CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- Fifty-seven years have past since the Marines and Sailors of 2d Marine Division were called upon to defend their country during World War II. Their legacy was remembered here Friday during Tarawa Day.
More than 40 veterans of the battle for Tarawa were present at the ceremony that commemorated the battle that claimed about 1,100 American lives.
Rear Admiral Meichi Shibasaki of the Imperial Japanese Fleet said it would have taken the Americans a million men and more than 100 years to take the island. It took the Marines 76 hours and about 4,500 Japanese lives.
The day's event for the Tarawa veterans began with a colors ceremony at Julian C. Smith Hall and a speech by 2d Marine Division Commanding General Maj. Gen. Robert R. Blackman Jr. The event was highlighted by a static display featuring modern-day, sea-to-shore landing crafts at the D-29 range.
"The Marines and Sailors of the Division will always live in the shadow of your legacy. Your presence commands respect from each and everyone here," said the general, referring to the veterans.
The battle began on the morning of Nov. 20, 1943. American assault crafts that approached the island faced Imperial troops who had spent nearly two years fortifying it. Lead companies suffered the heaviest casualties, losing 45 percent or more of their men.
"It was a terrible place, just pure carnage. Bodies were strewn everywhere," recalled battle survivor Dave Dowakin, president of the 2d Marine Division Association.
We knew where we were going wasn't going to be a pretty place, but we never believed it would be as bad as it was, remembered Dowakin, who is from Portland, Ore.
The epic battle, which keyed the Division's phrase "Keep Moving," came to be more than a tiny island seized from the enemy. It validated the Marine Corps war-fighting concept of amphibious warfare, stated retired Maj. Gen. Ray L. Smith during his speech.
Servicemembers from New York City to as far west as Galveston, Texas attended the event that continues to gain popularity among veterans as the years progress.
"I am thankful to be remembered by my brother Marines today. There is not much advice you can give a young Marine put in a similar bad situation, said Robert W. Durr from Sanford, N.C., who served with 18th Marine Regiment, 2d Marine Division during the battle.
"The best thing to do is follow orders. It worked for us and we (Marines) are good at that."