Presentation Date: April 28, 2005
CPL Robert L. Bob George USMC, WWII
* Machine Gunner, A-1-10, 2nd MARINE Division (A Battery, 1st Battalion, 10th Regiment, 2nd Division)
* Fought & Survived Four(4) Major Battles In 33 Months--the Longest, Hardest Part of WWII: GUADALCANAL, TARAWA, SAIPAN & TINIAN
* Shipped Overseas January 6th, 1941, 30 Days After Pearl Harbor Attack * Authored Book Too Young To Vote-- TARAWA, Guadalcanal, Saipan, Tinian
* From American Samoa To GUADALCANAL ( Solomon Is.) November 1942; TARAWA (Gilbert Is); SAIPAN (Marianas Is.) May 1943; TINIAN (Marianas Is.) June 1944. In Addition, Enroute To SAIPAN, Bob Was "Caught" In the Tragic "Pearl Harbor II" Disaster! * Machine Gunner, A-1-10, 2nd MARINE Division (A Battery, 1st Battalion, 10th Regiment, 2nd Division)
* Fought & Survived Four(4) Major Battles In 33 Months--the Longest, Hardest Part of WWII: GUADALCANAL, TARAWA, SAIPAN & TINIAN
* Grew Up In Talequah, OK, the Home & End of the "Trail of Tears", Cherokees
* Hitch-Hiked From Edge of Ozark Mts. to Oklahoma City to Enlist in Marines
* On 4th Attempt, Sworn-In One Day Before Turning 17
* Completed Marine Boot Camp-San Diego September, 1941
* Shipped Overseas January 6th, 1941, 30 Days After Pearl Harbor Attack
* From American Samoa To GUADALCANAL ( Solomon Is.) November 1942; TARAWA (Gilbert Is); SAIPAN (Marianas Is.) May 1943; TINIAN (Marianas Is.) June 1944. In Addition, Enroute To SAIPAN, Bob Was "Caught" In the Tragic "Pearl Harbor II" Disaster!
*TARAWA Itself Was the Worst Loss of Life, Per Square Foot, In History: In Only 76 Hours, greater than 6,000 Dead (1262 Marines; 5,000 Enemy)
* Among Other Writings, Wrote Poem A Few Good , "Very Young" Men
* Authored Book Too Young To Vote-- TARAWA, Guadalcanal, Saipan, Tinian
* During the 33 Months Bob George Fought Combat, the 2nd Marine Division suffered 90% Losses (Evacuated or Killed)!
* Ready To Fight For His Country Even More, He Shipped Out Again to the Pacific, But the B-29 Enola Gay And Its Atomic Bomb Finally Ended WWII
* Returning To USA After 33 Months of Combat, Treated Badly By Civilians, Causing Bob & Buddies to Realize They Still Weren't Recognized As Adults Because They Were "Too Young To Vote".
* Decades Later, When Looking Into the Mirror, They Realized They Were Aging & Aged Warriors, But Now "Old Enough To Vote!"
Bob George represents one of our "Greatest Generation", who fought in desperate pivotal battles that truly helped save Freedom. His story tells about the real warriors--the young kids, hardened in the Great Depression and trained in the Marines. He helps us retain what they accomplished, so it will not be forgotten or lost.
Marine at Tarawa
CPL Robert "Bob" L. George, USMC, WWII
Bob George had become a U.S. Marine five and a half months before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Born and raised in Talequah, Oklahoma, he grew up hunting with a .22 caliber rifle. But more often, due to the cost of ammunition, he used bow and arrow.
Bob’s decision to join the Marines came while he was still 16 years old, and he pursued his goal by hitchhiking from home with his parents permission to enlist. A recruiter rejected him twice - - the first time because he was too young, the second time because he was considered physically too small.
Yet, persistence brought Bob to the Corps even though he was under age. The recruiter said he should be 17 by the time he had traveled to the Marine Corps base in San Diego. Bob was actually sworn in as a Marine one day before his 17th birthday.
Basic training at Camp Eliott, California turned a 5’4”, 118 pound teenager into a Private, a member of the Marine Second Division.
A young man growing up during the Great Depression, his biggest wage to date had been six dollars a month for twenty hours of work, paid by the National Youth Authority. Marine pay wasn’t great, but was better.
“We didn’t make much money in those days; we were paid 21 dollars a month. We had 6 dollars taken out for laundry and this sort of thing. So on the first we got seven dollars and on the fifteenth, eight dollars. And it didn’t go very far.”
