Naval History's readers continually fill our mailbox with superb unsolicited articles. Nevertheless, I occasionally must ask historians to write stories for us on particular topics, and in some cases—such as this issue's commemoration of the battle for Tarawa's 65th anniversary-matching an author with the topic is a no-brainer.
Colonel Joseph Alexander, USMC (Ret.) literally wrote the book on the battle—Utmost Savagery: The Three Days of Tarawa. Fortunately, he enthusiastically agreed to write for this issue, and we quickly decided on the basic outlines of his three articles.
The awful brutality of the fight for Tarawa Atoll's tiny Betio Island can easily overshadow the battle's monumental strategic importance. "A Bloody Proving Ground," however, puts the battle in perspective as the key first step in Admiral Chester Nimitz's westward advance across the Central Pacific. "Across the Reef: The Assault on Betio" then recounts the battle itself, including the daunting challenges the 2d Marine Division surmounted. And "An Enduring Legacy" examines Tarawa's effect on wartime America as well as describes the heroism of individual Leathernecks during the battle.
Colonel Alexander also helped line up two of the package's sidebar stories: "Aftermath of War: Tarawa Today," by Donald K. Allen, and "Documenting Betio's Defenses," about Larry E. Klatt's detailed drawings of Tarawa's fortifications. He then recommended we speak with Retired Marine Major Norman Hatch, who, in "What War Was Like,'" recounts to Senior Editor Fred Schultz filming the fighting on Betio.
Lastly, the colonel lent his expertise to this issue's most outstanding feature: the gatefold guide to the battle for Tarawa, "First Step in the Central Pacific Drive." Chief credit for this engaging mix of maps, diagrams, photographs, and text also goes to cartographer Bob Pratt, designer Kelly Erlinger, and artist James Caiella. This is our third bonus "centerfold," and we'd appreciate hearing how you like it.
As well as solicited features and sidebars, this issue also includes excellent stories that arrived at our office unexpectedly. Nick Cariello's Tarawa sidebar, "ER, Navy Style," showed up only a couple of weeks before our deadline. "A Naval Militiaman's Battleship Adventure," by retired Navy Commander Bolice Paul Fernety, and the Pearl Harbor escape story "Nowhere to Go but Down," by Donald A. Green, are prime examples of the high-quality eyewitness accounts we've been receiving from readers.
As we close out the year, it's important to note that you blessed Naval History with an especially strong crop of unsolicited articles in 2008. In fact, two of them have earned their writers Author of the Year Awards.
Alan P. Rems, mining the archives at Quantico, discovered unpublished letters that formed the basis of his article about the command history of the I Marine Amphibious Corps, "Halsey Knows the Straight Story" (August). Thompson Webb Jr., on the other hand, based his article, "Battling the Pacific's Most Deadly Force" (October), on personal experience. Mr. Webb, who passed away in 1998, wrote his vivid tale of surviving "Halsey's Typhoon" weeks after the December 1944 storm. His grandson Gregg Webb discovered it several years ago and sent it to us.
While articles by professional historians and writers will continue to occasionally appear in Naval History, the heart of the magazine will always be the stories that veterans, amateur historians, and history buffs with a great tale to tell send in.