2nd Amtrac Battalion

Awarded Silver Star and Purple Heart medals at Tarawa



My first telephone conversation with Mr. Norman E. Ward was on March 27, 2004.

During this conversation I asked him to tell me what he knew about Captain Royster and Corporal Lane.

This is what he told me:

He is the “Lieutenant Ward” mentioned in Colonel Alexander’s book Utmost Savagery - The Three Days of Tarawa.

I asked Ward where Captain Royster was coming from and he said that he was coming from some rendezvous area (at sea), but he’s not sure what ship he was on. I asked him if it was his understanding that Captain Royster was killed before he landed at Tarawa. He said yes, that Captain Royster “never lived to reach shore.”

He said that Lambert Lane was a radio operator, but he thinks he was driving the LVT(1).

My second telephone conversation with Norman E. Ward was on 22 DEC 2003.

During this conversation he told me that he was ordered by “Hank” Lawrence to “get some guys” and go looking for bodies of 2nd Amtrac Battalion people.

“Hank Lawrence” was Captain Henry G. Lawrence Jr., Executive Officer, 2nd Amtrac Battalion, who had just become the 2nd Amtrac’s acting Battalion Commander following the death of Major Henry C. Drewes during the Tarawa landing.

Ward said that he gathered a few men (“Thurston” is the only name he could partially recall) and proceeded south on Green Beach from the “bird’s beak.”

Note: “Thurston” was probably Corporal Harold E. Thurston, B Company, 2nd Amtrac Battalion. He arrived at Tarawa aboard the USS Ormsby.

The “bird’s beak” is the northwestern tip of the island and the north end of Green Beach.

Ward said they found some bodies in the water before they came upon the LVT(1), but they were not 2nd Amtrac Battalion people, so they passed them by. He said there were others coming along behind them, who were collecting bodies.

Ward said they were not looking for a specific tractor, person or group. They came upon a LVT(1) wreck off Green Beach. It was “blown in half” but he thinks it was right side up. One of the tracks had been blown off and had landed about 50 feet away from the main wreckage.

Note: Contemporary photos of the LVT(2) wreck on Green Beach show that both of its tracks are still in place.

In the water, near the wreckage, they recovered four (4) bodies: Captain Royster, Corporal Lane, and a “small Mexican guy” who he thinks was possibly named “Garcia.” He doesn’t remember who the fourth body was. There were no other 2nd Amtrac bodies in the area.

Note: I have been unable to identify the third and fourth marines. No one with the surname “Garcia” was killed on Tarawa.

Mr. Ward said that Captain Royster’s body was intact. They buried all four bodies nearby, in a shallow grave. Their dog tags were removed and later given to a Marine Lieutenant from Graves Registration. Ward believes that the bodies were later exhumed and moved to a cemetery elsewhere on Betio.

Ward said that this single LVT(1) was the only LVT wreck they found along Green Beach. From the LVT(1) wreckage they could look south to the end of Green Beach and they saw no other LVT wrecks.

Note: Contemporary aerial photographs, and even ground level photographs taken decades later, show that the LVT(2) can easily be seen from the LVT(1).

I asked Mr. Ward what he had heard about the circumstances of Captain Royster’s death, and he said that there were some guys landing in rubber boats “during the night” and that Captain Royster was “backing them up.”

Mr. Ward said that the LVT(1) had hit one of the “horned mines” that the Japanese had placed along Green Beach. He said that after the battle he watched demolition men disarm these mines and pile them up on the beach. He said that each mine had two horns and contained 44 pounds of explosive. The demolition men found that the Japanese had improperly installed many of the horns and they had been damaged by seawater, rendering them inert.

My third telephone conversation with Norman E. Ward was on 22 DEC 2003.

During this conversation Ward told me that he thinks his search along green beach was on the morning of 22 NOV 1943, and that Captain Royster had been killed the night before. He confirmed that they had searched all along Green Beach and found only one LVT wreck, and that was definitely an LVT(1) “Alligator.” That was where they found the bodies of Captain Royster, Corporal Lane, and the other two unidentified 2nd Amtrac bodies.

The wreck was in the water down near the south end of Green Beach, near the Vickers guns. He said that the Japanese had erected a primitive-looking radar antenna in that area. It looked like a “wire billboard.”

This radar antenna is easily located on contemporary aerial photos. It is mounted on a large concrete structure and is located along Green Beach, about 250 yards north of the 8-inch naval guns at the intersection of Green Beach and Black Beach (the southern end of Green Beach).
(Click here to see photographs.)

On February 28, 2004, I received a letter from Mr. Ward. In that letter he returned a map that I had previously mailed to him. He had indicated on the map where he found the LVT(1). It was significantly north of the southwestern tip of the island and just south of the midpoint on Green Beach.
(Click here to see document.)




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