MARRIOTSVILLE, MD. (WDVM) — It was a costly battle in the Pacific during World War II that historians and military analysts say didn’t have to be fought. They say the Japanese troops on the five square mile speck of coral could have been bypassed and allowed to wither on the vine. At that point in the war, Japan could no longer resupply its garrisons. They no longer controlled the seas or the air. But General Douglas McArthur convinced President Franklin D. Roosevelt Peleliu must be taken to protect his flank as he made his promised triumphant return to the Philippine where he was forced to flee with his wife and young son and several aides after the U.S. garrison at Corregidor fell.
The National Museum of the Marine Corps at Quantico says Peleliu was the “bitterest battle” Marines fought during World War II.
Second Lieutenant Lou Schott, a Marine platoon leader, says he agrees with those who felt this was a battle that didn’t need to be fought, but he kept his feelings to himself.
Schott’s platoon in A Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment waded ashore under murderous Japanese fire from heavy guns that were hidden in caves.
“They would roll the guns out, take a shot, and then roll them back behind steel doors,” said Schott.
“They had every inch of Orange Beach where we landed covered,” added Schott.
Schott’s platoon advanced 100 yards from the beach in the face of stiff resistance. Their objective was the Japanese airfield. Had it not been for two Sherman tanks that got ashore, the battle might have been won by the Japanese who sent all of their tanks, 12 of them, across the airfield toward Schott’s platoon and other members of A Company. The battle was immortalized in the HBO Series, Pacific.
Major General William Rupertus, the commanding officer of the First Marine Division, boasted that his Marines would take the island in four days, but the battle lasted two months, one week and five days. “His clock was different than mine,” laughed Schott who said three days of pre-invasion shelling and bombing by the U.S. Navy was “impressive, but ineffective.”
“I guess it got rid of all the foliage for us so it looked like a moonscape, but it didn’t kill any Japanese,” lamented Schott who lost 34 of the 44 Marines he led ashore. Schott was badly wounded on the 12th day scratching his right armpit with his left hand while directing his Marines where to place their air-cooled 30-caliber machineguns in order to repel banzai attacks by Japanese troops who decided to fight to the death.
Schott’s left arm was shattered by a piece of shrapnel when a Japanese mortar round exploded in front of him. “Had my arm not covered my heart, I wouldn’t be talking to you,” said Schott.
The casualties were staggering on both sides. More than 2,300 Marines and Navy personnel were killed on the American side. Another 8,000 were wounded. Schott says only 19 of the 13,500 Japanese troops on the island survived.
When Schott, who will celebrate his 100th birthday next August, left Peleliu in 1944, he said he never wanted to return.
“If Hell is anything like it, I don’t want to go there,” said Schott, but he changed his mind and returned to Peleliu in 1994 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the battle which has been forgotten by almost every American, except those who fought and died there.
While his visit brought back a rush of memories, Lou Schott says he can’t forget the horrible things that happened there.
A Japanese skull in a helmet warns Marines about snipers in the area.