by Cpl. Robert Lin Cook
Jan 42-Sep 45

Lights below decks are
dim and sometimes flicker.
I sit leaning against 
the bulkhead
clutching my copy 
of Leatherneck,
trying hard
to stay awake in this
early morning nightmare.

Above my head 
I hear the whine 
of winch and cable
as boats are lowered 
in darkness.
I have never 
understood the
skill of sailors
in that plight.

Pack is sitting
at my side,
 abulge with more 
than I will need.
Rifle leans 
against my 
outstretched legs,
I stroke the smooth
hard wood that 
is its stock,
not conscious of
my nervous act.

I sense the absence
of a sound that 
has been with us 
for many days:
ship's engines 
have stopped,
we are adrift.
Whine and whirl
of winch and cable
carries on as
boats are set in sea.

I hear the "thunk"
of hulls bumping
the mother ship,
and know they
are tendered 
'neath the nets
that are our 
stairway
to the sea.

The muffled sound
of the PA system
calls to the troops:
"Platoons three and four,
lay up to your stations!"
There is rustle of movement
as men gather and don
the gear of their profession.
Sergeants urging them
to movement,
they file up the ladders
to the open deck above,
stumbling over
deck cables and davits.

The rails bear evidence
of the cargo nets
hanging below them
to the open boats.
Jostling themselves
into position,
they begin their 
descent to the 
waiting craft.
The movement 
of the ship and
bobbing of the 
small boats
lends no safety
to the descent.
Hands and feet
feel for the 
squares of hemp,
a rifle slips
from a shoulder
and dangles loosely,
a curse from the man
below lets you know
a head has been
knocked.

Within minutes
a full boat is
loaded and shoves off
from mother ship
to join its mates in
rendezvous circle
some distance away.

Troops are 
hunched in boat
below its gunnels,
keeping heads down.
The ocean,
never still,
lifts the barks
and drops them
with each swell.
Diesel fumes 
hover over them
and every breath
causes a queasy gut.

Time passes
painfully slow,
nerves are taut.
Some bow heads
in prayer,
others stare at
the forward ramp
from where they 
will dash forward.
A cold wave 
splashes over the
bow, soaking the
miserable troops,
who react with
a curse.

A sudden surge
of engines and
a sudden change
of direction.
A star shell
high above
gives the signal:
"Away all boats!"

>>>  Page 2 of 3
Away All Boats!
The Battle for Tarawa—a validation of the U.S. Marines
"Tarawa on the Web—Assault of the
Second Marine Division on Betio Island,
Tarawa Atoll, 20-23 November, 1943"