As the assault began on tiny Betio islet at the south end of the atoll, the boats could not get over the coral reefs, and the Marines had to debark five-hundred yards from the beach. Murderous enemy fire began decimating the Americans as they struggled to get ashore. Soon there were many dead and nearly a hundred wounded in the waist deep water. Heimberger charged in and began pulling Marines to safety while he and his crew were subjected to heavy fire.
Taking the rescued Marines to safety, he then formed a small flotilla of LCVPs and went back in to effect more rescues. Despite the withering fire from shore, he was able to rescue more than forty men from certain death.
Years later, when asked about the experience, his recollections focused not upon his own obvious heroism but on that of the men who had come to storm ashore. At one point he had encountered a group of Marines who were unhurt but had lost their weapons when their landing craft had been sunk. When Heimberger offered them rescue, they refused and asked him to instead bring them weapons so that they could continue their assault. He did so, but on his return, he found that most of them had perished under enemy fire.
After the war, Edward Heimberger returned to his entertainment career, using the stage name he had adopted after being called "Eddie Hamburger" once too often. Dropping his surname, he chose to use his middle name "Albert" instead. Many years into his career, when an interviewer asked which of his many accomplishments meant the most to him, he replied that it was his stint as a landing craft commander on the beaches of Tarawa—a role that earned him a Bronze Star and the gratitude of forty-some Marines who lived to see another day.
Eddie Albert was 99.