The term “Gung Ho,” a Chinese expression meaning “working together,” was adopted by Marine Lt. Col. Evans F. Carlson, as the slogan of his Marine Raiders. It soon spread throughout the U.S. Marine Corps as an expression of spirit and eventually entered the public dictionary to mean “enthusiastic” or “dedicated” and is the epithet of the 2nd Raider Battalion who followed him on the raid of Makin Island.
Seventy years ago, over the course of two days, Aug. 17 - 18, 1942, Carlson led 222 men from two companies of the 2nd Raider Battalion on a raid of the small, triangular-shaped Makin Island, a small atoll in the Pacific’s Gilbert Island chain. With Carlson were two notable officers, Major James Roosevelt, Carlson’s Executive Officer and son of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and 1st Lt. Oscar F. Peatross, who would later author a manuscript and rise to the rank of Major General in the Marine Corps.
The raid served as the first amphibious raid attempted from submarines, a precursor to what is now considered routine by the U.S. Special Forces. The raid was intended primarily as a diversion to distract Japanese from sending reinforcements to Guadalcanal and Tulagi where Marines had landed earlier in the month.
Carlson’s team embarked the submarines USS Argonaut and USS Nautilus in Pearl Harbor and began the long journey to Makin Island before disembarking early that Monday morning.
The Marines encountered trouble from the outset. Extreme weather conditions swamped the small boats drowning the engines. Before the rest of the boats hit the beach and still concealed from enemy detection, Carlson’s team spotted a large troop transport and small boat. Using only radios, Carlson’s own compass readings, the submarine Nautilus fired and sunk both vessels.
The Raiders would go on to face heavy sniper fire, flame throwers, tanks, machine guns, and aerial bombings from at least 12 enemy aircraft.
The Raiders evaded the threat and eliminated the enemy.
“What’s better than a sneaky little raid to show we’re on the offensive,” asked Senior Chief Gas Turbine System Technician (Electrical) Dale A. Furr, a current crew member of USS Makin Island.
The spirit and tenacity of Carlson’s raiders has since led to two feature films and the naming of two proud U.S. warships, which have carried with them the same will, determination, and teamwork that brought the majority of the Raiders home from that battle.
The first was a Casablanca-class escort carrier (CVE 93), commissioned less than two years after the battle, May 9, 1944, that served a purpose very similar in nature to today’s amphibious assault ships.
Today, the Navy’s newest deployable amphibious assault ship carries the same Makin Island name proud of the traditions, courage and spirit of the events that led to her namesake.
“A lot of the amphibious assault ships are named after major actions,” Furr said. “As far as Makin Island is concerned, I don’t think anything was done on that scale with Marines on subs during World War II.”
Currently, Sailors, Marines and civilians work together to complete a scheduled phased maintenance availability in preparation for its next deployment. The Navy and Marine Corps integration is critical for the success of the wide range of amphibious operations for which the ship was designed. USS Makin Island supports embarked staffs with a robust Command and Control suite. The ship’s well deck hosts a wide variety of landing craft, and a full flight deck capable of launching air assaults, reconnaissance and rescue missions.
The ship is nothing without the honor, spirit and teamwork of the Navy and Marine Corps crews. As the ship celebrates the anniversary of the raid on Makin Island, the “Gung Ho” spirit of Carlson’s Raiders is alive and well.