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Friday, May 14, 2004
Local man remembers landing on Gilbert Islands during WWII
By FRANK WALLIS
Bulletin Staff Writer
Bulletin Photo by Kevin Pieper
EDITOR'S NOTE: With this story, The Baxter Bulletin begins a series of stories featuring veterans of the Twin Lakes Area. The intent of the series is to honor the men and women who served and to expand The Bulletin's capacity as a source of information on WWII and the Korean War for future generations. The series will cover all aspects of service at home and abroad -- from mail call to the mess hall to the battle front. To suggest veteran candidates for this series, e-mail Frank Wallis at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (870) 508-8056.
Tour of Duty
On Aug. 17, 1942, Duane Paulson, owner of Cotter Hobbies, landed with a battalion of U.S. Marines on an atoll in the Gilbert Islands in the U.S. military's first and only ground assault launched from submarines.
By day's end, the Marines had killed 83 Japanese and lost 14 to enemy fire. The victory made way for the later destruction of a Japanese airfield that had been part of a vital supply line in Japan's Pacific war plan.
By November, Col. Evan Carlson's 2nd Raider Marine Battalion, including Paulson, would become U.S. Marine legends -- America's first guerilla fighting force for 30 days behind enemy lines on Guadalcanal.
"Near as I could tell, it was the quickest way I could (confront an enemy soldier)," said Paulson of his decision to enlist. "We were at war, and it was the thing for a young man to do."
It was not unprecedented in the Paulson family. His father, Martin Paulson, fought with the Army in France during WWI.
"He got shot up," said Paulson. "I saw him cry for the first time when I left. I wondered what the hell the crying was about. Then, when my son left for Vietnam, I was crying."
During the year before Paulson's enlistment in the Marines, he accepted a football scholarship to attend George Washington University in Washington D.C. "I made a mess of that," he said. Besides being too small to play at the position of defensive tackle, he was distressed academically by "lots of women, cheap whiskey and no legal drinking age."
On the beach
Paulson, now 81, said the Makin assault made encouraging headlines in the United States, but the weather made the landing in rubber boats and retreat from the atoll a challenge that would push the Marines to their physical limits.
"We trained in 20-to-25 foot surf and thought if we can land in that we can land in anything," said Paulson. "We landed in 7- to 8-foot surf. One wave right behind the other didn't give us time to recover in between."
Eight men in each boat paddled the entire way to shore. Because of the uncooperative surf, the battalion was in disarray when it landed, but the expert guns of the Raider Marines would still shoot straight that day.
On shore, an errant discharge from a Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR) was believed to have given away the Marines' position. Paulson said the Japanese had spied the Marines before they landed on the beach. After the shot rang out he ran as hard as he could straight into the jungle until he hit a single strand of barbed wire stretched about mid-chest high between trees.
He broke the wire, but it slammed him onto his back in the process and separated him from his rifle. As he was recovering from the fall, Paulson said, he saw a single Japanese patrol retreating from the area.
"I could have shot him. I should have shot him," said Paulson. It wasn't long before a fire fight was under way.
Twice the Japanese charged straight into the Marines and were mowed down under fire. Paulson said Col. Carlson didn't know it at the time, but most of the Japanese on the atoll had been killed by the end of the second charge. Paulson said there was a president's son on the ground during all the shooting, too -- Maj. James Roosevelt, who would later lead the 4th Battalion of Raider Marines.
Leaving the island against the surf proved impossible for some in the battalion. Col. Carlson would remain behind with a handful of men who ultimately carried boats to a bay across the island to rendezvous with the submarines out of the wind and surf.
'The Long Patrol'
After five days of "R and R" following Makin, Paulson went with the B Company in the 2nd Battalion on "The Long Patrol," believed to be the longest WWII patrol of its kind. Paulson said the Japanese believed they "had an exclusive" on guerilla warfare. The Long Patrol ended with 488 enemy killed, and 32 killed or wounded for the 2nd Raiders.
"They didn't think the soft, decadent Americans could do it," said Paulson. "We surprised them every day."
Paulson said he entered the jungle weighing about 208 pounds and was one of about 400 Marines to finish the patrol. Malnourished at the end of the patrol, Paulson said he weighed 120 pounds and was hospitalized a while in New Zealand. There, he discovered a little know fact about New Zealand.
"New Zealand sent the highest percentage of men per capita into the war than any other allied country," said Paulson. In other words, there were a lot of available women in New Zealand, he said.
Paulson said the delivery of food to Raider Marines during The Long Patrol was a problem for the military. Airplanes would drop rations -- including rice, slab bacon, raisins and sugar -- to the Marines on the ground. Cutting holes in the jungle canopy for the drops was work enough to burn up all the calories the rations provided. Paulson said he learned to fry rice and bananas in the bacon fat.
"I don't recall a day without food, but it was hard to get the calories we needed to do what we were doing," said Paulson.
Col. Carlson learned guerilla warfare from the Japanese as a U.S. emissary assisting the Chinese at war with Japan before WWII.
"He brought a lot of new ideas," said Paulson.
Carlson introduced the fire group patrol, a group of three marines armed with BARs, tommy guns and M1 rifles. The relatively complex movement of a battalion divided into companies and fire groups made for slow but efficient movement through the jungle.
Paulson said his bullets found their mark for sure twice during the patrol.
"It didn't feel very good," said Paulson of the experience of killing the enemy. "I was taught strictly against it in Sunday school.
"I never knew of anyone who liked to kill, but there were some who handled it well," Paulson said.
After the war
Carlson has been a businessman since completing his 12-year military career. His expert marksmanship once earned him a job guarding a nuclear facility. He was four times reactivated by the Marines, first as a rifle coach during the Korean War and three times during peacetime to compete with U.S. Marine Corps shooting teams in international marksmanship contests. He once shot with a team to one point shy of a world championship.
He was motivated politically once to work for the 1964 GOP presidential campaign of Sen. Barry Goldwater.
"I haven't found anyone since who was worthy of that kind of effort," said Paulson.
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Originally published Friday, May 14, 2004
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