These are notes made during my interviews with Sgt. William R. Smiley during late October and early November 2003.
Jim Hildebrand
August 25, 2019

It is apparent that Smiley was on the USS Feland, although he doesn’t remember the ship’s name now. He doesn’t remember the code-names of the beaches offhand, but he went in on the 2nd day and had towed some of the rubber boats. He remembers that it was the 6th Marines that they were landing. He said that they began loading early in the morning, but it was almost dark when they reached the beach. The LVT-1s were very slow and they were towing 15-20 rubber boats with about 6 Marines in each. With the the LVT-1’s low speed, combined with the drag of the rubber boats and the tide going out, it took them almost all the rest of the day to reach shore. He said the rubber boats were tethered from stern to bow in a single line, with the first rubber boats about 20 yards behind the LVT-1s.

He is certain that both of the LVTs were LVT-1s (Alligators) and definitely not LVT-2s (Buffaloes).

Smiley was the crew chief onboard one of the two LVT-1s that were both loaded with medical supplies and ammunition. He remembers that Howard Gaviglio was driving the LVT-1 that he was in. There were only three men in his LVT-1: himself, “Howard Gaviglio” (Howard D. Gaviglio) and “Curzan” (Frederick F. Curzan). All three of the men in his LVT were from B company, 2nd Amtrac Battalion, 2nd Marine Division.

Cpl. Howard Lee Bryant was driving the other LVT-1. Smiley is certain that Bryant’s LVT-1 left the USS FELAND on 21 NOV 1943, at the same time his own LVT-1 left. He doesn’t know how many others were in Bryant’s LVT-1, but normally there would have been at least a crew of three. Smiley knew Bryant well; they were from the same home state – Indiana. He remembers watching Bryant play Blackjack. He had a peculiar habit of “rifting” his cards with his left hand.

Smiley said that the mines were marked with red flags (like surveyor’s stakes) and were not too difficult to avoid. However, Bryant’s LVT-1 hit a mine, and Bryant (along with others) was killed. Without my asking or prompting he said the LVT-1 was “flipped over on its back.” Smiley said that he did not hear the explosion, due to the background noise, but something drew his attention in that direction (left side, looking toward beach). He saw then that the other LVT-1 was upside down. He said that both of the LVT-1’s were still towing rubber boats at that time.

He said that a wounded man “was loaded on the back of my tractor, in a stretcher.” He says that this man had to be from the other LVT-1, because they were not under fire coming into the beach and there were no other wounded. (This man was PhM3c C. Lyle Hoatson.) Smiley said that the water was very shallow and some of the Marines had gotten out of the rubber boats and were wading in to shore, pushing the boats. A group of these Marines brought the wounded man to Smiley’s LVT-1, and he was loaded on the LVT-1’s rear deck. Smiley doesn’t remember what type of injuries the man had.

Smiley said that his LVT-1 continued towing the rubber boats all the way to the beach, and that they landed near a very large naval gun emplacement and that one of the guns was laying in the water. I described the two large coastal guns at the southern end of Green Beach, where one had been blown into the water and the other left standing. He said that was it – that they had landed very near to that gun. He said that they were almost on the other side of the island, from where the initial landings were made on the first day of the invasion. He said that the marines were fairly scattered up and down Green Beach during the landing.

After they had landed on Green Beach, they spent the night with their LVT-1, which was parked on the beach where they landed, about 30-40 feet north of the coastal gun emplacement and about three feet from the water’s edge. Smiley says his LVT-1 was parked with the rear of the tractor toward the 8" gun and the front toward the bird's beak, and parallel to the seawall. Does not remember how close to the wall it was, but probably right against it. The wounded man that Smiley had brought in was treated by corpsmen.

Sometime during the middle of the night Smiley was standing armed watch and “Gaviglio” and “Curzan” were sleeping inside the LVT-1’s cabin, one of them on each side. Smiley was sitting on the supplies, just to the rear of the cabin opening. The wounded man (PhM3c Hoatson) was still on the stretcher lying on the rear deck of the LVT-1. Suddenly a Japanese aircraft (a twin-engine Mitsubishi G4M "Betty" bomber) appeared and dropped a string of bombs along their position. Two of these bombs “straddled” their LVT-1, one landing right under its “nose” and the other off the “port side” (left).

Smiley was struck by shrapnel and was seriously wounded in the side, with injuries to his ribs, lungs and a kidney. He turned on his side and saw that the wounded man and his stretcher were both missing from the rear deck of the LVT-1. He just had time to call for a corpsman before falling over the side of the LVT-1. That is the last thing he remembers for a while. (Click here to read Dr. Schaff's description of the same events.)

The next thing he remembers is that he was being carried in a stretcher by two marines, who dropped him. (He thinks they had come under sniper fire.) The next thing he remembers is that he woke up, for a while, in the bottom of a Higgins Boat. The next time he “woke up” he was being hoisted aboard a ship and a Chaplin was taking to him. He was a Catholic Chaplain, and even though Smiley is not Catholic, he believes the man helped save his life by talking to him and helping him to remain conscious. The next thing he remembers is waking up in the hospital in Hawaii.

Smiley eventually recovered and made it back in time for the invasion of Okinawa (01 APRIL 1945), although he was assigned to a different unit.






Jim Hildebrand
j i m @ t a r a w a 1 9 4 3 . c o m