A Tracy Marine in the Western Pacific – B
Last week we met Tracy’s Art Marben and learned how he enlisted in the Marine Corps’ V-12 officer training program in October 1942 while enrolled at Augsburg College.
The Marines moved him to Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter for a year and then to Boot Camp at Parris Island, South Carolina. Art graduated from Boot Camp and attended Officer Candidate School (OCS) at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. Art graduated from OCS in late 1944 and accepted a commission as a Marine Corps 2nd lieutenant.
The Marines sent Art by train to San Diego, where he boarded a crowded troopship headed to the South Pacific. Art explained how that passage was unique beyond that it was his first time at sea.
“About the third day out, I was Troop Officer of the Day and I had to go down in the troop compartments. I got down there – bunk after bunk after bunk. It’s not just a bunk here and a bunk here — there were 2-3 above it! And the first few days out, they didn’t have their sea legs yet. They were throwing up. It was some place! I had a hard time keeping from getting seasick. After a while when we got our sea legs, things straightened out, but it wasn’t a good situation.”
Once he got his sea legs, Art enjoyed the slow passage and hanging out with his fellow officers.
“(I) just enjoyed talking and going up to watch the pitch and roll of the ship. There was no entertainment as far as movies or anything. The companionship of the fellas you were with was worth it.”
He smiled, remembering a group of Australian officers quartered with them on that passage.
“There were some Australian boys there, too. I went to breakfast one day and came back and this one Aussie was still in his bunk and he said, ‘Hi, mate! What’d you have for breakfast?’ (Art spoke in an affected Australian accent.) I said, ‘Steak and eggs.’ ‘Steak and eggs!’ he said. He got up and scampered to breakfast in a hurry. Those Aussie boys, they were something else!” Art concluded, laughing.”
Art disembarked from the troopship at a replacement detachment on the small South Pacific island of Mbnika, near Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands. Art described the good life on Mbnika.
“The island of Mbenika – a veritable paradise and I mean that! We were put in thatched huts – no tents. I recall there was an inland pool. When the tide came in, it filled that pool with ocean water and it was crystal clear. I could see the bottom of that pool. I’d dive in . . . and I couldn’t get down there.”
Art explained how that paradise did not last long.
“I was assigned to the 1st Marine Division, which was on the island of Pavuvu. (It was) infested with rats. During the night . . . you could hear them on our tent.”
Art described a disturbing incident involving those rats that motivated him to seek reassignment.
“A major had received a package from home of food and he ate that. He forgot to tuck the mosquito netting around his bunk and a rat got in there and bit him on the lip during the night. I thought, ‘I want to get out of this place.’ So, I went down to the Adjutant and asked if there were any billets open on Guadalcanal. I wanted to get to Guadalcanal because some of my buddies were (there) in the 6th Marine Division.”
The Adjutant, a military personnel officer, sent Art on temporary duty to the Marine 3rd Amphibious Corps on Guadalcanal.
“I was attached to Marine Corps Shore Party Intelligence . . . The Marine Corps Shore Party Intelligence was an operation whereby when you’re in combat and you’re on the island, if there are certain things you need and the ships are out there, you use blinkers. You know what cargo is on these ships out there and you blink to them to get it in here — get it inshore.”
Art described life on Guadalcanal and why he wanted to get there.
“We were living in tents on Guadalcanal. I wanted to get there because the 6th Marine Division was on Guadalcanal . . . and in that were three buddies of mine: ‘Curly’ Hoffman, who went to Gustavus with me; and then Tony Butkovich, who was a half-back at Purdue; and Johnny Guinness, who was a guard at Purdue . . . I got to see (them) and I’m glad I did because ‘Curly” got killed on Okinawa.”
The Marine 3rd Amphibious Corps, including Art’s Marine Corps Shore Party Intelligence Group, prepared to leave Guadalcanal in March 1945 for the invasion of Okinawa. Art had orders to be aboard an Attack Transport (APA), but decided to go across the bay to Tulagi with a friend for a last outing at the Iron Bottom Bay Club. Once there, he realized he had no way back.
“I was to get aboard a ship leaving for Okinawa, you understand, and I was there. Well, how am I going to get aboard this ship?
I finally run across a guy from Belle Plaine, Minnesota — a Navy guy . . . He had a launch and got me aboard the ship – the APA that was taking me to Okinawa. Otherwise, I would have been Absent Without Leave.”
Art’s close call left him no worse for wear, but he was now a part of the invasion force heading for the largest amphibious assault in the Pacific Theater during WWII, the attack on Okinawa.