Merry Christmas Guadalcanal
The year 1942 was past in a flash for Gene Ratner. The 18-year-old, received his high school diploma in January five months early. Not wanting to be drafted, Gene enlisted in the Marines. Who knew in 11 months he’d spend his first Christmas away from his parents and friends half way around the world on a tropical island battleground 75 years ago.
The Minneapolis, Minn., native began a snowy train ride to warm and sunny southern California, Camp Pendleton in San Diego. After 13 weeks of weakness leaving his body, Gene never witnessed any evidence that his DI, Drill Instructor, had one sweat gland. The recruits never knew their DI had six shirts starched and perfectly ironed each morning. As soon as one shirt absorbed some sweat, next shirt. The recruits didn’t have to remember anything. Their DI told them when to write home and their next assigned task!
Being converted to the Marine way, the recruits marched for their graduation ceremony. Their adventure continued when they boarded an attack transport to a rock in the south Pacific, New Zealand. At first glance the New Zealand women looked like Americans. All the New Zealand males were serving in the British Army. Those gals were anxious for male attention. However, New Zealand women didn’t shave their arm pits or legs. Only working gals were clean shaven.
Immediately, 2nd Marine Division began their advanced infantry training. Everything the 1st Marine Division learned from fighting the Imperial Japanese Army, IJA, on Guadalcanal was drilled into the “Follow Me” division.
Gene was a member of Company E, 2nd Battalion, Sixth Regiment Second Marine Division. The Second Marines landed on Guadalcanal on Nov. 2, 1942 to relieve the First Marines.
Gene’s division eliminated pockets of IJA troops by helping them die for their Emperor. Having cleared the island, the Second Marine boarded transports on Feb. 8, 1943.
After refitting and training their next objective was an atoll in the Gilbert Islands, Tarawa. The atoll was defended by 4,690 Japanese and Koreans. Second Battalion was assigned to land on Red Beach 1, the west end of the landings.
Imagine you’re in a LVT-1, Land Vehicle Tracked, “Alligator” slowly heading to shore in the first wave to Red Beach – 1. Each Marine had the same questions. “Am I going to make it out of here alive? Who will die on the beach today? I can’t disappoint my buddies.”
The Alligators were heading to their beach. Suddenly, machine gun rounds began piercing through their lightly armored vehicle. The Marines landed at 09:10 hours on November 20, 1943. Non-stop combat continued for 76 hours. By Nov. 23 only one Japanese officer and 17 enlisted men had surrendered. To avoid being captured, some IJA committed suicide saving the Marines ammo.
Most of the Second Marines began evacuating Tarawa on Nov. 24. However, Gene’s 2nd Battalion, Sixth Regiment was given the order to clear the island of Japanese. They provided security while the Seabees constructed an airfield and buried 978 Marines who were KIA, killed in action or DOW, died of wounds.
The Second Marines spent the next six months in Hawaii refitting and training for their next objective, Saipan, one of the Marianna Islands. While the European Theater had about six D-Days, June 6, 1944, was the most publicized. The Pacific Theater had 119 D-Days. D-Day for Saipan was June 15, 1944. Nine days into the battle Gene was severely wounded on June 24. A Japanese hollow point bullet entered his right arm above his elbow, fractured three ribs, punctured his right lung and did a 90 degree turn to exit his back.
The most horrible sight the Marines witnessed was Japanese civilians tossing their children off the cliffs. Then they jumped to the rocks below. The Marines pleaded with the civilians not to jump. The Japanese government had brainwashed the civilians. “The American soldiers will rape and kill you. Choose an honorable death, jump off the cliffs.”
On Sept. 6, 1990, at the Red Lion Inn was the 41st reunion of the Second Marine Division. Fourteen men of Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 6th Regiment gathered together. Gene recorded and transcribed their conversation. The following is part of Gene’s conversation.
“The loud crack of a rifle shot sounded about three feet from my left ear. Spinning around, I saw Bob Thatcher standing over the ditch, his rifle pointed down at the (Japanese man) who was now in a totally different position than when I first observed him. Bob’s arrival was pure luck on my part. His alertness undoubtedly saved my life. Eight days later my luck ran out. An enemy bullet pierced my right lung, bringing my time in E Company to an abrupt end.”
“After five months in the hospital, and a severely damaged right lug, I was declared physically unfit for military service, and discharged with a 40 percent disability on Nov.24, 1944. I returned to Minneapolis where I entered the University of Minnesota for a period of two years. After a variety of jobs, I moved to California where I became employed by Heublein Inc. After 25 years I retired June 1, 1985. Ruth and I now live in Carson City, Nevada.”
There is no rhyme nor reason why one person is killed in action and another never receives a scratch. Gene celebrated his 94th birthday on Nov. 1, 2017. Unfortunately, the right side of his face is swollen. He told me, “I have cancer on the right side of my face and don’t have long to live. I’m 94 and lived a full life. I’ve been married to Ruth for fifty plus years.” Gene has accepted his remaining days. Thank you for your service!
Ken Beaton of Carson City contributes periodically to the Nevada Appeal.