By Jennifer Martin - email
Marine Cecil Payne was part of the first wave of attack on the Pacific island of Tarawa. In just minutes, he suffered a gunshot, shrapnel injuries, and a landmine explosion that ripped apart his arm. He clung to life, shielding himself from gunfire behind a concrete wall, as he waited for reinforcements to arrive. But the second wave of soldiers met an even worse fate than the first.
"They misjudged the tide. The Higgins boats were supposed to be able to come in and of course only the amphibs got there. We had a pier coming out one side of us and there was a big ship on the other side, so we were getting... Once we hopped up on the coral reef, the sky lit up with tracers. It was hitting in front of that amphib and throwing up and were getting bullets from 3 sides. The pier all along this pier, there was a machine gun every five yards.
To lay there on that beach and watch those boys get out of those Higgins boats. Out there 500 yards, trying to wade in over that coral. I've seen whole, 60 men killed before they got to the beach. I remember seeing.. It got down to three. It was two helping one wounded one and all of a sudden two of them went down. And one was trying to make it to a concrete barricade out there in water. I remember closing my eyes and praying that he'd make it. Well, I opened my eyes, couldn't find him. Hour or two later saw him peeping around that barricade, I was the happiest man you ever saw because that poor marine made it to that barricade.
Late that afternoon, somebody told me that there was some kind of a sick bay or first aid station up the wall. So I managed to crawl up the wall to him so he bandaged up my wounds, gave me some morphine, and then during the night a buffalo tractor come in amphib, and carried us out to a ship. It happened to be an American ship. We stayed there a few days, transferred me across in one of those baskets, to another ship, that carried us back to Pearl Harbor to the hospital there.
If you break it down, we lost about 10 times the men per hour as Iwo Jima. So it's considered the bloodiest battle in the history of the marine corp."
From Pearl Harbor, he was put on a hospital ship and sent back to the mainland.
"Admiral Nimitz, commander of the war in the Pacific, pinned the purple heart on us while we were on that ship before we left Pearl Harbor."
He spent time in the naval hospital in San Diego and later performed limited duties at the base there, while going back and forth to the hospital until his discharge in December 1944.
"There was a lot of heroes there, but a lot of us, just lucky to survive. "
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