By the time training he had ended, he had been molded into a machine gunner in A Battery, 1st Battalion, 10th Regiment, Second Division - - A-1-10.
When America was attacked on December 7th, 1941, Bob George didn’t know where Pearl Harbor was. And while Bob admitted to being worldly naive, even the U.S. Marine Corps had its weaknesses. Though the Marines were considered international police and could go ashore without a declaration of war, the Corps was ill prepared for America’s entry into World War II.
Bob recalls his unit being trucked down to the beach in San Diego, to prepare to defend it against a possible Japanese assault, “It took twelve machine guns to make four that would fire.”
Fortunately there was no Japanese landing, and his unit was re-posted to provide security for the Consolidated Aircraft Company in San Diego.
“We set our guns on each corner of the building, old water-cooled .50 caliber machine guns. For the next 72 hours or so, they’d bring coffee and sandwiches across the fence from the base to us.”
The only action the machine gunners got came on the third morning when they received an alert of unidentified planes between Los Angeles and San Diego. The gunners loaded and laid out extra ammunition, but only heard the unsynchronized engines of airplanes flying perhaps 30,000 feet above, well out of the range of their guns.
A few days later, the Marines began loading on the SS Lurline, a converted luxury liner that had been painted sea blue. On January 6, 1942, only thirty days after Pearl Harbor, they steamed unescorted into the Pacific Ocean.
“We didn’t know how good we had it, because we loaded aboard that thing and had individual state rooms, waiters waiting on us in the kitchen... all kinds of good things we would wish we had later.
The liner steamed past a still smoldering Pearl Harbor and straight to U.S. Samoa, which was still being shelled by a Japanese submarine.
The next stop was the Solomons Islands, specifically Guadalcanal, the site of a pivotal Pacific War battle. It would become the first conflict in 500 years in which Japanese forces would be clearly and soundly defeated.
“The First Marine Division had gotten in and took the airbase (Henderson Field), but then the Japanese came in a big task force, because they had air and sea superiority. The Japanese were landing 20-to-30 thousand troops at a time, landing them anywhere they wanted to.”
Bob remembers spending more time in foxholes than on the ground for several weeks, seeking cover from Japanese air attacks and shellings from battleships and cruisers. For food, he and his fellow Marines mostly ate canned fish heads and rice the Japanese engineers had left behind when they vacated the airfield.
While near Henderson, word came that the Marines needed aerial gunners for their dive bombers, and George expressed interest in becoming one. What Bob would need to learn to be eligible for transfer was Morse code, and he was told he could learn that.
But, Bob says his Captain saw the transfer paperwork, “blew his top” and tore up the papers. Later when George went down to Henderson Field he saw returning dive bombers full of huge holes in them, their machine gunners being pulled out with serious wounds. He was glad the Captain had ended his quest to become an aerial gunner.
George recalls conditions on Guadalcanal which made living there, much less fighting there, a big risk. Water and mud filled shoes and oppressive humid air rotted uniforms off the Marines’ backs.
“There were all kinds of jungle diseases, malaria, dysentery, yellow fever... and I guess most of us got everything.”
After surviving Guadalcanal, the Second Division received well deserved R&R, and more training. They got both in a great locale and with the most hospitable people of New Zealand.
The Second Marines had time to heal, take on replacements and appreciate life as they prepared for their next assault against the enemy. Two of the replacements would provide the unit with a bonus - - entertainment.
“We had a couple, three guys who were gambling every night, poker players, drinking beer. They went down to the carnival in Wellington, and had won these two little ducks. And they named them after each other. One was Swede Erickson, the other was Siwash Corneillius. “Siwash” was Swede’s duck, and “Swede” was Siwash’s duck.
“They grew up on beer. They just kept pouring them beer and they drank beer...”
Maneuvers in New Zealand included early morning practice landings, to teach replacement Marines how to hit a beach. Simulating battle conditions, the troops would practice setting up guns, establishing a beachhead and moving inland. Then they’d pack everything back up on ship and wait for the next morning to do it all again. The ducks “Swede” and “Siwash” came along and took part in these practice landings.
Somewhere along the way, as he fattened up on beer, “Swede” disappeared. Bob believes he might have ended up in a cooking pot.
“Siwash” though, soldiered on, conducting early morning reveille by quacking into tents as he toured the Marine camp. The duck was headed into Marine history, making a name for himself as a combatant at Tarawa.
