The 2nd Marine Division at Tarawa

20-23 November 1943

Medal of Honor Recipients


Col David M. Shoup at his field desk — 1943 USMC Photo

Colonel Shoup was one of the giants of American military history. As the operations officer of the 2nd Marine Division, he was one of the key planners for Operation GALVANIC. Shortly before the operation, he was reassigned as the commanding officer for the 2nd Marine Regiment. In this billet, he was the senior Marine on Betio Island until Colonel Merritt Edson arrived ashore to take command on the evening of 21 November 1943. Colonel Shoup's inspiring leadership was critical to the success of the invasion. He was awarded the Medal of Honor in recognition of his actions at Tarawa. This gallant Marine survived the war, and later served as the 22nd Commandant of the Marine Corps.

On D+1 (21 November 1943) Col Shoup sent a message to divisional headquarters detailing the situation on Tarawa. This transmission has become one of the most famous of the war. Shoup radioed: "Casualties many. Percentage dead not known. Combat efficiency — we are winning."

Colonel Shoup's Medal of Honor citation follows:

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as commanding officer of all Marine Corps troops in action against enemy Japanese forces on Betio Island, Tarawa Atoll, Gilbert Islands, from 20 to 22 November 1943. Although severely shocked by an exploding enemy shell soon after landing at the pier and suffering from a serious, painful leg wound which had become infected, Col. Shoup fearlessly exposed himself to the terrific and relentless artillery, machinegun, and rifle fire from hostile shore emplacements. Rallying his hesitant troops by his own inspiring heroism, he gallantly led them across the fringing reefs to charge the heavily fortified island and reinforce our hard-pressed, thinly held lines. Upon arrival on shore, he assumed command of all landed troops and, working without rest under constant, withering enemy fire during the next 2 days, conducted smashing attacks against unbelievably strong and fanatically defended Japanese positions despite innumerable obstacles and heavy casualties. By his brilliant leadership daring tactics, and selfless devotion to duty, Col. Shoup was largely responsible for the final decisive defeat of the enemy, and his indomitable fighting spirit reflects great credit upon the U.S. Naval Service.

Colonel Shoup was the only Tarawa Medal of Honor recipient who survived to wear his award. He died on 13 January 1983 at age 78 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

(above) Col Shoup (right foreground) at his command post during the battle. still image from USMC combat camera film






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