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August Volunteer Profile – Jim Morrow at Tarawa and his Okinawa monkey story

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Jim Morrow, volunteer extraordinaire onboard USS Yorktown at Patriots Point.

Jim Morrow, volunteer extraordinaire onboard USS Yorktown at Patriots Point.

Our August volunteer profile is on Jim Morrow. Jim grew up in Spartanburg, SC, and joined the United States Marines after high school in 1942. He got on his bus to Parris Island on 07 December, 1942. After PI he went for more training at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina from late January 1943 until late April, when he took a troop train to San Diego. From San Diego he travelled to British Samoa for more intense training with the 22nd Marines and on to New Zealand, before finally winding up on a troop ship departing Wellington in November 1943.

Location of Tarawa in the Pacific Ocean.

Location of Tarawa in the Pacific Ocean.

His superiors told him they were going out for an exercise. On 20 November he found himself in a Higgins boat off the tiny Gilbert Island atoll known as Tarawa. Jim’s Higgins boat headed for Red Beach 2 on one of the atoll’s islands named Betio, which was defended by nearly 5000 crack Japanese troops.

Tarawa atoll, November 1943

Tarawa atoll, November 1943

Jim almost didn’t make it onto the beach at Betio, as the Higgins boat driver pulled back from the coral reef to drop his ramp. When the Marines stepped off the ramp they plunged into very deep water and many drowned before they could pull off their heavy packs. Jim was able to lose his, which included his mortar tube. He made his way to the pier (see map above, or picture here) and worked his way to the island using the pier for cover with no weapon. Jim eventually became a runner (messenger) dodging Japanese bullets as he delivered messages between the different attack elements on Tarawa. The battle lasted from 20 November to 23 November 1943.

Marines ashore at Tarawa.

Marines ashore at Tarawa.

Of the 4836 Japanese defenders on Betio, 146 (129 were Korean laborers) were alive at the end of the battle. The Marines had 3,301 casualties with 990 deaths.

Jim was sent back to Hawaii after Tarawa and then returned to the United States for a 30 day furlough. He was ordered to Camp Lejeune once more. This time he was an instructor, training Marines in the use of anti-aircraft weapons, 40mm (quads) and 90 mm guns. Jim eventually returned to the Pacific and was part of the 2nd Marines stationed on Okinawa serving in the 8th Antiaircraft Battalion.

While stationed on Okinawa, Jim had one of his memorable and humorous events of the war. As he and other Marines would line up for chow, a Navy Seabee (CB – Construction Battalion) would be standing off to the side with his pet monkey. Jim was fascinated by the creature, and would often go over and talk to the Seabee and admire his monkey. The Seabee told him that he had picked up the monkey on Luzon (the largest of the Phillipine islands) and the monkey’s name was Charlie.

Finally, one day Jim asked the Seabee, “How much would you be willing to sell that monkey for?”

The Seabee replied, ” Well, I can’t take a dollar less than what I paid for him. Charlie is a three hundred dollar monkey!”

Jim knew that was alot of money for a monkey, but as a young Marine out in the world, his fascination with the creature overcame his fiscal responsibility. “OK, I’ll meet you tomorrow with the money.”

The next day Jim returned with his money and took Charlie, along with a cage and food supplies from the Seabee. Jim never saw this Seabee again on Okinawa. That night Charlie howled and screamed the most terrible, jungle noises the Marines had ever heard, and his nightly performances did not cease. The other Marines were not happy about the disturbance in their sleep cycle, and they began to threaten him and the monkey with consequences of the most severe kind.

It finally dawned on Jim what he must do…he began to take Charlie with him to chow and stand off to the side with his playful monkey. Eventually a very young, non-rated Marine (no stripe) came over to him and began talking about the monkey…the now combat hardened Jim could forsee an end to his problems, as eventually the younger, less experienced Marine asked the fatal question, “How much would you take for Charlie?”

Jim, not showing any emotion for fear his deliverance would fail, told the young Marine, ” Well, I can’t take a dollar less than what I paid for him. Charlie is a three hundred dollar monkey!”

The young Marine said, “That’s alot of money!” But after a short hesitation, he offered, “OK, I’ll have the money for you tomorrow!”

True to his word, the young Marine showed up the next day at chow with $300. Jim hoped the youngster would not notice his sweating palms as he took the money. As for Charlie and the young Marine, Jim never saw them again. He sometimes wonders how they fared when the night skies of Okinawa became the screaming, howling jungle of his nightmares…

At the end of the war, he finally departed Okinawa in November 1945 and was discharged on 10 January, 1946. Jim settled down in Mount Pleasant, SC, and worked many years as the Facilities engineer at the Charleston Navy Yard, while raising his family. He has been a superb¬† volunteer at Patriots Point, talking with many guests and school children about our nation’s heritage and the price of freedom.¬† We salute Jim for his dedication and service to our country and community!

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