Suddenly you're aware
you have reached 
the hard-packed beach
and throw yourself  down.
You hug the earth
to catch your breath
and peer around
as battle rages from
every port and cranny.
Courage has not left you,
you muster it somehow
as you crawl forward
to find small safety 
beside a shattered wall.
Sounds around you
are deafening, 
the screams the worst of all;
you see carnage happening
forever you will recall.

You gain the presence
of your mind,
you now know 
you're intent.
Forgotten is your
frozen fear,
you know what  
you must do.
The rifle you 
have nursed ashore
feels strong within 
your grasp.

The flashes that you
first observed
continue to
burst forth,
the static sound  
is uppermost
in your mind.
The pack that 
your advance
you shed from
off your back
and turn your
attention to
the job at hand.

You slide forward
along the sand as
black as holy hell,
keeping close
to sheltered wall.
A mortar shell 
lands near you,
its metal screams
past your ears.
Your helmet keeps
you covered,
you could almost cheer.
The gun you came to get
is but scant feet away,
its fire above your head.
"Keep crawling!" so
you tell yourself,
"To make this one count!"

You hold the grenade
in your right hand,
tear out the pin
with teeth,
partly rise to
arch your arm and
let the missile go.
It arches in 
a lazy curve
and enters
into the slot.
The sound it makes
is like a cord
plucked on
harps of gold.
No longer does
the chatter sound,
its silence is all golden.

You feel like
you've done your best
but there is
no time to rest;
the battle is not over.
 And so it goes
from man to man,
each doing best he can.
Sum and total
of it all is
some men live
and some men fall.
Some stay alive
to tell us all.

*     *     *
The author: Robert Lin Cook served with Reg. Weapons Co. (2d-2d) from 1942-44, at Guadalcanal and Tarawa during a 33-month overseas tour.

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November 1943
Artillery shells and helmets mark the temporary
graves of Marines who died taking Tarawa