A Battle For Tarawa Past and Present
25 October 2017 | Tarawa Atoll, Kiribati
On November 20, 1943, 1,113 US Marines died on the beaches of Japanese-held Tarawa. We are anchored off that beach.
Phil and I set out to find the remnants of that battle. Over several hours walking in the equatorial heat, we found two rusty guns, several so-called pill-boxes, a decaying landing craft and two war monuments. This was not easy. There are no signs, no trails, no parks, no set-aside areas. The homes, school, churches and stores are simply built up around the decaying battle remnants.
To say the least, the walk is not a idyllic stroll along a Pacific atoll. If only. No, the streets of Tarawa are garbage-strewn cesspools. The smell of decaying animals is overpowering at times, forcing us to move on quickly. Outside a school, a pile of juice boxes line the street, right where the children are taught to throw them. One beach at the causeway is more garbage than sand. Children play there among the plastic and nappies as though garbage has as much right to be there as, say, a seashell.
The people themselves are friendly, and most can speak a little English. The children love to wave and say, "hi." When I return the greeting, they erupt with laughter and amazement. A grinning boy presented me with a traditional red flower, which I placed on the shoulder strap of my backpack. One child greeted me with "howdy." Obviously an over-achiever.
We plan to leave tomorrow. We are hoping to get permission to visit Butaritari, an atoll about 100nm north along our route to Majuro. Unfortunately, protocol requires us to return to Tarawa to clear out - something we obviously cannot do. I have written a letter asking for special permission, and tomorrow we will find out if my writing skills were up to the task.