MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- At the beginning of World War II, military units had designators such as Baker, Dog, and Easy. One unit that would establish its place in history was Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment.
Later known as ‘Echo Company’ until January 2003, the use of its former ‘Easy’ designation was authorized by Col. Walter L. Miller, Jr., now chief of staff for the 4th Marine Division, during a mess night - a celebratory dinner - in 2003. Bob Schultz, a mortarman with the unit in the 1940’s, first suggested the switch back to ‘Easy’. After hearing the rich history of the unit from Schultz, Miller, former commander of the battalion landing team to which the company once belonged, quickly agreed to the company using its World War II name. The reinstatement of their name was in large part due to the heroic Marines of the past, the Marines of Easy who gave their lives.
“There were 180 of us from Easy Company that hit the beach that morning,” Schultz said in a later interview. “No more than 40 of us walked off the island.”
The Marines had been on ships for weeks, floating in a part of the ocean thought to be inhabited by monstrous sea creatures just a few centuries before. They were mostly young men who ‘wanted to see action’ as the recruiting posters had advertised. Early on the morning of Nov. 20, 1943, the order came: Hit the beach with everything you’ve got.
It was the first day of the assault on Betio Island – the struggle would come to be known as the Battle of Tarawa.
Schultz, of Jackson, Mich., enlisted at the Detroit recruiting station Dec. 12, 1942. Just shy of a year later, the 19 year-old was facing what many have called the bloodiest battle the Corps has ever fought.
“Easy Company was a bonded group. I was part of a replacement unit, which was reinforcing Easy after the battle for Guadalcanal,” the 79-year old veteran recounted. “If there was one thing that was easy about Easy Company, it was that they really took all the younger fellows in. They didn’t treat us bad like some other units did with their new guys.”
Joining the company in May 1943, Schultz would soon find himself a battle-hardened veteran of the unit.
“We were taking machine gun fire from both sides of us as we came up to the beach,” he said. “Easy was one of the first companies to assault the island. Soon after that, all of our officers were dead.”
With the absence of commissioned leadership, Schultz described how the non-commissioned officers took over the company and carried on with the mission.
“At one point the highest ranking person was a sergeant. However, we were trained well and every man knew the job of the guy above him. If a machine-gunner went down, the guy behind him picked up the weapon and kept moving forward,” Schultz said.
As the mortarmen ran out of ammunition, they left their heavy tubes behind and carried on as riflemen.
It was all close combat as we took the island, Schultz said. Japanese were deeply entrenched in concrete and metal pillboxes with machine guns, cutting down Marines with raking fire right and left.
“I saw a few Marines make suicide runs, sprinting into the pillboxes with grenades or satchel charges,” he said. “After losing so many Marines, it was a last (recourse).”
At the conclusion of three days of hand-to-hand fighting involving numerous battalions of Marines and thousands of Japanese, Tarawa was finally declared secured the afternoon of Nov. 23. Four thousand, eight hundred and thirty six Japanese were present on the island before the attack began. Only one hundred and forty-six Japanese prisoners rounded up after Marine forces had captured the island.
“Determination, our ‘never quit attitude’ was the thing that did it,” Schultz commented.
“We never lost our leadership and we kept pressing forward.”
Later Cpl. Schultz was injured during the battle for Saipan and sent home. Today he heads up the 2nd Marines Association.
Easy Company’s tradition of excellence has continued from the beaches of Tarawa to the deserts of Iraq. These Marines have proved themselves and deserve recognition, said Capt. Bradley C. Weston, the present commanding officer of Easy Company. The Houstonian took command of the company nine months ago and is scheduled to lead them into Iraq this spring.
“We fight wars differently now. There are no more frontal assaults on beachheads like in World War II. We rely more on technology to destroy our enemy, but the intensity of training is the same,” Weston said. “These Marines preparing to go into combat have the same responsibilities of those in 1943. The history and bonds Easy established back then are the same type the Marines of today will look back on 40 or 50 years in the future.”