Tom Tachis

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Tom Tachis
Staff Sgt./Acting Gunnery Sgt. – U.S. Marines,
3rd Marine Division, 29th Reinforced Battalion,
VMF 212 & 1st Marine Division,
1st Amtrac Battalion, C Company
World War II (1942-1945) & Korean War (1950-1951)

Born on January 20, 1925 in San Francisco, California, Tom Tachis was taught from childhood to be very proud of his country. Tom’s father had been raised in a little town in Italy, and fell in love with the United States as soon as he arrived in 1908. He loved his newfound homeland so much that he joined the American Expeditionary Force and fought in France in the First World War. Tom’s mother was born in Ohio, Illinois, and she met and married Tom’s father in San Francisco in 1920. When Tom was 16, his father called him into a conference room at home (the bedroom), and told him that he thought there was going to be another war. He said that he expected Tom to fight for his country in the war. And so when the United States entered the Second World War, Tom was ready to go.

In Tom’s senior year in Galileo High School in San Francisco, the school was visited by representatives of the United States Marine Corps. Partly because of representatives’ resplendent uniforms, and partly because one of his favorite baseball players was a Marine, Tom quickly fell in love with the Marine Corps. He enlisted and signed up for the V-12 program the day before his eighteenth birthday, on January 19, 1942. After graduating from high school, Tom was activated in the V-12 program and sent to North Texas Agricultural College in Arlington, Texas. Unfortunately, due to high casualties in the Pacific, the V-12 program was soon disbanded and its members shipped off to basic training to meet the need for Marine riflemen in the Pacific Theatre.

Tom underwent basic training in the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego, California. During basic training, Tom learned to follow orders, to fight, and to survive. After finishing basic, he was given a ten day leave, during which he was able to visit his family and resume his relationship with his girlfriend and future wife, Rita. But then, finally, Tom was assigned to the 29th Reinforced Regiment, and was off to war.

Tom soon arrived on the island of Bougainville in the Pacific, where he was immediately put on the battle line along the Numa Numa River. Life in the jungle was very humid, and the Marines would sometimes have to go for days without changing clothes because they were constantly in combat.

The rations were, according to Tom, a concoction called K-Rations. “It’s funny in today’s day and age but in every K-Ration there was a little carton of four cigarettes and some matches, a can opener and several cans of rations along with a chocolate bar that for one reason or another was all covered in kind of a white dust which we would brush off. The rations were not what I would call enticing. In fact they were a lot of something called Spam and some dehydrated foods that you had to mix with water and really did not quite make it, in my mind, as food, but it did offer nourishment.”

One way that Tom’s unit had to obtain better food was to visit the Seabees, the construction battalions. Even though the Seabees were organized with the Navy, they detested it, as did the Marines. This common feeling led to a strong favorable relationship between the Marines and the Seabees. Since the Seabees had much better food supplies and kitchens than the Marines did, they often insisted that the Marines eat with them. That’s where Tom acquired his taste for marmalade. The Seabees were also known for being able to appropriate nearly anything, such as extra food and spare half-track parts, through a number of semi-legitimate methods, and they often acquired such things for the Marines when other sources failed.

After spending roughly two weeks in actual combat, Tom’s unit was pulled back as an Australian division took over combat responsibilities. Tom was reassigned to a defense unit, to a Marine Aviation group called Marine Air Group One. He was assigned to defend a squadron called VMF-212. His duties were to patrol the airfield in a half-track and provide any defense that was necessary.

When the island of Bougainville was considered secured, Tom’s unit was sent to the island of Peleliu with VMF-212. Unfortunately, the Liberty ship Tom was riding on, the Jack London, broke down and malfunctioned constantly. The ship was slowed down so much by the breakdowns that it had to be left behind by the convoy. By the time it made landfall, seventy days after setting out, Tom’s orders had been changed and his unit had been assigned to work with the 3rd Marine Air Group on Samar, in the Philippines. His unit was equipped with three half-tracks, each armed with a quad .50 caliber machine gun in the back, and whenever there was a fear that the Japanese would break through to the airfield, the defense unit was there to push them back. When Samar was secured, Tom’s unit was reassigned to the 1st Marine Division, and participated in the assault on Okinawa on April 1st, 1944. Following the battle, Tom’s unit went back to defensive duties with VMF-212, and continued airfield defense for the remainder of the war.

