WILMINGTON, N.C. -- Attacking from land and sea, United States Marines have long been feared for their ability to wreak havoc on enemies by storming their beaches and sweeping through their lands.
Nowhere is this amphibious capability more pronounced than in 2nd Assault Amphibian Battalion, a unit that built its reputation for beachhead battle proficiency during the bloody assault to wrest Tarawa atoll from Japanese defenders in November of 1943.
Sixty-three years later, those warriors of old gathered with their contemporary counterparts on the beaches of Wilmington at the Coastline Convention Center March 10. Their objective was not to raid the shores but to swap stories over a few drinks as they celebrated their battalion’s 64th anniversary ball.
Bedecked in full military regalia, the Marines and sailors feasted alongside unit veterans from World War II, Vietnam and Desert Storm.
Navy Lt. Richard Ryan, 2nd AA Battalion’s chaplain, opened up the ceremony with a prayer, after which the distinguished speakers addressed the troops, emphasizing the importance and honor associated with belonging to the “gator” battalion.
“There is but one unit that brings the true amphibious capability to the Marine Corps, and that is an amtrak battalion,” stated Lt. Col. Michael L. Kuhn, 2nd AA Battalion’s commanding officer. “Your professionalism and support to second ‘tracks’ is greatly appreciated.”
Retired Col. Kenneth L. Priestly, the ceremony’s guest of honor and a former 2nd AA Battalion commander, then took center stage to address those he called “the old salts and the new salts.”
“I could tell you 100 amtrak stories, and I’m sure the old salts could probably tell you 1,000,” he said. “I hope tonight is a night for all of us to reflect on these stories and traditions.”
A Marine detail then marched out a birthday cake, cutting a piece for the guest of honor, oldest Marine and youngest Marine in attendance, in the spirit of all Marine Corps birthday celebrations.
After feasting on a meal of chicken, mashed potatoes, hot rolls and cake, Marines escorted their dates center stage to dance the night away. Both young and old felt delighted to be in the company of their fellow trackers.
Chief Warrant Officer-4 Henry Bookhardt, a veteran of battles during World War II, Korea and Vietnam during more than 30 years in the Corps, was one person who expressed admiration for the Marines of today.
“They know more than we know,” Bookhardt stated. “They have more to learn than we ever did.”
Likewise, younger leathernecks like Pfc. Nicholas Rheams of Baton Rouge, La. felt honored to share some time with those who came before him.
“It’s true when they say ‘once a Marine, always a Marine,’” Rheams explained. “We’re the new Corps, but it’s good to hear them tell us that we’re taking on a lot of the same responsibilities they did. It feels good to hear them say that we’re doing a good job.”
The 2nd Assault Amphibian Battalion was activated in March 1942 in San Diego, Calif., and has participated in campaigns throughout the Pacific Ocean, Lebanon, the Dominican Republic and Grenada, receiving numerous awards and distinctions in every conflict.
The unit continues fighting around the world, most recently in Operation Iraqi Freedom.