Harold H. Sandager, USMC, Tarawa, Saipan

Harold H. Sandager, Private, USMC, 2nd Marine Division, 8th Regiment, 2nd Battalion, Company G, (sometimes abbreviated as G-2-8-2nd MarDiv or referred to as "2nd Battalion, 8th Marines" or 2/8) 60 mm Mortar gunner/Squad leader, at Tarawa (2nd Marine Division, Red Beach-3) and Saipan (2nd Marine Division);
b. June 1, 1919 - d. Sept. 27, 2001, 82 years old in Faribault, Mn (Rice County).
 
Growing up in Minnesota
Harold's parents were Anders Kristian Sandager and Emma Bornhoft, and according to the census, his family's residence in 1920 and also in 1930, when he was 10 years old, was in Lincoln, MN.
In 1935, when he was 15 his residence was rural Rice County, Mn and in 1940 when he was 20 years old his residence was Medford, Steele Co., Mn; 
 
Military service per the Rice County Veterans website
 "Harold Sandager Private WWII  Company G, 2nd Battalion, 8th Division Marines" * [*Ed. Note: This was most likely originally intended to read 8th "Regiment, 2nd" Marine Division as there was no "8th Division Marines" in the Order of Battle at Tarawa or Saipan.]
Service Picture:
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"Harold entered the service in February 1942. His training was completed at several bases. His overseas tour of duty included stints in Hawaii, New Zealand, New Caledonia, Tarawa and Saipan. He served as a squad leader, a 60mm mortar gunner and saw action on Tarawa and Saipan. He was wounded on Saipan by shrapnel. He was awarded the Purple Heart."
 
Tarawa--November 1943
  According to Harold's nephew, Scott O. Sandager: "My Uncle Harold told me there were only a few Marines from his boat that made it to shore uninjured at Tarawa. He was in a mortar squad. He worked his way in along a long pier. Most of his boat drowned. He said he would hold his breath and keep walking down into these craters underwater from shelling, and he was able to walk to a place where his head came out of the water. Then he would do it again. He also described an NCO killing a prisoner because it was suicide to take them down to the holding area.
  At one point, as squad leader, he was on a ladder on a bunker calling in the sighting adjustments to his mortar crew below him. He described shooting the mortar almost straight up, almost onto his own position, slaughtering Japanese when they made a mass suicide charge out of a large bunker. At Tarawa he went three days with no sleep and constant close quarters fighting with the enemy both in front and behind; it was 110 degree heat and thousands of bloating bodies--for days. He fought all the way across the island to the end of the battle and saw the destruction of the last Japanese held cave."
 
Other Marines of Company G
Another member of Harold's company (G-2-8-2nd MarDiv), and like Harold, a member of a 60 mm Mortar squad, Henry C. Norman, has written an extensive account about his experiences on Tarawa and Saipan. It is not clear if Henry C. Norman was a member of Harold's squad. Henry C. Norman's story with photos appears at http://tarawaontheweb.org/LivingTarawaVeterans.htm  and he may still be living. Carl Hoffman is also listed as a member of Company G. Lawrence C. Kimball has also written about his experiences in Company G on Tarawa. Lawrence Kimball was later awarded a Silver Star for his actions on Tinian. The experiences of Marines in the other companies are also available online at Tarawa on the Web.
 
The documentary With the Marines at Tarawa can be viewed above or downloaded from the National Archives "FedFlix" website, or You Tube.  (With the Marines at Tarawa, a 1944 short documentary directed by Louis Hayward, won the 1945 Academy Award for Best Documentary Short Subject.) Additional written information can be found about the battle at  Battle of Tarawa -Wikipedia  
 
Maps from Tarawa on the Web. The long pier at Red Beach No. 2 may be the one Harold described. Harold's unit (2/8) came ashore on Red Beach 3. The Commanding Officer, Major H.P. Crowe  gave Instructions to (2/8)  before landing on Red Beach 3..The long pier was the dividing line between Red Beach 2 and 3.
 
(Below) Aerial Photo of Red Beach 2 The long pier is just to the left--off the photo. (Photo Source: Tarawa on the Web)
 
(Below) Red Beach 3 and the location of Major Crowe, the CO of 2nd Battalion 8th Marines. The long pier would be off the photo to the right.
 
Saipan-June 1944
Battle of Saipan - Wikipedia. See also the Hollywood movie "Windtalkers" which was about that battle.
Harold was wounded on the third day by Navy fire and was carried back to the beach. He was in a Hawaiian hospital for many months. After the war, Harold and his wife raised a large family and he had a career as a mail carrier and farmer.
 
Jim Gerber of the Dr. Harold C. Deutsch WW II History Round Table edited a Tablette with a good summary of the significance and history of the Battle of Tarawa.
 
