Remembering Eddie Albert

By Thomas J. Cutler

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.

 

Thomas J. Cutler is a retired lieutenant commander and former gunner's mate second class who served in patrol craft, cruisers, destroyers, and aircraft carriers. His varied assignments included an in-country Vietnam tour, small craft command, and nine years at the U.S. Naval Academy, where he served as Executive Assistant to the Chairman of the Seamanship & Navigation Department and Associate Chairman of the History Department. While at the Academy, he was awarded the William P. Clements Award for Excellence in Education (military teacher of the year).

He is the founder and former Director of the Walbrook Maritime Academy in Baltimore. Currently he is Fleet Professor of Strategy and Policy with the Naval War College and is the Director of Professional Publishing at the U.S. Naval Institute.

Winner of the Alfred Thayer Mahan Award for Naval Literature, the U.S. Naval Institute Press Author of the Year, and the U.S. Maritime Literature Award, his published works include NavCivGuide: A Handbook for Civilians in the U.S. Navy; A Sailor's History of the U.S. Navy [one of the books in the Chief of Naval Operations Reading Program]; The Battle of Leyte Gulf; Brown Water, Black Berets: Coastal & Riverine Warfare in Vietnam; and the 22nd, 23rd (Centennial), and 24th editions of The Bluejacket's Manual. His other works include revisions of Jack Sweetman's The Illustrated History of the U.S. Naval Academy and Dutton's Nautical Navigation. He and his wife, Deborah W. Cutler, are the co-editors of the Dictionary of Naval Terms and the Dictionary of Naval Abbreviations.

His books have been published in various forms, including paperback and audio, and have appeared as main and alternate selections of the History Book Club, Military Book Club, and Book of the Month Club. He has served as a panelist, commentator, and keynote speaker on military and writing topics at many events and for various organizations, including the Naval History and Heritage Command, Smithsonian Institution, the Navy Memorial, U.S. Naval Academy, MacArthur Memorial Foundation, Johns Hopkins University, U.S. Naval Institute, Armed Forces Electronics Communications and Electronics Association, Naval War College, Civitan, and many veterans' organizations. His television appearances include the History Channel's Biography series, A&E's Our Century, Fox News Channel's The O'Reilly Factor, and CBS's 48 Hours.

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