Some of the best lessons I learned in life came from when we attacked the Japanese at Tarawa, Saipan and Tinian.  That is when I learned my most valuable lesson:  that life is so precious.  Every day can have something very special to look forward to, and something good can come from every day.  It pays to keep a positive outlook and be ready for whatever life throws your way.  
At age 19, I voluntarily enlisted in the United States Marine Corps.  The date was 11 December 1942.  I came from Harrison, Michigan, about 150 miles northwest of Detroit. My 20th birthday was in New Zealand.  Fourteen weeks later, as a 60mm mortar man in Company G, 2nd Battalion, Eighth Marines, we were at Tarawa in the fourth wave wading in to Red Beach 3, not too far to the east of the long Government Pier.   Looking back now from the vantage point of my 90 years, I still remember things happening quite fast.
On 1 November 1943, we left New Zealand on the USS Heywood (APA-6), and I have since learned a lot about her storied career during World War II.  
USS Heywood (APA-6)
Heywood was originally built in 1919 for the Baltimore Mail Line and named SS Steadfast.  Acquired by the Navy on 26 October 1940, she underwent extensive conversion, becoming the first in the Heywood-class of attack transports.  
In August 1942, Heywood participated in the South Pacific campaign (Operation Watchtower) in the Solomon Islands, at Tulagi and Guadalcanal, by bringing infantry and supplies to the battle and evacuating the wounded and prisoners to Australia.  In November and December 1942, she was back at Guadalcanal. In early May 1943 in the North Pacific, she was active in the amphibious landings in the Aleutian Islands of Attu (Operation Landgrab) and Kiska (Operation Cottage) before returning to San Francisco with wounded veterans.  Then with fresh infantry and supplies she returned to the Aleutians to debark those men for occupation duty on Kiska, arriving there on 15 August 1943. By early October 1943, she was back in the South Pacific, in New Zealand, in amphibious assault training exercises preparing for our next campaign.
I was on board Heywood when we left Wellington on 1 November 1943, and, ominously, we learned when we boarded that she was fitted out to serve as a hospital ship during and after our next campaign. 
Heywood landed infantry at Tarawa on 20 November and returned to Pearl Harbor on 3 December for more amphibious assault training.
In late January 1944, Heywood was in the Marshall Islands bringing men and supplies to the amphibious landings on Kwajalein, Majuro and Eniwetok.  In mid-June and mid-July respectively, she landed troops at Saipan and Tinian.   On 20 October, she was in the east, central Philippines landing troops at Leyte Gulf on 20 October. 
he S.S. City of Baltimore approaching the Landing Stage
S.S. City of Baltimore in the livery of the Baltimore Mail Line, pre-World War II
On 9 January 1945, Heywood landed troops at Lingayen Gulf on the west side of Luzon in the Philippines.  A month later, she landed reinforcements on Mindoro in the west, central Philippines, and, after overhaul Stateside on the West Coast, she returned to the Western Pacific to land reinforcements at Okinawa in the spring of 1945. She was in the Philippines when Japan declared its surrender on 15 August (six days after our atomic attack on Nagasaki); was in Tokyo Bay on 2 September when the formal surrender of all Imperial Japanese forces was accepted on board the USS Missouri; and brought occupation troops into Tokyo Bay on 8 September 1945. 
All told, by the end of the war, Heywood had earned seven battle stars.  She returned Stateside in early 1946 when she was put into the Reserve Fleet until 1957 when she was scrapped. 
About a week out of Wellington, we arrived off the southwest coast of Efate Island in the New Hebrides, a large island group in the South Pacific some 650 nautical miles west northwest due Fiji. 
:LTVR TOOLS:EFATE stuff:Map_of_approach_to_Efate_Island.jpg
A WWII US Navy Seabee map of Efate, New Hebrides
We were in Task Unit 53.1.1 of Transport Division Four of Task Group 53.1 Transport Group … all part of Task Force 53!  For almost a week, we had to wait for some other vessels to arrive and join our convoy.  We used our time productively for the duration of the wait by practicing more amphibious landings.  
Some of these landings took place in the Havannah Harbor area on the northwest coast where construction of a naval support base was begun by personnel of the 101st Engineer Regiment of the US Army’s Americal Division, some 19 months before we arrived.
Cronin, Francis. Under The Southern Cross: The Saga of the Americal Division. Boston:             Americal Division Veterans Association, 1978. 15-16, 31-32.
Havannah Harbor, Efate Island, New Hebrides (now, Republic of Vanuatu)
Other practice landings took place at Mele Bay on Efate’s southwest coast.
Mele Bay, Efate Island, New Hebrides (now, Republic of Vanuatu)
For us Marines, Efate was heaven compared to the hell we would soon face.
Years later, with historical hindsight, I was to learn that shortly before we left Efate, Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Commander-in-Chief, Pacific Fleet and Pacific Ocean Areas, had Operation Galvanic (that’s us Marines!) us in mind when he said,
"Our time has come to attack!"
We left Efate on 13 November 1943.  Inexorably, our convoy continued the long trek from New Zealand on a north, northeast heading toward our still unannounced destination.  Out on the open ocean, our convoy could be seen for miles ahead in all directions. 
A representative photograph of a US Navy convoy in WW II
This convoy was an impressive sight!  The men of the 2nd Marine Division (Reinforced), consisting of three infantry regiments (2nd, 6th and 8th) were carried in at least eleven transports.  We were reinforced by an artillery regiment (10th); a combat support regiment (18th), with engineers, pioneers and Seabees; at least two tank companies; a medical battalion; and an amphibious tractor battalion.  
