On this day the Battle of Tarawa ended in 1943. More than 18,000 Marines were sent to capture the island in one of the deadliest battles in the Pacific theater.
Over three days of intense fighting, more than 1,000 Marines were killed and more than 2,000 wounded.
Afterwards, many of the Marines who fought in the battle came to Camp Tarawa on Hawaii Island to rest, refit, and train for future operations in the Pacific.
Pohakuloa Training Area proudly traces its lineage to Camp Tarawa and the Marines who trained there from 1943-1945.
The Battle of Tarawa was fought Nov. 20-23, 1943 between the U.S. and Japan. Following the Battle of Tarawa in December 1943, Marines from the 2nd Marine Division moved to Hawaii Island to Camp Tarawa in Waimea to rest, refit, and train.
It was at Camp Tarawa that the Marines applied and trained on the lessons learned from the Battle of Tarawa, which they were able to then apply in subsequent operations in the Pacific. The 2nd Marine Division would go on victories at Saipan and Tinian, while the 5th Marine Division, who also trained at Camp Tarawa, would go on to victory at Iwo Jima.
Three months into American involvement in World War II, a vast U.S. Army camp for 19,000 men had been established on more than 50,000 acres of lofty saddle between the great volcanoes of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa on Parker Ranch.
It became host to the largest Marine Corps training facility in the Pacific when the 2nd Marine Division arrived there in December 1943.
Shortly after its arrival, the survivors of the Battle of Tarawa quickly renamed renamed what was known as Camp Waimea to Camp Tarawa. While training at Camp Tarawa, 5th Marine Division Marines scaled nearby Pu'u Ula'ula and Buster Brown mountains, daily, so that they would be ready to climb the now legendary Mt. Suribachi when the time came to assault Iwo Jima.
"This community played a large part in the preparation of the Marines prior to the assault on Iwo Jima," said Carl Carlson Jr., Parker Ranch trustee.
Carlson also spoke about the impact Marines and Sailors had on the local community. Waimea leapt into the twentieth century because of the technology that seemed to have followed the Marines into town. An electric generator allowed settlement houses to be lit by bulb rather than kerosene.
Waimea Elementary School and the Waimea Hotel became a 400-bed hospital with modern medical facilities, and engineers dammed the Waikoloa stream, constructed reservoirs to supply water to the division and the town, and erected temporary Canek structures behind the St. James Church.
Ranch owner Richard Smart volunteered his home Pu'u'opelu as divisional headquarters, and 40 years later he donated land to establish a Camp Tarawa monument near Mamalahoa Highway, west of Waimea, near the entrance to the Parker Ranch historic homes tourist attraction.
Camp Tarawa closed in November 1945.
The taking of Tarawa was necessary to the overall campaign in the Pacific Theater, as there was a Japanese garrison located there that would hinder the taking of the Marshall Islands. The taking of the Marshall Islands was necessary to take the Marianas Islands, which was critical location to support operations into the mid-Pacific, the Philippines, and ultimately Japan itself.
The battle was a victory for the United States, but it also came at great cost, as it was the first time in the Pacific Theater that the United States faced strong opposition to an amphibious landing.
Prior to the battle, Japanese Rear Admiral Keiji Shibazaki claimed, “it would take one million men one hundred years” to take Tarawa.
Following the battle, Marine Commandant Gen. Alexander Vandegrift said, “Tarawa was an assault from beginning to end” and “Tarawa will loom in history as the beginning of the end of the war against Japan.” U.S. Navy Admiral Chester Nimitz commented, “the capture of Tarawa knocked down the front door to the Japanese defenses in the Central Pacific.”
The U.S. learned many lessons from the Battle of Tarawa and they were able to train on and learn from these lessons at Camp Tarawa, which contributed to the nation’s eventual victory in the Pacific.
Here at Pohakuloa Training Area, training and applying lessons learned is what Soldiers, Marines, Sailors, and Airmen continue to do, making them more combat ready and contributing to our overall security in the region.