When I was a marine in the Pacific (1943-45), two names prompted fear in the hearts of my buddies and me. One was Rabaul, in New Guinea, the other was Truk, now called Chuuk, in the Caroline Islands, 1500 miles west of Tarawa. Both were heavily fortified Japanese strongholds. I remember lying on my bunk in Nanumea, the Ellice Islands, after learning a thousand Marines had given their lives for the tiny piece of real estate called Tarawa, wondering how many of us, my friends and I, would be asked to give our lives to take Truk. Called the “Gibraltar of the Pacific”, it sat like a giant dragon blocking further advance toward Japan.
On 17 February 1944, my questions were answered. U.S. planes from the nine carriers pounded Truk in 30 waves, for two days and a night. They caught Japanese merchant vessels and warships by surprise, sending some 60 ships and thousands of men to the bottom of the lagoon, as well as destroying 250 aircraft. U.S. losses: 26 planes. In the summer, Truk
was simply bypassed, with Marine landings on Saipan and Guam.