Michael Goldstein’s piece, “Issue in Doubt,” recalling the battle of Tarawa, struck a deep chord. My uncle, Gordon Hildreth ’42, was a Marine lieutenant who was among the first 400 men in the first wave of landing forces in that bloody battle of November 1943. Although he never spoke of his experience, my grandmother (his mother) related that her son witnessed the deaths of two of his best buddies as they were mowed down near him en route to the beach. Gordon, known to the family as “Bud,” did share with me that he was a proud member of the 2nd Marine Division (Reinforced). I’ve since learned that the division received a presidential unit citation for its heroism and ultimate victory at Tarawa.
Typically modest, Gordon never mentioned his two Purple Hearts, earned later at Saipan and Tinian in the Marianas (June and August of 1944, respectively). And it was his mother who informed me that — according to one of his compatriots — in one of those battles, my uncle gave up his sickbed to a Marine who was, in his opinion, more severely injured.
In my own service in the Navy as a lieutenant junior grade on a rocket- firing ship (LSMR 525) in Vietnam, I often took heart in remembering Gordon’s bravery and modest demeanor. Bud died in 1989, but he will always remain a hero to me.