Dwight W. Randall

ACCOUNTED FOR

NAME
Dwight Wade Randall
NICKNAME
SERVICE NUMBER
350225
UNIT
2nd Amphibian Tractor Battalion (C Co.)
HOME OF RECORD
1452 Farris Avenue, Fresno, CA
NEXT OF KIN
Father, Mr. John L. Randall
DATE OF BIRTH
January 20, 1921
ENTERED SERVICE
January 22, 1942
DATE OF LOSS
November 20, 1943
REGION
Gilbert Islands
CAMPAIGN / AREA
Tarawa / Betio
CASUALTY TYPE
Killed In Action
CIRCUMSTANCES OF LOSS
Sergeant Dwight W. Randall was killed in action on 20 November 1943, during the first day of the battle for Betio, Tarawa atoll. His remains could not be identified after the war, and he was buried in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific as an unknown.

In 2017, Randall’s remains were exhumed for identification. He was accounted for on 27 September 2018.

INDIVIDUAL DECORATIONS
Purple Heart
LAST KNOWN RANK
Sergeant
STATUS OF REMAINS
Accounted For

DPAA Announcement
MEMORIALS
Belmont Memorial Park, Fresno, CA
Liberty Veterans Cemetery, Fresno
National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific

Dwight Randall was born in Fresno, California on 20 January 1921. He was the fifth of ten children born to John and Lillian Oldfield Randall, and grew up in what must have been a bustling house on South Fourth Street. Dwight was active in the Cadets while a student at Fresno Technical High School, and after his graduation in 1938 went to work for Hale Brothers department store as a clerk and packer.

Randall might have been gearing up for the 1941 holiday rush at Hale’s when news of Pearl Harbor reached his hometown. He made a quick decision to enlist, and joined the Marine Corps from Los Angeles on 22 January 1942 – just two days after his 21st birthday. After completing boot camp at MCRD San Diego, Randall was selected for radio school; upon qualifying as an operator, he was assigned to Company C, Second Amphibian Tractor Battalion.

Private First Class Randall – he was promoted shortly after joining the unit – quickly became familiar with the spartan interior of the amphibious Landing Vehicle, Tracked (LVT), more commonly called an “amtrac” or an “Alligator.” The radio operator sat on the right side of a small cabin at the front of the vehicle, immediately beside the driver. Should his set malfunction, Randall was also probably trained in the use of signal flags and semaphore. And, despite the fact that his vehicle was intended as a logistical craft that would carry supplies ashore, he would have learned how to clean, load, and fire the machine guns that could be mounted to the cabin in a pinch.

Training with signal flags aboard an LVT-1. Photo by LIFE Magazine.

After a few months of training in California, the 2nd Amphibian Tractor Battalion was shipped out to the Pacific. They traveled piecemeal; part of Company A would briefly support operations at Guadalcanal, but the rest traveled to New Zealand for additional training. In October of 1942, Randall’s Company C participated in an exercise with the 6th Marines at Fiji. The tracked vehicles, loaded with infantrymen, would trundle through the ocean and then over a coral reef. Once over the obstacle, they raced for shore as quickly as their limited speed allowed. This reef-crossing ability would radically change the way the LVTs would be used in campaigns to come.[1]

The various companies of the battalion reassembled in New Zealand in February, 1943 and began studying their new tactical responsibilities. From a strictly support role, they would now become first-wave troops – or, in their slow-moving craft, first targets. Retrofitting their unarmored Alligators into assault craft occupied much of their time. Each LVT soon mounted three machine guns, and some sported stern-mounted grapnels to destroy wire obstacles. Most important to the crews was the addition of extra armor for the cabin.[2] A half inch of plate was added – but this was more to inspire confidence than anything else, as small-arms fire could easily penetrate the hull and ricochet around the cabin.[3]

During this training and refitting process, Randall was promoted from corporal to sergeant. When he wasn’t at work on his LVT or tooling around on maneuvers, he likely spent his NCO’s pay on liberties in Wellington – possibly with other members of his three-man crew, and certainly with his Kiwi girlfriend, Inez. Unfortunately, military records contain few clues about his time in New Zealand.

In mid-October 1943, Randall’s platoon was detailed for five days of intensive amphibious assault training with the First Battalion, 8th Marines. This veteran rifle unit practiced climbing down cargo nets from the USS Bell and boarding the LVTs 24 men at a time. Rumors of an upcoming operation were swirling, and were only reinforced when the entire Second Marine Division sailed away from New Zealand on 1 November. A five-day journey brought them to Efate in the New Hebrides, where the amphtracs were lowered into the water for a few last minute rehearsals. Finally, Company C re-boarded the USS Virgo and set sail for their ultimate destination: an island called Betio in the Tarawa atoll. “None of us had ever heard of Tarawa,” recalled PFC Don Crain, a driver in Company C. “On D-minus-2 the lieutenants and captains gave us a pre-invasion talk. They said that after all the bombing and shelling there wouldn’t be a Jap left alive. If there were, they’d all be crying for their moms. They told us it would be a piece of cake.”[4]

On 20 November 1943, Sergeant Randall breakfasted on steak and eggs – if he had any appetite – and performed his last equipment checks. His LVT (the number, unfortunately, unknown) was hoisted over the Virgo’s side and down into the choppy sea. Clustered in the cab with him were a driver and assistant driver; standing in the hold was the crew chief. If they were a command vehicle – and they might have been, with a comparatively senior man like Randall on the radio – an LVT officer also would have occupied a place in the troop compartment. At the given signal, their vehicle began thrashing through the water to an assigned assembly area where troop transports were gathered. They picked up their assigned troops and began a torturous route to the line of departure, bucking a current that slowed their speed to a puttering four knots.[5]

As the sun rose and the firing picked up, it became immediately apparent that Betio would be no “piece of cake.” By the time darkness fell, nineteen members of Company C, 2nd Amphibian Tractor Battalion would be dead – including Sergeant Dwight Randall.