Also, ready to protect our convoy en route to our destination and ready to provide fire support from offshore positions during the ensuing battles was an impressive array of vessels:  three battleships, two heavy cruisers; three light cruisers; three aircraft carriers; and nine destroyers. As well, we were joined by more vessels carrying portions of the US Army’s 27th Infantry Division. 
A few days out of Efate, all Marines were notified that Tarawa and Abemama Atolls in the Gilbert Islands were to be our destination.  The Marines’ primary target was Tarawa, described as a strategic and recently reinforced stronghold for the Japanese.  Importantly, Betio Island at Tarawa Atoll (the site of the main battle) had an airfield of strategic importance.  Our southern flank was to be secured by our defeat of the small Japanese garrison on Abemama Atoll, about 80 nautical miles southeast of Tarawa.  Our northern flank was to be secured by the 27th Infantry Division’s defeat of the small Japanese garrison on Makin Atoll, about 105 nautical miles north Betio.  The Japanese control of Tarawa Atoll and nearby atolls was described as being a threat to the security of supply and communications lines between the United States and her allies in New Zealand and Australia.  These were the reasons given to explain and justify upcoming events.
We were also told that pre-attack naval and air bombardment of Betio  - “the greatest concentration of aerial bombardment and naval gunfire in the history of warfare” - would neutralize any opposition we might encounter, but events proved that was an empty promise with tragic and costly ramifications.  
In fact, on 19 November 1943, Major General Julian C. Smith, Commander of the 2nd Marine Division, had the following message read to all officers and men:
“A great offensive to destroy the enemy in the central Pacific has begun.  American air, sea, and land forces, of which this division is a part, initiate this offensive by seizing Japanese-held atolls in the Gilbert Islands, which will be used for future operations.  The task assigned to us is to capture the atolls of Tarawa and Abemama. Army units of our Fifth Amphibious Corps are simultaneously attacking Makin, 150 miles north of Tarawa.
For the past 3 days Army, Navy, and Marine Corps aircraft have been carrying out bombardment attacks on our objectives.  They are neutralizing, and will continue to neutralize, other Japanese air bases adjacent to the Gilbert Islands.
Early this morning combatant ships of our Navy bombarded Tarawa.  Our Navy screens our operations and will support our attack tomorrow morning with the greatest concentration of aerial bombardment and naval gunfire in the history of warfare.
It will remain with us until our objective is secured and our defenses are established.  Garrison forces are already enroute to relieve us as soon as we have completed our job of clearing our objective of Japanese forces.
This division was especially chosen by the high command for the assault on Tarawa because of its battle experience and its combat efficiency.  Their confidence will not be betrayed.  We are the first American troops to attack a defended atoll.  What we do here will set a standard for all future operations in the central Pacific area.  Observers from other Marine divisions and from other branches of our armed services, as well as those of our allies, have been detailed to witness our operations.  Representatives of the press are present.  Our people back home are eagerly awaiting news of our victories.
I know that you are well-trained and fit for the tasks assigned to you.  You will quickly overrun the Japanese forces; you will decisively defeat and destroy the treacherous enemies of our country; your success will add new laurels to the glorious tradition of our troops.  
Good luck and God bless you all.”
In the darkness of night on 19/20 November 1943, Task Force 53.1 arrives off the west coast of Betio Island … the westerly-most and largest island in Tarawa Atoll.  The stage is set for what would eventually be called “Bloody Tarawa” and one of the most significant Marine Corps battles in history.
On Saturday, 20 November 1943, we are awakened at about 0300.  We check all our gear once more.  In my case that means my M1 carbine and 10 - 12 clips of ammo, each clip containing about 12 rounds. You better believe it: we know we have to conserve our ammo!  I also have with me one 60mm (2.36” diameter) mortar tube in my pack.  As well, I’ve got a gas mask; a first aid pouch; and some grenades. We’ve had a good breakfast of steak and eggs, and I remember a doctor saying that all that food might not be the best for us in terms of trying to digest it while in combat. 
Heywood finds its anchorage at Transport Area Baker (a few miles out to sea, southwest of Temakin Point on Betio Island). With some of my squad, we’ve gone out went on deck to watch the Navy shell Betio.   It didn’t take long, though, for Heywood to be repositioned to Transport Area Able (a few miles further out to sea and northwest off the northwest point of Betio, often called the “Bird’s Beak” because of its contours). In darkness, debarkation began as Marines begin crawling down cargo nets strung down the sides of Heywood and board amtracs (amphibious tractors) and LCVPs (landing craft, vehicle, personnel). 
I remember going over the rail and scrambling down cargo nets to a LCVP (Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel; also commonly called a Higgins boat) rising and falling on the ocean swells.  Not easy doing that in the dark way back then, and only a little less difficult in daylight.  
Based on calculations aided by the U.S. Naval Observatory Astronomical Applications Department, the next photograph was obviously taken after I had boarded the LCVP.  The photograph was taken in the early daylight hours after sunrise (0611) on D-Day, 20 November 1943.  This calculation is based on the presence of full daylight, the clear images in the distance and the number of smaller craft appearing in foreground and distance. Heywood is seen on the left, middle distance offloading amtracs shortly before they and their precious cargo - our Marines - depart for their run to Red Beach 3 on Betio’s northern shore.  By the time this photograph was taken, I had already departed Heywood for the rendezvous area used prior to our departure for Red 3.