The following are notes sent to Brian Morris by Marines who sailed on the Harris.
Message to Brian Morris from Joe Beringhele
I was in I co. 3rd battalion, 6th reg. 2nd. Div.
In 1943 we left New Zealand aboard the Harris , destination Tarawa. At the time we didn't know where we were going, however they gave us code names for the island. On the way there , we had a stop for a practice landing and perhaps food and fuel at New Hebrides for a short period. We got to Tarawa at night or early morning because I can recall that it was still dark and getting light. Our planes bombed the island and the tall palm tree's looked like telephone poles at the time of the invasion.
After the island was secure, we sailed for another island Apamama also in the Gilbert Islands. We were there for a month and then headed to Hawaii, arriving in Pearl Harbor on New Years Day 1944. We left Pearl harbor and went to the big island of Hawaii and disembarked in Hilo Hawaii and by truck , we were transported about 65 miles away to Kamuela, Hawaii to Camp Tarawa. I was a youngster at the time and we were all invited to a BBQ at the Parker Ranch on Hawaii. The Parker Ranch from what I understand was the largest private cattle ranch in the U.S.
I'm sorry that I can't afford more information, but 57 years ago is a long time to remember since I had other things on my mind, like girls at that time. I am very lucky to still be around. I will be celebrating my 76th birthday on the 25th of this month.
I went to school when I was discharged and became a physical therapist, then a cop. I am now retired from the police force in Calif. I live in Las Vegas where a person never gets bored with all of the activity.
I have two son's , one in Law Enforcement and the other a contractor. I have been married for 53 years to the same woman.
I know I wasn't much help to you, but I wanted to let you know that I am interested in what you are doing to preserve the memory of your uncle Pinky Morris.
Of course you can use anything I had to say about either the Harris or the Intrepid. There is a vast difference between serving in the Marine Corps infantry as I did, and serving sea duty aboard and aircraft carrier. We had clean sheets, our own compartment and a cleaning and pressing shop to keep the uniforms in good shape. Nothing like that in the FMF. The food was good and we got to see movies on the hanger deck, but when it came to battle, it was just as dangerous. Large hunks of the ships metal would fly through the air like confetti when hit by enemy bombs and where it would land is any body's guess, you just hope and pray that it misses you.
During attacks which were frequent, the Japanese planes would come out of the sky near the sun so you couldn't see them until they were on top of you and they would drop a bomb that would go through the flight deck and on into the hanger deck and the plane would crash through that opening and explode killing anyone near and exploding our own planes that were ready to be elevated up onto the flight deck for take off. Some of the planes came so close before we could shoot them down that I could see the smiling face of the Japanese pilot before we downed him a few yards from the ship.
Our gun tub received a Commendation of which one was issued to me for shooting down ten Japanese airplanes. I'm very proud of that. I believe there is a web site for the intrepid, but I cannot locate it now. You may be interested in the history of the Intrepid as well as the USS Harris. I realize that you have a great affinity for the Harris and I don't blame you, she was a good ship and survived.
Feel free at any time to get in touch. I also enjoy the history channel .I guess my two other buddy's from the infantry that came aboard the Intrepid with me are about the only three sea going Marines that didn't go to sea school. We had to learn how to dress like a sea going marine and know how to tie a Windsor knot on our field scarf. Marine term for Neck Tie.
I was aboard the USS Harris for the Gilberts (Tarawa) campaign. Seems to me we boarded in late October in Wellington NZ, went from there to New Caledonia and sat in the harbor there for some days, cant remember how long. The battleship USS Maryland was also there and one day we followed her out for gunnery practice. I can still remember how amazed I was when they towed the sleeve over and all the AA guns opened up. All we had aboard, if I remember correctly, was a (think) 3inch forward and aft and I think they set up a couple of land based AA's on the aft section.
When we left New Caledonia, one of the most idyllic South Pacific looking places from the bay, red roofed buildings and all the trees etc, we of course headed from there to the Gilberts and as we went every morning when I went topside there were more and more ships and escort vessels added to the convoy.
Denas Bevan, in 1992 published a book on ship arrivals and departures from New Zealand called United States Forces in New Zealand 1942-1945 the USS Harris is listed there in a couple of places.
I cannot at this time remember if we (the 3rd Battalion 6th Regiment) were aboard her more than at that one time, I wouldn’t be surprised if we were,
Noted your letter in Follow Me publication of the Second Marine Division. My name is Clyde Hughes and I reside in Welaka, Fl which is a wide place in the road on the St. Jons River south of Palatka and due west of Daytona.