LVTs approaching the beach at Tarawa, November 1943. USMC photo.

PFC Don Crain describes the experience of driving one of the company’s LVTs towards Betio:

[When] the reef was about 800 yards out…. I could see bullets coming through our bow and a lot coming through the side. We were taking a lot of fire from the hulk of a ship aground to our right. The fire killed both the radio operator and the assistant driver. We got about halfway across the [lagoon]; then, the amtrac’s engine just stopped. It was dead…. I was one of only three to get out alive – the maintenance sergeant, one Marine rifleman, and myself. The maintenance sergeant and the rifleman were both wounded. We had no weapons. We jumped out over the side and into the water and went to the back of the tractor.[6]

Exactly how and where Dwight Randall met his death is not known; even his battalion’s muster rolls and his Marine Corps casualty card offer no clues. He was reportedly buried in “Cemetery 2” on the island, and his parents and community were informed that he was dead.

Excavations are underway at Cemetery 33 in 1946. Runway is visible at top right.

In 1946, the 604th Quartermaster Graves Registration Company arrived on Betio to consolidate the remains of the dead into a single cemetery, preparatory to sending them all to Hawaii for final identification. They were dismayed to find that the markers they found bore little or no resemblance to where remains were buried; while they might have expected to find Sergeant Dwight Randall in Row 1, Plot 9, Grave 16 of “Cemetery 33,” they quickly learned that this and all others were memorials only – no bodies were buried beneath. Eventually they happened upon an actual burial trench of Cemetery 33 and began recovering remains. Few of these had any means of identification, however, and after three years in Betio’s sandy soil, no recognizable physical features remained.

The GRS teams set about taking dental charts and searching for personal effects among the remains. One man exhumed from Cemetery 33, “Marine #174,” had two coins, a pocketknife, and a keyring in what remained of his pockets. He had also been buried with an identification tag – but this was no help. “The identification tags found were almost useless to us,” complained 1Lt. Ira Eisensmith, “for the chemical reaction of the coral had corroded them until they were illegible. It appeared that the lettering had been etched or lightly stamped into the tags. In addition, most of the tags were almost disintegrated when found by us.”[7] The 604th thought that “174” might be Lt. Bonnie Little – a platoon leader in C/2nd Amphtracs – but the dental chart failed to match. He was buried in the Lone Palm Cemetery in Plot 1, Row 10, Grave 16, between Private Norman R. Shelner and “Marine #172.”[8]

In 1948, Lone Palm was exhumed and the remains transported to the Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii. There, “174” was re-designated as “Betio Unknown X-162” and examined by trained anthropologists and technicians in hopes of returning his identity. This also proved unsuccessful, and on 22 March 1949, the unknown Marine was buried in Section E, Grave 512 of the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.

 

“Dear Sir,” wrote Jeanne Randall Clark in 1956.

I am writing to you with the hope that you might be able to give me some information which I would very much appreciate having….

On November 23, 1943 my brother, Staff Sergeant Dwight Wade Randall, 2nd Marine Division, United States Marine Corps, was killed in action at Tarawa. We were always led to believe that he was buried in the Cemetery over there.

Now then, only today my Cousin and his wife returned to San Francisco after visiting [Hawaii]. While there, they visited Pearl Harbor to inquire about visiting his grave and the records there stated that his body had been what they call “unrecoverable.” Inasmuch as we were told by Buddies of his that he did land on the Island, this was quite hard to believe.

What I would like to find out is just what records you have of his body being recovered…. I believe you can see that we are quite anxious to find out just what the disposition of his body is.[9]

Her question would remain unanswered for more than fifty years.

 

On 27 May 2017, the remains of X-162 were exhumed from the NMCP.
He was identified as Sergeant Dwight W. Randall on 13 September 2018.


[1] Victor J. Croziat, Across The Reef: The Amphibious Tracked Vehicle At War (New York: Arms and Armour Press, 1989), 87.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Durk Steed, “Battle of Tarawa: Don Crain in the First Marine LVT Assault,” Warfare History Network, 19 February 2018. “We were never told that before the invasion,” remarked Crain, a driver from Company C. “It would have been too demoralizing
[4] Ibid.
[5] A footnote in battalion muster rolls indicate that Randall’s vehicle was attached to a unit of the 8th Marines – however, a similar footnote appears for Crain, also of Company C, and Crain’s vehicle wound up transporting troops of the 2nd Marines. Unfortunately, it is difficult to say with certainty which troops were aboard Randall’s LVT, or which beach they landed on.
[6] Steed, “Battle of Tarawa.”
[7] 1Lt. Ira Eisensmith, “Memorandum to Chief, Memorial Branch, Quartermaster Section, Army Forces, Middle Pacific, 3 July 1946.”
[8] Marine #172 (also known as Betio X-163) was identified as Pvt. Ray James on 7 June 2017. James and Shelner both served with F/2/8th Marines; if they were originally buried together, this might suggest that Randall’s LVT was in their sector (Red Beach 3). However, it is not possible to verify this claim with any certainty using available historical records. Lieutenant Little’s remains were identified shortly after the war.
[9] Dwight Wade Randall, Individual Deceased Personnel File.

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