Patriot, Chapter 1919
Gabriel Tamayo was born in Lockhart, Texas in 1925. He grew up there and
attended public schools. He was still in high school when his draft notice
came in 1943, but Gabriel didn’t wait. He dropped out of school and enlisted
in the Marine Corps Reserve instead. He entered active duty in San Antonio
on December 11, 1943, and was sent to San Diego where he went through boot
camp. After boot camp and advanced individual training at Camp Pendleton,
Gabriel was immediately sent off to the Pacific Theatre without having any
home leave. His ship sailed on
May 13, 1944, and his destination was Pavuvu, in the Russell Islands
northwest of Guadalcanal.
At that time, Pavuvu island was home to the First Marine Division, recently
moved there after combat at
Cape Gloucester, New Britain, and at Guadalcanal the year before that.
It was a small island, without adequate infrastructure, and when
Gabriel arrived the units were building camps to make the place livable.
In his weapons training, Gabriel Tamayo had scored high in marksmanship and
he came to the First Marine Division with the special military qualification
of machine gunner. He was
further assigned to 4th Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment.
The 11th Marines constituted the artillery regiment for the
division, tasked with providing fire support for the division’s three
line regiments, the 1st, 5th, and
7th Marines. The 4th
Battalion had only recently been formed and it was equipped with 105mm
howitzers, whereas the older battalions were equipped with 75mm pack
howitzers. Gabriel says,
“My job was to position the
machine gun to provide local security and defense for the artillery.”
After he had been on Pavuvu for several months, the division was sent into
combat, participating in the September 15, 1944 invasion landing on Peleilu,
After a month of heavy fighting the First Marine Division was relieved and
on October 20th, they returned to Pavuvu Island.
The division reoccupied their island home and, for the next five months,
continued to develop and improve the base camp facilities. Combat training
exercises at unit level were limited by the small size of Tavuvu. Gabriel
Tamayo’s artillery units did some firing, using the ocean for an impact area
and positioning artillery spotters in boats offshore to adjust the fires.
The division embarked at Pavuvu for the last time and sailed on March 15,
1945 for the huge anchorage at Ulithi Atoll where they joined the fleet
being assembled for the invasion of Okinawa.
After anchoring at Ulithi from 21-27 March, the massive convoy moved
to take up positions off Okinawa, and landed the invasion forces on April
1st, Easter Sunday. The First Marine Division and Sixth Marine Division of
the III Amphibious Corps went ashore at landing beaches in the middle of the
island against Japanese opposition that was surprisingly light. As a result,
Gabriel Tamayo and all the 11th Marines artillery went ashore safely during
the afternoon of the first day.
In the days that followed, the Marines encountered light resistance and soon
secured the center and then the north of the island. However, the Army,
assigned to take the south, had come up against the main body of the enemy
force on the island (100,000 troops). The Japanese had withdrawn to the
southern part of Okinawa where they had the advantage of a well prepared
defensive line and could employ the most effective artillery that the
Americans had faced anywhere in the Pacific up to that time. As a result the
Army took heavy casualties both when they would gain ground in the attack
and then from enemy counter attacks that followed. On April 9, 1945, the
11th Marines, Gabriel Tamayo among them, were moved to the south to provide
their artillery fire support to the more heavily engaged Army units. During
that phase of the fighting the artillery fired many counter-battery missions
to neutralize Japanese artillery, and many fire missions to break up
Japanese counter attacks. On
April 30th, the First Marine Division moved into the line in the south,
(relieving the Army’s depleted 27th Infantry Division), so the 11th Marine
Regiment artillery was again back with its division.
During weeks of bitter combat that followed, the Japanese defenses were
under relentless pressure and by mid-May the general fighting along their
main line of resistance had broken down so that it became more a series of
isolated battles at separate points in each of the four American division’s
sectors. That type of fighting continued even after organized resistance had
collapsed and the Okinawa Campaign was declared ended on June 22, 1945, and
it was in one of those later actions after the official end of the campaign
that Gabriel Tamayo was wounded.
On June 30th, some unknown number of Japanese hold-out’s had been detected
in a cave by a group of Marines that were clearing the area, and Gabriel was
there supporting them. A
tremendous blast, apparently of a quantity of explosives, possibly detonated
by the Japanese in a final suicide act, also killed a lot of Marines,
Gabriel never knew how many. He was among the wounded and Gabriel says,
“I was taken back to a
tent hospital where I was treated for fragmentation wounds, and they kept me
there. It would take three weeks before I could return to my unit but they
never sent me off the island.”
Upon his return from hospital, Gabriel saw no more of the fighting. The
First Marine Division was busy building camps on Okinawa in preparation for
staging troops for the planned invasion of the Japanese home islands.
Gabriel says, “A cyclone came
through that tore everything up, but then the Atomic Bombs were dropped and
the war was over so it didn’t matter. Work stopped on camp building because
there wasn’t going to be an invasion. Not long after that the division was
sent to China to disarm Japanese troops and repatriate them home to Japan.
I was at Tientsin and remember Japanese being shipped out
for home on LST’s.”
The First Marine Division departed Okinawa on September 20, 1945 for
occupation duty in China. The
11th Marine Regiment went to Hopeh Province where they were billeted in
Tientsin at the East French Arsenal. The division would remain in China for
almost two years, long after the last Japanese had been evacuated, but
Corporal Gabriel Tamayo was no longer with them. The “point system” was in
effect and his turn to depart for home came on January 31, 1946.
He was discharged at Camp Pendleton, California on February 12th and
returned home to Texas.
In civilian life again, he worked the next several years as an electrician.
He married in 1949 and because they could use the extra money,
Gabriel joined the Marine Corps Reserve in Austin.
After the Korean War started the next year his unit was re-activated
and ordered to Camp Pendleton.
They arrived in time to be assigned to the First Marine Division barely a
month before they boarded ships and sailed for Korea on August 30, 1950.
They went ashore at Inchon and were directly committed to action. Sergeant
Gabriel Tamayo participated in the capture and securing of Seoul, the
Wonsan-Hungnam-Chosin Campaign, the Northern Korea Campaign and in
operations against enemy forces in south and central Korea until June 1951.
His Marine Corps Reserve unit was returned to the U.S. and relieved from
active duty on July 6, 1951.
Gabriel was honorably discharged on August 5, 1951, and he resumed civilian
life in Austin, Texas. For the next 45 years he was employed by Austin
Armature Works and has been living in retirement since.
He has been a member of the Military Order of the Purple Heart for
twenty years this month, and Chapter 1919 proudly salutes Patriot Gabriel
Tamayo in this issue of PATRIOT