P01 John Hotra, USN

April, 2012

By Andrea Zuehlk

My grandpa John Hotra was at Tarawa. This is his story. Mom interviewed him in 1993 for a "This is Your Life" toast at my grandparents' 50th wedding anniversary. Grandpa passed 10 years ago. He was a good man, and our family has so many wonderful memories with him. Thanks to all who served.

In Hawaii we were shipped to Barber's Point, which was a big arsenal depot, and from there CASU-16 picked 30 men to go ahead of the rest of the unit to set up camp at our next destination. I was one of the 30 men that was picked but they didn't tell us where we were going until we were out to sea. The second day at sea we met up with all kinds of ships; cruisers, destroyers, battle ships, carriers and troop ships. We were on a troop ship.

We crossed the equator and the International Dateline at the same time and so we became what the Navy calls a Golden Shellback. They had a ritual that we had to go through and it was some fun. Later we found out we were going to Tarawa, an atoll in the Gilbert Islands. We got to the harbor in the Gilberts around Thanksgiving Day 1943. We stayed in the harbor and the ships shelled the island for quite some time. Then the first marines landed.

When the marines secured the island we went ashore. I remember that the other sailors stripped down to their shorts and so did I as we had to carry our own supplies, etc. from the small boat to the shore and we were wading in the water. Well, that night I couldn't sleep as I was badly sun burned I thought I was on fire. The next morning, I had to go to sick bay as the back of my knees were split. I sure did learn a lesson about how hot the sun is in the South Pacific.

There were other islands in the Gilbert atoll and so we set up camp on one of them and waited until the rest of our unit came from Hawaii. I remember the day they got there, well they thought that we had all been killed, as you know how rumors get started, well I'm glad it was just a rumor.

The sea-bees were on the island with us and they were working on the air strip and we were busy getting ready for the airplane squadrons to come in. Finally, the air strip was finished and our planes came in and they started their bombing runs up to the Japanese held islands.

We had fox holes dug on Tarawa and we had to use them as the Japanese would come over and bomb us. It was kind of scary but a fox hole is pretty safe as it has to be almost a direct hit on you to get you killed.

While I was on Tarawa, CASU-16 was disbanded and we were transferred to other units. I was transferred to CASU-34 and CASU-34 was on Eniwetok atoll in the South Pacific. Our bombers would attack the Carolines and Truk island and some of them would come back pretty well shot up.

The marines took Iwo Jima and the war was over in Europe and so we figured we would be going home soon. Finally the Japanese surrendered and being that I was married I was able to get out on the point system.

I had attained the rating of Petty Officer First Class in the Navy. They wanted me to sign up for the regular navy and send me to school to become Chief Petty Officer but I declined as I wanted to get home to Pat [daughter] and Faye [wife]. I was discharged on October 31, 1945, at Bainbridge, Maryland.

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