actions at that point, but my choice was
simple: me or the sword. I have a beautiful, large and loving family
because I made that decision!
view of how I was wounded, I became very focused on a new my goal: just fight
to stay alive under the new conditions I found myself in. The wound covered a
fairly large area: most of my teeth
were gone, as was part of my tongue.
Half of my left jaw was gone…just gone…none of it left. I couldn’t speak intelligibly from that
point onward for a long, long time. I
lost lots of blood, and I depended totally on others to help me through the
reconstructive surgeries that followed.
Yes, I am grateful to be alive. I am very thankful I had so many good
people caring for me. And I am grateful for the family I love.
young guys left the States to go to war, and so few returned. They are the true heroes! I never got to Camp Tarawa, though I have
heard of it. From Tarawa, I was taken
to the Pearl Harbor Naval Hospital and then was taken to the US Naval
Hospital in San Diego, California.
Over a period of 18 months, I was hospitalized and went through five
or more reconstructive surgeries…at least that is what I remember.
always be proud that I serve and that I was a U.S. Marine. It is so true when you hear people say,
Once a Marine, Always a Marine.
and awards I received during the war include the Presidential Unit Citation
for participating, even if for only a few minutes, in the Tarawa campaign;
the Purple Heart; and seven other medals.
Things got better, though, when I received my honorable discharge. I
am very proud of that. Things got even better, too, because I consider the
extensive medical help I got to repair my wounds to be a hard-earned award
from the military. But far and away
the best thing I have from the war is my bride from New Zealand! She and I met in New Zealand after
Guadalcanal, and we are still together after 67 years!
of Harry Eichman’s sons added the following: “I have attempted to transmit
Dad’s words for you. I am one of his 4
sons and am also a former U.S. Marine.
It is now – and has constantly been – difficult for Dad to express his
feelings or even speak of the war.
This opportunity has been good for all of us in the family.” Harry’s son Tom is also a U.S. Marine with
service in Vietnam. Thanks for your
service, Tom. Tom further relates that
yet another generation of Eichmans have served and presently are serving in
Iraq. Thanks to you “youngins’ for
your service, too! The Eichman Family
certainly are a group of loving and patriotic people of whom all can be
thank you for your service. Your
efforts contributing to victory at Tarawa are every bit as important as those
of others who were there. Your
efforts at Guadalcanal and Tarawa set a superb example for your children,
your grandchildren and many other Americans.
Your sense of duty and grit are admirable and create a story that will
help us remember.
FI, HARRY !
23 November 2010
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