Tarawa was an atoll, a coral reef surrounding the tiny island of Betio. It was defended by about 4,700 Imperial Japanese Marines, dug into fortified positions - - pillboxes, bunkers and connecting tunnels. U.S. Marines were told island defenses would be pulverized by a naval bombardment before they landed, mostly in shallow draft Higgins boats and LCVPs.
An error in calculating Tarawa’s tides left those boats trying to navigate treacherous coral reefs at ebb tide.
“The tides would have been all right if we’d had amtracs (amphibious tractors). But only the first couple of waves had amtracs, the rest had Higgins boats. The Higgins boats just wouldn’t go over the coral reef. They were getting hung up there, and the guys, some of them were falling out in deep water with all of their equipment on, neck deep, waist deep, whatever.
“Then they had to wade for probably 600 yards, most of them . And there was machine gun and rifle fire that was crisscrossed to target them all the way up. We found out later that the island had been set up that way.
George offloaded at a pier as his boat was sinking, having been hit by enemy fire. He and his buddies were able to salvage two machine guns and ten boxes of .50 caliber ammunition. Due to withering enemy machine gun fire through that night, George was only able to inch up the pier to the relative safety of the seawall. The next morning he was ordered to recover much needed .30 caliber ammunition from the end of the pier, and George responded with two trips back through that gauntlet of fire.
Bob George’s condensed, 150 page book, "Too Young To Vote", is one of the few first person accounts of Tarawa. It details his experiences on Tarawa, including the heroism of Lt. William Dean Hawkins, who single-handedly took out several Japanese machine gun positions and snipers. Later "Hawk" was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
At the end of 76 hours, the U.S. Marines had taken Betio.
“The old (Japanese) general, they captured him the second day. And he swore it would take a million men a thousand years to take that island. It took about five thousand Marines three days to take it, but we lost a lot of men and most of them were teenagers.”
The official count of U.S. Marine losses was 1,026. Bob George says he knows losses must have been greater, as the chaplain gave him a hard count of 1262 dogtags removed from Marine dead on the island.
“There were a lot of dogtags we didn’t cut because of pilots... who said they could smell the island from 5000 feet altitude. One radioed he could see sharks eating Japanese bodies out in the water. Japanese bodies weren’t out in the water, they were on the land. The Marines were out in the water. They’re the ones who had to wade in.
“So we don’t how many the sharks ate... but they ate a lot that never got credited as being killed in action. I would judge probably 1600 to 1800 marines lost their lives there in three days. And even that would probably be an underestimate.”
The Battle for Tarawa has a grisly distinction as the worst loss of life per square foot. Six thousand men, U.S. Marines and Imperial Japanese Marines, were killed on a tiny atoll about one third the size of New York’s Central Park.
Four Congressional Medals of Honor were given to Marines for their heroic acts on Tarawa. The painful lessons learned in this first Allied landing against fortified beaches made possible the successes at Normandy, Saipan, Iwo Jima and other amphibious operations.
As for the duck “Siwash”, he secured his place in military history when the Marines clung to the seawall on Tarawa’s beachhead. George says the beer drinking duck appeared on top of the wall, fighting a rooster that had been among some chickens the Japanese had had caged on the pier.
Though bloodied by pecks to his head, “Siwash” threw the rooster and chased him off. The duck’s victory and parade down the seawall buoyed the Marines. After sweeping the duck off the wall, they began pouring fire back at Japanese bunkers and pillboxes.
The duck was commended by Battalion Commander Col. Presley Rixey for his courageous action and the wounds he sustained. George says he was awarded the Purple heart and promoted to Sergeant. “Siwash” not only made “picture of the week” in the January, 1944 edition of Life magazine, but went on a war bond tour.
“Siwash” would later make both the Saipan and Tinian landings, along with Bob George and fellow Marines.
After Tarawa, the Second Marines came to Hawaii to rest and re-equip.
Parker Ranch, on the big island of Hawaii, gave the US Marine Corps a strip of land for a camp. It became known as Camp Tarawa, in honor of the Marine sacrifices in storming that atoll. Bob remembers Camp Tarawa was cold and damp, a climate which would help troops break the malaria they’d brought with them.
“The malaria we’d got on Guadalcanal was not like most malaria you get other places. At the time the doctors were telling us that malaria would make you real sick and all that, but it wasn’t life threatening.