[Strategic importance]
"The Central Pacific’s Gilbert Islands were strategically important to the Allies in World War II. Tarawa was the scene of a major amphibious assault and one of the proudest testaments to valor in US Marine Corps history. At the Quebec conference in August of 1943, the Allied high command announced its intention to launch an offensive in the Central Pacific, in the drive towards Japan. A prime objective of this drive, which was to be undertaken as a Navy-Marines operation, was to take the Marshall Islands. The Marshall Islands would serve as an air base from which further operations could be launched against the Marianas, and from there against the Japanese home islands. But 500 miles to the southeast of the Marshalls, an archipelago of atolls called the Gilberts stood between the US forward ground air bases and the Marshalls.
 
[The Japanese Defenders]
The Gilberts had only one workable airstrip for refueling American aircraft and that was on the island of Betio in the western Gilbert atoll of Tarawa. The Japanese commander in charge of the defense of Tarawa, Rear Admiral Keiji Shibasaki, said, “A million men cannot take Tarawa in a hundred years.” He commanded 2600 Imperial Marines, the best amphibious troops in the Japanese armed forces. With the importation of 1000 Japanese workers and 1200 Korean laborers the island airstrip of Betio had been transformed into one of the most formidable fortresses in the world. It had 14 coastal guns( four of which were taken form the surrendered British garrison at Singapore), 40 strategically placed artillery pieces, covering every approach to the island, a coconut-log sea wall four feet high lining the lagoon and over 100 machine gun emplacements behind the wall. All this was concentrated on an island only a mile long and a few hundred yards wide.
 
[The American Forces]
Meanwhile an armada of 17 carriers, 12 battleships, eight heavy cruisers and four light cruisers, 66 destroyers and 36 transports carrying the 2nd Marine Division and a part of the 37th Infantry Division - some 35,000 soldiers and Marines headed for Betio in early November of 1943. In the moments before the pre-invasion bombardment began, the task force Naval commander, Rear Admiral Howard F. Kingman announced to the landing troops, “Gentlemen, we will not neutralize Betio. We will not destroy it. We will obliterate it!” Neither Shibasaki nor Kingman knew what they were up against.

[Problems]
The Allies were faced with serious problems in capturing Tarawa. The big coastal guns would keep the Navy guns either under constant fire or at bay, and the Japanese had used sunken ships and other pieces of metal to create obstacles which blocked the avenues of approach from the sea. The approaching craft would have to slow down to maneuver, putting them in prearranged ambush sites where they would be subject to deadly, concentrated fire from fortified positions. The next line of obstacles included a double apron of barbed wire, log barriers and concrete obstacles which surrounded the island. After breaching these defenses, the Marines would still be faced with the beach itself, where the Japanese had fortified heavy machine guns which created a series of interlocking fields of fire in addition to antipersonnel mines and anti-vehicle mines in the fringing reefs where the boats would have to land. With the added benefit of antiaircraft guns and planes of their own, the defenders were well prepared for any assault.


[The Battle]
The assault on Tarawa began on November 20th with a tremendous shelling of the island by the Navy which stopped only for a short time to allow the dive bombers from the escort carriers to pound the island. The assault formation was jolted to a stop 500 yards out by a reef. Simultaneously, a hail of fire opened up from the island, incinerating the lodged and incoming boats as well as mowing down the marines wading ashore. Few of the first wave survived. But a few got through, and with help of four successive waves the Marines established a beachhead up to the four foot sea wall. By nightfall, the marines were pinned down on a stretch of beach 100 yards long and 20 feet inland. And rather than being obliterated, the Japanese marines had barely been scratched by the naval and air bombardment.

By the last day of battle, the Japanese had been forced into the east end of the island. The Marines advanced slowly, at a terrible price. Organized resistance on Tarawa ceased by 1:30 PM on the third day. The battle of Tarawa lasted 76 hours and cost the lives of over 1000 Marines. The number of Americans wounded was listed as high as 2296. The cost was much higher for the Japanese defenders. Of the nearly 5000 troops on Betio, only 129 Korean laborers and 17 Japanese troops survived. Four Marines received the Medal of Honor for their heroism, three of them posthumously.
[Lessons learned]
Tarawa had taught the Navy and Marines some vital lessons in amphibious warfare which in the near future, would save thousands of lives. More amphtracks were to be built with better armor including side protection for the marines. Landing craft were converted into supporting gunboats, able to come in close on the beach. Underwater demolition teams were organized to destroy natural and artificial obstacles before future atoll landings would take place. Precision rocket and naval attacks had proven their worth against nearly impregnable fortifications. The role of the tank in turning the tide of battle proved critical. All these lessons would be applied to future campaigns with great success. The price for Betio was very high, but within days, it was converted into a forward base for the assault on the Marshalls, with bomber and fighter sorties flying out within hours of the Marines’ victory. Within nine weeks of the battle, an invasion task force under Admiral Nimitz left Tarawa to take the Marshall Islands."

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