Gabriel Tamayo was born in Lockhart, Texas in 1925. He grew up there and attended public schools. He was still in high school when his draft notice came in 1943, but Gabriel didnt wait. He dropped out of school and enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve instead. He entered active duty in San Antonio on December 11, 1943, and was sent to San Diego where he went through boot camp. After boot camp and advanced individual training at Camp Pendleton, Gabriel was immediately sent off to the Pacific Theatre without having any home leave. His ship sailed on May 13, 1944, and his destination was Pavuvu, in the Russell Islands northwest of Guadalcanal.
At that time, Pavuvu island was home to the First Marine Division, recently moved there after combat at Cape Gloucester, New Britain, and at Guadalcanal the year before that. It was a small island, without adequate infrastructure, and when Gabriel arrived the units were building camps to make the place livable.
In his weapons training, Gabriel Tamayo had scored high in marksmanship and he came to the First Marine Division with the special military qualification of machine gunner. He was further assigned to 4th Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment. The 11th Marines constituted the artillery regiment for the division, tasked with providing fire support for the divisions three line regiments, the 1st, 5th, and 7th Marines. The 4th Battalion had only recently been formed and it was equipped with 105mm howitzers, whereas the older battalions were equipped with 75mm pack howitzers. Gabriel says, My job was to position the machine gun to provide local security and defense for the artillery. After he had been on Pavuvu for several months, the division was sent into combat, participating in the September 15, 1944 invasion landing on Peleilu, After a month of heavy fighting the First Marine Division was relieved and on October 20th, they returned to Pavuvu Island.
The division reoccupied their island home and, for the next five months, continued to develop and improve the base camp facilities. Combat training exercises at unit level were limited by the small size of Tavuvu. Gabriel Tamayos artillery units did some firing, using the ocean for an impact area and positioning artillery spotters in boats offshore to adjust the fires.
The division embarked at Pavuvu for the last time and sailed on March 15, 1945 for the huge anchorage at Ulithi Atoll where they joined the fleet being assembled for the invasion of Okinawa. After anchoring at Ulithi from 21-27 March, the massive convoy moved to take up positions off Okinawa, and landed the invasion forces on April 1st, Easter Sunday. The First Marine Division and Sixth Marine Division of the III Amphibious Corps went ashore at landing beaches in the middle of the island against Japanese opposition that was surprisingly light. As a result, Gabriel Tamayo and all the 11th Marines artillery went ashore safely during the afternoon of the first day.
In the days that followed, the Marines encountered light resistance and soon secured the center and then the north of the island. However, the Army, assigned to take the south, had come up against the main body of the enemy force on the island (100,000 troops). The Japanese had withdrawn to the southern part of Okinawa where they had the advantage of a well prepared defensive line and could employ the most effective artillery that the Americans had faced anywhere in the Pacific up to that time. As a result the Army took heavy casualties both when they would gain ground in the attack and then from enemy counter attacks that followed. On April 9, 1945, the 11th Marines, Gabriel Tamayo among them, were moved to the south to provide their artillery fire support to the more heavily engaged Army units. During that phase of the fighting the artillery fired many counter-battery missions to neutralize Japanese artillery, and many fire missions to break up Japanese counter attacks. On April 30th, the First Marine Division moved into the line in the south, (relieving the Armys depleted 27th Infantry Division), so the 11th Marine Regiment artillery was again back with its division.
During weeks of bitter combat that followed, the Japanese defenses were under relentless pressure and by mid-May the general fighting along their main line of resistance had broken down so that it became more a series of isolated battles at separate points in each of the four American divisions sectors. That type of fighting continued even after organized resistance had collapsed and the Okinawa Campaign was declared ended on June 22, 1945, and it was in one of those later actions after the official end of the campaign that Gabriel Tamayo was wounded.
On June 30th, some unknown number of Japanese hold-outs had been detected in a cave by a group of Marines that were clearing the area, and Gabriel was there supporting them. A tremendous blast, apparently of a quantity of explosives, possibly detonated by the Japanese in a final suicide act, also killed a lot of Marines, Gabriel never knew how many. He was among the wounded and Gabriel says, I was taken back to a tent hospital where I was treated for fragmentation wounds, and they kept me there. It would take three weeks before I could return to my unit but they never sent me off the island.
Upon his return from hospital, Gabriel saw no more of the fighting. The First Marine Division was busy building camps on Okinawa in preparation for staging troops for the planned invasion of the Japanese home islands. Gabriel says, A cyclone came through that tore everything up, but then the Atomic Bombs were dropped and the war was over so it didnt matter. Work stopped on camp building because there wasnt going to be an invasion. Not long after that the division was sent to China to disarm Japanese troops and repatriate them home to Japan. I was at Tientsin and remember Japanese being shipped out for home on LSTs.
The First Marine Division departed Okinawa on September 20, 1945 for occupation duty in China. The 11th Marine Regiment went to Hopeh Province where they were billeted in Tientsin at the East French Arsenal. The division would remain in China for almost two years, long after the last Japanese had been evacuated, but Corporal Gabriel Tamayo was no longer with them. The point system was in effect and his turn to depart for home came on January 31, 1946. He was discharged at Camp Pendleton, California on February 12th and returned home to Texas.
In civilian life again, he worked the next several years as an electrician. He married in 1949 and because they could use the extra money, Gabriel joined the Marine Corps Reserve in Austin. After the Korean War started the next year his unit was re-activated and ordered to Camp Pendleton.
They arrived in time to be assigned to the First Marine Division barely a month before they boarded ships and sailed for Korea on August 30, 1950. They went ashore at Inchon and were directly committed to action. Sergeant Gabriel Tamayo participated in the capture and securing of Seoul, the Wonsan-Hungnam-Chosin Campaign, the Northern Korea Campaign and in operations against enemy forces in south and central Korea until June 1951. His Marine Corps Reserve unit was returned to the U.S. and relieved from active duty on July 6, 1951.
Gabriel was honorably discharged on August 5, 1951, and he resumed civilian life in Austin, Texas. For the next 45 years he was employed by Austin Armature Works and has been living in retirement since. He has been a member of the Military Order of the Purple Heart for twenty years this month, and Chapter 1919 proudly salutes Patriot Gabriel Tamayo in this issue of PATRIOT BULLETIN.