On June 20, 1945, Lou Schott found himself in one of the last firefights of World War II against Imperial Japanese forces.
During the Battle of Okinawa, Schott assumed command of Able Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Marines after his company commander was seriously wounded by machine gun fire. Tasked with assaulting a hill near the ruins of Shuri Castle, he personally reconnoitered enemy positions and came up with an alternative plan of attack that proved successful.
Nearly 78 years after his actions, Schott, 102, of Marriottsville, was awarded the Silver Star, the U.S. Armed Forces’ third-highest military decoration for valor in combat, during a ceremony May 18 at Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 7472 in Ellicott City.
“[Schott] says the most memorable day that he had was the day he was commissioned a Marine second lieutenant,” said Dr. Greg Jolissaint, chair of the Howard County Commission for Veterans & Military Families. “But his most defining days were when he led his Marines in combat. He loved being a Marine.”
Schott was unable to attend in person due to an illness, but he watched a live video of the ceremony as his five daughters accepted the award on his behalf. Daughter Patti Turner said a big grin spread across his face when he first heard he would receive the medal.
“It was beyond anything that he really had hoped would happen,” Turner, of Ellicott City, said. “He’s not a guy that’s about awards and recognition and all that kind of stuff. But this is really special.”
Full recognition of Schott’s actions began when he met fellow Marine and Vietnam War veteran Lt. Col. Ed Hall at the restaurant Mission BBQ in Ellicott City in 2016. A close friendship was quickly born. Now the two frequently travel to veterans events together in Hall’s jeep, which bears Schott’s name on the right passenger door.
Hall learned Schott originally had been put forward for a Silver Star in the weeks following Okinawa, but despite the endorsement of the commanding general of the fleet Marine force in the Pacific, the award was downgraded to a Bronze Star medal with “V” device, which denotes valor or heroism. The honor is the fourth-highest combat decoration in the U.S. military. The Silver Star is the third highest.
In 2020, after researching Schott’s original award recommendation, Hall penned a letter to the Department of the Navy, in which the Marines are a component, seeking reconsideration.
“I said you guys are not reading this correctly,” Hall said. “Look at the dates. Look at the petitions. Look at the citations.”
Hall’s appeals went nowhere for almost two years, but on May 12 he finally received a call that Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro had personally approved and signed off on Schott’s Silver Star.
“We did it,” said Hall as applause broke out at the award ceremony.
‘It was like hell on Earth’
Schott had just finished playing an ice hockey game for La Salle University against Georgetown in Washington, in December 1941 when he heard news of the attack on Pearl Harbor over the radio.
As he and his teammates rode the bus back to Philadelphia, he knew their lives had changed forever and quickly decided to enlist in the Marines.
“The Marines are the finest fighting organization in the world,” Schott told The Howard County Times in 2019.
After receiving his commission as a second lieutenant in 1943, Schott participated in combat operations in the New Britain, Peleliu and Okinawa campaigns. In September 1944, he led a rifle platoon ashore during the first assault wave at Peleliu, an island in the Palau archipelago in Micronesia, considered by historians to be one of the bitterest battles of the Pacific.
Division leadership predicted the island would be secured in four days, but Schott and his fellow Marines met fierce Japanese resistance upon landing on the coral- and obstacle-strewn beach.
“It was like hell on Earth,” Schott said in an interview with the American Veterans Center. “The surf was thick with blood. Our blood.”
By the 10th day of the fight, only 10 of the 44 marines in Schott’s platoon were left standing. That day he was wounded by an enemy mortar round, earning him a Purple Heart and evacuation to a hospital ship. Despite his injuries, Schott was determined to get back in the fight and secured a transfer to a front-line unit upon arriving at Okinawa in spring 1945.
Schott’s assumed command of his company’s attack on Hill 69, which ultimately led to his belated Silver Star. Exposing himself to enemy fire, Schott noticed Japanese forces were reinforcing the position through a surrounding cave system, which he helped eliminate first before taking the hill.
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“He formulated a plan whereby his objective was taken with minimal friendly casualties,” Schott’s Silver Star citation reads. “By his aggressive initiative and able leadership, 2nd Lt. Schott saved the lives of many of his Marines and Sailors.”
Following the war, Schott went into the Marine Corps Reserve and eventually rose to the rank of colonel. He married his wife, Regina, in 1947 and moved from his home state of New Jersey to Maryland to work for the Social Security Administration. They had five daughters.
Growing up, Debbie Hinds said she didn’t hear her father discuss many details of his service. It wasn’t until Schott became involved with veterans groups in the 1990s that she began to understand the scope of what he had done.
“I couldn’t even believe that he was  years old,” said Hinds, of Ellicott City. “Tom Brokaw wrote that book, ‘The Greatest Generation,’ and they truly were.”
Hinds said her father’s family, Catholic faith and the Marines have been the guiding forces in his life. Along with being a voracious reader, lifelong golfer and a “great cracker of jokes,” Schott is known for his deep sense of ethics and honesty, according to his daughters.
Leading Marines into battle, daughter Eileen Yaeger said, is what gave him a true sense of self.
“It so profoundly impacted him,” Yaeger said. “He learned he was a leader. They were young kids. He talks about the things he had to do and the decisions he had to make and how he had to take care of his men ... That’s the amazing thing.”