“The same day they put out that communiqué six guys died and several more were on the critical list. So they started shipping them back to the States or to a cold climate, because this was a mutated type of malaria.”
Training on Hawaii was conducted from LSTs (Landing Ship, Tanks), which could carry amtracs, LCTs (Landing Craft, Tanks), and smaller LCVPs (Landing Craft, Vehicles and Personnel). Part of that training included using amtracs to get from landing ships through the surf and across beaches.
George says in between landing exercises, a storm hit the island, the ocean’s fury breaking cables holding LCTs, which crushed troops sleeping in and under the boats.
“I think we lost about eighty men. We waited until the next morning and rendezvoused and everybody that was found was dead, floating. Some of them had their life preservers, but they were dead.
The risks of men and ships carrying fuel and ammunition were indelibly marked on the men in another event, later to become known as the “Second Pearl Harbor”.
George says that on May 21, 1944, he was aboard one of several LSTs preparing for the invasion of Saipan. The ships, anchored in Pearl Harbor’s West Loch, were packed with tanks, trucks, guns and ammunition. Fuel, in 55 gallon drums, was lashed to the fantail of the landing craft.
“They warned us not to smoke around there,” remembers George. “We were up in the front.”
“I’ve heard two or three different stories, but the one I think actually happened... because the first thing I knew, I saw this LST blow up... and everything just went in every direction.
“Then the next LST in line blew. We got three in a row blowing and we were ready to dive off, but were evidently far enough away that the chain reaction didn’t catch us. And our didn’t blow. But I found out later that three more blew the other way. So they lost six LSTs, with all the men and all the equipment. And almost everyone was killed. There were one or two survivors I heard about.”
The men and equipment were quietly replaced, and secrecy about the incident imposed to avoid tipping off the enemy about the invasion of Saipan.
On June 15th, 1944, the invasion fleet, carrying Marines from the 2nd and 4th Divisions put to sea.
This landing at Saipan was different, as the LSTs came right to the beach, dropped the ramp and Bob and his unit ran out the ramp onto the beach. George was in the fifth wave, perhaps less hazardous than for Marines in the first wave, except that the Japanese had sighted in on the beachhead and could shoot right down into the landing ships.
“They warned us that we had to get off that beach as fast as we could. We lost more battalion commanders in that first day than in any other battle we were ever in. Battalion commanders were really open season for the Japanese because they had their guns on Mount Tapotchao. We’d landed at the base of it.”
Saipan’s importance to the Allied island hopping campaign towards Japan was its ability to provide an airbase for B-29s, bombers with the range to strike the Japanese homeland from there.
Tinian was the next major target. Securing the island required seven days, during which Bob George had his 20th birthday.
Meanwhile, Congress had established a Rotation Plan for combat troops. Anybody that had been over 24 months at war was entitled to rotate back to the states for six months. At that point, Bob had already been at war for thirty-three months!
Three more months passed before he was shipped back home. Bob describes two ships carrying home the Second Marines - - one to the East coast with 621 men, the second ship to the West coast with 650 men on board. This was the total manpower left from a Division that had been about 18,000 men strong when it went to the Pacific in 1942. During the 33 months Bob George was in combat, the Second Marine Division suffered greater than 90% losses, whether evacuated or killed!
“I know we didn’t look good. We still had our old rag clothes on, were dirty and filthy. They put us on an old scow that had everything but water. After several days they brought us into Treasure Island, then bused us down to the train depot to do some paperwork before shipping us to San Diego.”
There, George looked around at the young boys he’d fought alongside for nearly three years, boys now battle hardened soldiers. That day, these young men dressed in clean new uniforms, and they went separate ways to live individual lives, forever unified by their Pacific War experiences.
As an amazing postscript to his time as a Marine in these pivotal battles of the Pacific War, Bob spoke of the camera and film he’d taken with him to Guadalcanal. He’d taken all but three shots on the roll, but the camera disappeared when George was leaving the island on a Navy ship, and went to a Thanksgiving style dinner on board.
Forty-seven years later, prints of his photographs were found in the locker of a deceased member of the Second Marines. The soldier’s son-in-law contacted Bob and returned the photos and muster roles from Guadalcanal.
Bob George exemplifies the thousand of young men who sacrificed everything to help defend their country, then formed the nucleus of the "Greatest Generation."
Anyone interested in Bob George's book can inquire through the Golden Gate Wing, CAF.