World War II Marine recalls Battle of Tarawa

Minard Willson, 91, of Mountain Home took bomb shrapnel to a leg on Guadalcanal and got his left arm shot to smithereens on Saipan, but somehow dodged everything in the battle that some historians have called the “fiercest and fastest” of the World War II Pacific Theater — Tarawa.

Minard Willson (Bulletin Photo by Kevin Pieper)

Willson was a sergeant with charge over 12 Marines in a force of 12,000 U.S. Marines that fought on Tarawa from the Corps’ 2nd Division.

The amphibious landing started at 9 a.m. Nov. 20, 1943, on the tiny island of Betio in the Tarawa Atoll.

Seventy-two hours later, 978 U.S. Marines and 4,690 Japanese defenders were dead. The Marines listed 3,160 as U.S. casualties on Tarawa. One Japanese officer, 18 enlisted Japanese Marines and 129 Korean forced laborers survived the battle, according the U.S. Army Center of Military History.

“That was a horrible fight and a terrible slaughter,” said Willson during an interview at his home. “Everything was so close. The Japs had no place to go.”

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