Excerpted from U. S. Coast Guard Magazine, printed during WWII.
Coxswains Led THE Way
Aboard a Coast Guard-manned assault transport, off Eniwetok Atoll. Landing boat coxswains, toughened by months of battling heavy seas, tricky beaches, and murderous Jap fire, today again demonstrated the prowess which has given them an almost legendary reputation.
Here on Parry Island, last remaining Jap-held island in the Eniwetok Atoll, they were put to the toughest test of all. Leaving their attack-transport “motherships” in the pre-dawn gloom, they found their way through rough seas and smoke-filled air to one particular designed bit of a beachhead. They braved Jap fire; standing up to steer their tiny ramp-boats into the rugged coral beaches, unload their cargos of men, ammunition, food, water, or TNT, and then back off the beach, splash their way through more heavy gunfire to get out of the area and back to their ships. . . .for another load.
The crews of these Higgins boats are rugged, seasoned men, sometimes over-confident about their ability to escape rifle and machine gun fire, but all of them number-1 seamen who know their boats and what they can do.
Today, one of these boatmen proved that he was carrying out the ideals of the service, “above and beyond the call of duty.” He wasn’t wounded, not even slightly hurt, but he proved beyond doubt that a sharp, ready mind, and a brave heart are part and parcel of his hazardous profession.
This boat coxswain, Clyde Brien, of Alameda, Calif., has taken the initial waves ashore in many landing. On Engebi in this same atoll, at Tarawa in the Gilberts, he still thinks his is the best job in the service. At Tarawa the coxswains lived in their boats for five days, eating and sleeping whenever their duties allowed. Here they have only had to go for 24 hours at the most without sleep, so they say “The going has not been so tough.”
Brien, as coxswain for one of the leading wave control boats, was first to spot the shellfire that was creeping closer to them as they sped towards the beach at Eniwetok. “I first noticed black puffs of smoke, followed by a sharp crack when we passed an LCI (landing Craft, Infantry) which was being used as a gun support vessel on Parry Island,” he said. “Then, as we passed by the LCI, another sharp crack made us all hit the deck. When we looked up again, smoke was pouring from her stern. I immediately yelled to Mr. Johnson (Lieutenant (j.g.) J. M. Johnson, of Gainsville, Fla.) and pointed to the burning LCI. We came alongside to see if we could help.”
As they tied up alongside the LCI, flames were shooting from the stern, and they noticed bodies, badly burned and grotesquely sprawled on the blackened fantail of that ship. “We clambered aboard and saw a man who had been decapitated by the explosion which had apparently hit their powder magazines. The flames we saw were coming from the magazine itself where hundreds of rounds of 40-mm. ammunition were stored.
Johnson told of working desperately to get a fire hose into the flaming stern while tossing red hot shells and rockets into the water. “If that magazine had gone off, our lifejackets wouldn’t have done us any good parachutes would have been more in order,” Brien said with a grim smile.
He went on to tell of two of the LCI crew who were close to death. One’s leg had been severed above the knee and was hanging by a few loose pieces of flesh. Strangely, he was not bleeding badly, but another boy, with a leg in shreds, was spurting blood and was in great pain. “We managed to stop the flow of blood and gave both wounded men shots of morphine from our tiny syrettes and then lowered them into our landing barge.”
“Luckily the magazine fire was put out finally, and we continued on our way, dropping the wounded men at the hospital ship,” Brien continued.
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