One notable incident that occurred soon before the end of the war proved the adage that “every Marine is a rifleman.” Tom was visiting a friend in Kadena, which was an airport on the island of Okinawa. While he was there, eighteen Japanese soldiers landed a DC-2 transport plane on the runway in what could only be characterized as a kamikaze attack. As Tom himself put it, “…eighteen Japanese infantrymen tumbled out of the airplane and I guess their assignment was to try and destroy airplanes or to inflict any damage they could because they were armed with grenades and armed with rifles with fixed bayonets. And all of us had a rifle with us and in very short order we had eighteen corpses and they did no damage.” Every single Marine in the area, whether a cook or a mechanic or an engineer, was armed and highly trained with a rifle. The outcome of the attack was never in doubt.

After the war ended, Tom went back to school in the United States. Though he was a civilian again, he was seeking more income, and so he joined a reserves unit that was located at Treasure Island. The position in the reserves paid for Tom’s continued education, and one weekend a month he had active duty with the 12th Artillery Tractor Battalion. As part of his responsibilities with the reserves, he also had to go to Camp Pendleton for two weeks of active training and to requalify with the standard Marine weaponry. He qualified as an expert with the M1 Garand, Colt M1911, and M1 Carbine.

In 1950, Tom was recalled from the reserves to serve in Korea. He was assigned to the 12th Amphibian Tractor Battalion for training with amtracs, amphibious tractors that served as armed troop and cargo transports. After training on Treasure Island, he was reassigned to the 1st Amphibian Tractor Battalion, 1st Marine Division and sent to Korea to participate in the invasion of Inchon.

Normally, after an amphibious invasion, the amtracs would load up with wounded soldiers and go back to the ships offshore. At Inchon, however, there was very little enemy artillery, and the casualty rate was very low, roughly five percent. So the amtrac crews decided to stay ashore rather than go back to the ships. The next morning, they loaded the amtracs up with troops and created a new use for the armored vehicles. The amtracs pushed inland, and every time they were attacked, they would unload the infantry and provide them with covering fire with their machine guns. Once they had destroyed or severely weakened the enemy force in the area, they would load back up and move on.

One memorable incident for Tom happened on the outskirts of a town called Yeongdeungpo. The temperature there was in the upper hundreds, and the infantry in the amtracs had run out of water. The amtracs each had eight 5-gallon drums of water for cooling, and they still had them mostly filled, so they used the remaining water to fill up everyone’s canteens. Since they now had no water for cooling, they headed into Yeongdeungpo to try to find some. And while they didn’t find any water, they did find a brewery. They happily filled the water drums with beer from the brewery, and moved on. Very little of the beer ever found its way into the cooling systems of the amtracs.

After leaving Yeongdeungpo, Tom and his unit went on to capture Seoul, the capital of South Korea, and then were reassigned to a different regiment for the invasion of North Korea. They moved through a number of other towns during the counterattack, and they participated in the breakout at the Chosin Reservoir after being reformed as an infantry unit. During the Chosin breakout, the 1st Marine Division was surrounded by twelve Chinese divisions that had arrived to reinforce the North Korean military. It was winter, and the weather was so cold that the Marines had to thaw their rations in the exhaust of their vehicles. Despite being completely outnumbered, Tom said that the Marines “never for a minute thought that we could not fight our way out.” And, accordingly, they fought their way out, bringing their equipment, their wounded and their dead with them.

From Chosin, Tom’s unit moved back to South Korea. The unit worked defense and transportation duties in the vicinity of Inchon until 1951, when the soldiers who had been assigned from reserve units were released. Thus did Tom find himself back in the United States, reentering civilian life.

After being released from service in the Marines, Tom returned to San Francisco and finished his education under the GI Bill of Rights. Once he graduated from college, he went into banking. After eight years in banking, he decided it was time to move to a different job, and he went to work for the Hamm Brewery Company in San Francisco. For the rest of his business life he remained in the beer industry, and by the time he retired he was working as a distributor and importer for beers brewed in France, England and Australia. Tom lives with his wife, Rita, who he married shortly after World War II, in a small community in Corte Madera.  They enjoy traveling in their free time, and no matter where they go, Tom is always ready to lend a helping hand to anyone in need.

Tom is currently a member of the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign War, and Disabled American Veterans. His recommendation to my and future generations is to really appreciate what we have in our country.

Interview by Michael Assmus on May 18, 2013.

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