• U.S.

World Battlefronts: On to Westward

2 minute read

For last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine Marine Lieut. Ellis M. Trefethen wrote a short article entitled This Is Tarawa Today. Excerpts:

“Betio is changed greatly. The tangled morass of coconut logs and bomb-pitted sand has been leveled. Orderly rows of tents have risen to shelter the marines, the sailors, the airmen and the Seabees who man this outpost. . . .

“This is the island where Marine anti-aircraft gunners have hammered up a signpost labeled ‘Tokyo,’ and painted another that reads ‘Golden Gate in ’48, breadline in ’49’. . . .

“This is where a bulldozer, digging into a pile of blackened earth, shattered timbers and twisted metal, rolls out the body of a Japanese soldier, recognizable only by the stained uniform.

“Here is the largest of several marine cemeteries on the atoll, not very imposing by standards of granite and turf, but marines and soldiers and sailors, too, turn grim and proud when they pass. . . .

“There are names on a few of the crosses, but most of them are blank. . . .

“One plaque is in memory of ‘the valiant dead and 68 missing’ of an amphibious tractor battalion. Another commemorates the heroism of the officers and men of the Special Weapons Unit.

“The third [plaque] is a poem of requiem by an unknown marine. It reads:

To you, who lie within this coral sand,

We, who remain, pay tribute of a pledge

That dying, thou shalt surely not

Have died in vain.

That when again bright morning dyes the sky

And waving fronds above shall touch the rain,

We give you this—that in those times

We will remember.

We lived and fought together, thou and we,

And sought to keep the flickering torch aglow

That all our loved ones might forever know

The blessed warmth exceeding flame,

The everlasting scourge of bondsman’s chains,

Liberty and light.

When we with loving hands laid back the earth

That was for moments short to couch thy form

We did not bid a last and sad farewell,

But only ‘Rest ye well.’

Then with this humble, heartfelt epitaph

That pays thy many virtues sad acclaim

We marked this spot, and, murm’ring requiem,

Moved on to Westward.”

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com