I noted your letter for two reasons, one concerning the Harris and the other because I was raised in Barstown, KY, Graduated from Bardstown High in 1942. Joined the Marine Corp. shortly after graduation. I recall playing Mt. Washington in basketball every year for three years. I was on the USS Harris following Tarawa and enroute to Hawaii for a so-called rest camp.
I don't recall much about the trip other than when we boarded ship on Tarawa we were so damn exhausted, more from fright than anything else, we had great difficulty trying to climb the rope ladder to get board and guys were falling off the damn thing every which way and finally the crew of the Harris dropped a gangplank contraption and we were able to walk up instead of climbing.
There was a guy in my company who corresponds with me two or three times a year. I don't know where he gets his information but he seems to have a much greater knowledge of the war than I do, even though we fought together from Tarawa, Saipan, Tinian and eventually into Nagasaki His name is Bert Spooner and he lives in New Hampshire, I think he has done a lot of research and is or has written a book. Anyhow he sent me information on the Harris. It’s a couple or three pages typewritten and Ill mail it to you if you want. I was discharged from the Corp, in Dec. 1945 and Moved to Fl. in 1951.
Regarding the Fiji mission, I was one of the Marines involved. There were among us six Officers and fifty-two enlisted men from the 2nd. Amphibian Tractor Bn. We were on a landing maneuver at Hawkes Bay, North Island, New Zealand, having boarded the Ship at Wellington, N.Z. October 5,1943. After part way through the maneuvers the Harris pulled out from the exercise and headed north. It was very much a secret mission as we were in the final preparation for the Battle of Tarawa and some last minute data was needed as to landing on coral. There were two Amtracs from each of "A","B", and "C" Companies of our Bn. plus two Medium Tanks, which was a completely new item for the 2nd. Tank Bn. The Harris traveled at flank speed, as there was no other ship accompanying us for protection.
There was as I remember some one hundred odd Marines aboard and we had pretty much the full run of the ship, except for Officers quarters and we ate with the crew. The Harris was as I remember, the largest size APA (Armed Personnel Attack) Ship in the Navy, fourteen thousand tons and a sister ship to the Zeilin I have always remembered that as the only pleasure cruse I had, except for the trip back home .I later figured that I spent a total of six months aboard troopships during the War. We remained at Veti Levu, Fijis for a few days making landings on coral and for three nights were granted liberty in the late evenings at the Capital City Suva. Liberty was granted in three sections, one each evening.
While ashore I was able to telephone an old high school friend, an Army Lt., who was stationed at Nandi which is across the island from Suva. This was insolently the only person from home that I was able to converse with during the twenty-seven months I spent overseas.
We sailed back to Wellington without an armed escort, disembarked Oct.22 and found our camp at Hutt Park almost deserted as most of Outfit was already aboard different ships. After a few days we embarked to various ships and sailed from Wellington Nov.1, bound for Tarawa. I sailed aboard the Zeilin.
I have a roster of all the names of people of our Bn. who made this mission to the Fijis, which I can send under separate cover if you so wish. One other thing over twenty of this list of names are known to be deceased.
By the way, is your uncle still alive?
Richard D. Sommerville
Seen your article about USS Harris in our ''Follow Me’’ Jan.-Feb. publication. I hope you found all the information you could on this. I was 18 years old when we landed on Tarawa (Betio Island) in Nov. 1943.
After Betio Island, we went across to another island in the Tarawa Atoll chain when we heard there were Japs there. Then we went aboard the Harris by way of the cargo net. I remember it being a big ship back in those days, and we were all worn out and it took all our strength to climb the net. The ship was so crowded that we slept on top deck on the cover that goes over cargo hold. I remember waking up and thought I seen 2 Japs in the sky line, moving my hand around feeling for my rifle when I realized it was 2 of our Marines sitting on top of hatch way that goes below deck. Funny now but it wasn’t then. We went onboard the Harris Dec.10, 1943 and sailed for Hilo, Hawaii, and disembark there Dec. 13,1943.
Just thought I’d drop you a few words about me on the USS Harris way back when. I stayed with the Second Marine Division rest of the war. Was at Saipan, Tinian Islands and Okinawa. After the Japs surrendered, were first troops into Nagasaki, Japan for occupation.
William L. Jefferies